It is with great pleasure that I continue with this series on the blog, celebrating 'Incredible Women' - finding out more about the career and life paths of inspiring female entrepreneurs, writers and business women to inform and inspire your own journey...
I'd love you to join me in celebrating Tessy Ojo, the Chief Executive of the Diana Award - a charity legacy to Diana, Princess of Wales and her belief in the power that young people have to change the world, with the right support. The charity’s mission is to foster and develop positive change in the lives of young people.
With over twenty years in third sector leadership and in-depth knowledge of working with young people and across the world, Tessy is an inspirational and creative leader who truly wants to make a positive difference in society and takes direct action to make that happen.
Below I ask Tessy about her own career path, the difference she makes in her work, what she has learnt along the way, her struggles and life lessons...
Tell us about yourself and your work
My name is Tessy Ojo and I am CEO of The Diana Award.
Our Mission is to nurture, develop, and inspire positive change in the lives of young people aged 9 – 25 years. We achieve this in three key ways:
1. Driving change - Facilitating change through practical action with young people.
2. Mobilising change - Supporting ongoing change in the lives of young people.
3. Recognising change - Rewarding positive change made by young people.
We achieve our mission through three core programmes; The Award and Development Programme, The Mentoring Programme and The Anti-Bullying Programme.
I am also a mother to two young adults, a wife of over 23 years to my childhood sweetheart and a sister to 5 men! I think that sums me up!
What was your first job?
My first graduate job was as a Biochemist at GlaxoSmithKline.
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a doctor or work in the medical field as I wanted to help find a cure to Sickle cell anaemia, having seen the effect it had on a close friend.
Who was your work role model?
So I didn’t really have a specific work role model outside of my family until I joined the charity sector. My family had great work and education ethics and the ethos around my family was about lifelong learning. My dad is an Economist and dinner table conversations was always around the state of the economy or any emerging news around capitalism, business or growth. My mother was a headteacher and her work inspired me a lot. Her belief in young people and their ability to achieve greatness, set the tone for the work I do now. Working in the charity sector, I am inspired by many people, especially young people who show huge bravery and courage, sometimes in the face of huge adversity yet remain so hopeful and optimistic about life. Having said this, I would love to mention a lady who inspired me a lot in my early days in the charity sector; Dame Julia Clevedon. She is a huge advocate for social mobility and has the incredible ability to convene people into action. I admired this quality.
How did you find your niche/career path? What inspired you into that industry?
This is a long story but I will say I had an eureka moment borne out of my desire to see all children irrespective of the disadvantage of birth, succeed. I realised how blessed I was to have children and to have to means to help shape their lives positively. I believe in following your passion and connecting the dots that eventually leads you to your purpose. As a young person, with a headteacher as a mum, from the age of 14, I began running 3 afterschool clubs supporting children in various capacities. This eventually laid the foundation or some might say, sowed the seeds that led to that Eureka moment!
What do you struggle with?
DRAMA! I think life is complicated enough and I try to simplify as much as I can, so I really struggle with a lot of drama, either caused by hugely dramatic people or brought on through circumstances. The first thing I always try to do in such situations is find ways to simplify…for clarity and then fix the problem.
What has been your proudest career moment?
Gosh there are so much. I think seeing lives changed. Seeing the impact the work I do has on the lives of the young people. Also hearing directly from Their Royal Highnesses about the pride they feel in how their mother’s legacy is being preserved is a massive highlight. I have to say last year I had a major proud moment, when I received the Martin Luther King Award in Atlanta and it turned out I was the first British person to receive this..and actually the first non-American! Sitting with his family, I kept pinching myself thinking this cannot be happening…this is THE MARTIN LUTHER KING we are talking about!! Also in the summer of last year, I was named by British Airways as part of their centenary year celebrations as one of the top 100 most influential Brits!! I mean that was pretty spectacular too!
What things have you learnt along the way?
I have learnt to stick to my values, my identity and always remain true to who I am, otherwise I build a persona. I believe in authenticity and I think that is something we need in many more leaders. I have also learnt to never apologise for who I am, however, uncomfortable that might make others feel!
If you had been anything else, what would it have been?
I think I will always have ended up in some changemaking career; so perhaps in the medical profession working with a niche group or maybe as a member of Parliament, although I will struggle to fit into just one political party, so that might not work!
What has your work taught you about yourself?
That I love young people and being around them makes my heart happy!
What’s your favourite business app?
Right now, Instagram and Slack!
Favourite book you’ve read over the last year?
Becoming by Michelle Obama and Relentless by Tim Grover
Podcast you binge on? OR Instagram/Twitter feed you love?
Has to be Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations…On Instagram, I follow a lot of tall fashion trends, female leaders and anyone I think is making a difference in their field (known or unknown).
What helps you stay motivated and focussed?
You know, I said to my team recently that we cannot stay motivated if we lose our WHY! Motivation comes from your connection to your WHY. Why I do what I do, why I want to see change and WHY change is important and WHY I have to be involved in creating the world I want to see.
How do you unwind?
So I enjoy cooking…it helps me unwind. I also enjoy just lying on the beach (away from the sun!) and reading.
Finish the sentence: “my work allows me to….”
CREATE LASTING CHANGE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.
What do you think you bring to your work that’s unique?
I am 1000% Passionate. I have a clear vision of the change I want to see and that drives me. I am transparent, I live by my values and that means consistency. I also belief in role modelling the behaviour that I want to see in others.
What would success look like to you in 5 years’ time?
1. Mentoring becomes a statutory requirement for every child in the UK, helping reduce the birth to work inequality experienced by thousands of young people.
2. Organisations across the UK make a commitment to invest in young people, in the communities they serve, in a meaningful way that ensures those young people have the opportunity to improve their life chances, whatever that improvement means to the individual young person.
3. We see a huge reduction in bullying incidences in our schools, which means young people’s mental wellbeing improves.
What has been the most profound piece of advice you’ve been given?
I tell myself actually that the minute I stop enjoying what I do, I need to leave. I still hold on to that advice.
If you could share career advice with graduates looking to get into your industry, what would it be?
Creating impact takes time…find your area of passion and dig in. Find mentors that will support your learning and develop but please do not try to run before you can walk.