Ibironke Olubamise, a seasoned professional with a remarkable 30-year career in conservation, environmental management, grant administration, and strategic leadership, is making waves as the pioneer National Coordinator of the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) in Nigeria. In an interview, she reflects on her journey, the challenges faced in environmental projects, and her vision for the future. Olubamise’s career trajectory, though not initially aligned with environmental pursuits, took a significant turn after her early realization that medicine was not her calling. Graduating with a degree in Microbiology from the University of Lagos, she later pursued a Master’s in Environmental Microbiology at the same institution. Her exposure to the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) fellowship program of the Rockefeller Foundation marked the beginning of her flourishing career in Environmental Management.
Following her Master’s, she co-founded an environmental consulting firm in Lagos, focusing on organizing the first workshop on environmental management for banks and financial institutions. Collaborating with the Lagos State government, Olubamise initiated the publication of “The Lagos Environment” to raise awareness and promote sustainable environmental practices. Her journey continued with a Chevening Scholarship award for a Master’s in Business Administration, specializing in Environmental Management from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK. Joining the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), she became the first African woman to head the Technical Programmes department. Recognizing her passion and dedication, the United States government nominated her for the International Visitors’ Leadership Programme (IVLP) in 2009.
Navigating environmental challenges across regions.
Subsequently, Olubamise assumed the role of the pioneer National Coordinator for the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme. Over the years, she has collaborated with numerous Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to implement over 180 environmental projects in more than 200 communities across 29 states of Nigeria. In the interview, Olubamise provides insights into the diverse environmental challenges faced by different regions in Nigeria. The northern part grapples with desertification and desert encroachment, the southern and western parts face deforestation and biodiversity loss, while the eastern states deal with erosion. Despite these variations, Olubamise emphasizes the common thread of issues such as unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, poverty, gender imbalance, scarcity, ignorance, and lack of capacity affecting the human-environment nexus.
Reflecting on her experiences with over 180 projects in 200 communities, Olubamise underscores the importance of addressing poverty and gender imbalance. She notes the initial skepticism in communities due to past experiences with fraudsters but highlights the willingness of Nigerians to cooperate when sincerity prevails. Recognizing plastic as a major culprit in environmental degradation, she advocates for a focus on alternative solutions rather than solely managing plastic waste. Collaborating with youth and women, Olubamise’s projects aim to create awareness and empower these groups to develop innovative solutions that reduce or eliminate the use of plastic.
Empowering women in environmental leadership.
Also, she highlights ongoing initiatives, including an award-winning project replacing plastic with leaf plates and cups. Another project involves supporting 400 youths in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to find innovative solutions to plastic waste management while empowering nine communities in FCT as a pilot project for waste management and alternative income generation. Drawing from three decades of experience, Olubamise emphasizes that environmental management is a collective responsibility. She recalls an era when environmentalists were perceived as impediments to development but notes the shift in global recognition of the importance of addressing environmental challenges. She advocates for the incorporation of environmental education into the national school curriculum, urging a practical approach that influences everyday decisions.
She stresses the need for strong political will, the integration of environmental considerations into business decisions, and equitable access to natural resources, particularly land. Gender mainstreaming, according to Olubamise, should go beyond rhetoric, with deliberate actions to include vulnerable groups, ensuring ownership, a sense of belonging, and promoting social cohesion. As a trailblazer in her field, Olubamise shares insights on how more women can achieve success in environmental leadership roles. She encourages women to align their purpose with a clear vision, emphasizing the importance of responsibility and demand in achieving goals. Recognizing the power women wield, she urges them to overcome distractions and align their actions with their faith, values, and commitment to personal growth.
Related Article: FG, UN, WB partners to empower women
In response to a question about what drives her for success, Olubamise attributes it to the desire for relevance. She believes that anyone without relevance is not fit to live, emphasizing the importance of knowing and fulfilling the purpose of every action. For Olubamise, success lies in adding value to others and the environment, and she advocates for a mindset that seeks to make a positive impact wherever one goes. Closing the interview, Olubamise shares her perspective on what Nigerian women can do differently. Acknowledging gender disparities, she encourages women to earn praise and recognition through their efforts rather than relying on pity or blackmail. She emphasizes the need for women to understand and leverage the power they possess, both in the workplace and society.