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Mumpreneur: Damilola Owolabi and Tosin Olaiya on Iwe League and Motherhood

‘Start as you mean to go on’ – Damilola Owolabi   ‘I try to count my many blessings’ – Tosin Olaiya

Iwe League
Image from iweleague.org

NMO recently had a rare chance to interview two beautiful ladies, Damilola Owolabi (Researcher at Guttmacher) and Tosin Olaiya (Epidemiologist at CDC) . They are both medical degree holders from OAU with Masters from University of Oxford who manage families of their own, careers and are also part of the “Iwe League” team. What makes them special is, their activities contribute to the main sectors of any nation: health, education and family life. Please read on to find out more on how they manage their very busy lifestyles.

NMO: Tell us about yourselves.

Dami: My name is Damilola Owolabi. I work as a researcher with Guttmacher institute. I have a medical degree from Obafemi Awolowo University, a masters in global health science from university of Oxford and a PhD in Epidemiology from the London school of hygiene and tropical medicine.

Tosin: My name is Tosin Olaiya. I am an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Prior to that, I was as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the CDC.  I studied medicine at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and hold a masters degree in Global Health Science from the University of Oxford.

NMO: How did you both meet?

Dami: Hmmm… so I met Tosin at OAU and she was a really friendly, cheerful girl at church who came up to me and put so much effort into being my friend at a relatively lonely period in my youth. I owe her for many fun years 🙂

Tosin: I met Dami in our year 2 (or so) in Ife. We attended the same campus fellowship and I think 2 of her older friends might have mentioned her to me – we became friends shortly after that.

NMO: How did the idea for ‘Iwe League’ come about and how did you get involved?

Dami: I found out about Iwe League from an old high school friend who I also worked with during my medical internship, Itunu Owoyemi. She told me about her older brother’s friend who had started a small educational NGO in Lagos but needed help with creating a sustainable structure and moving things forward. I’d been involved in a number of voluntary non- profit organizations and ventures and I love working on health and education so I was immediately interested. She put me in touch with Ola, the founder; we had a chat and I said I’d work with him. Almost immediately, I told him I had someone who could help him with his mission and would be a great member of the team and in came Tosin.

Tosin: Dami and I joined Iwe League during our time in Oxford. She had been introduced to Ola by one of her friends, spoke with him, committed to the vision and volunteered my services as well.  After the fact, she called me and told me about Iwe League and what we could contribute. So basically, I was “voluntold”. But on a more serious note, she had said Ola should consider inviting me and she sold the vision to me.

NMO: Tell us more about Iwe League.

Dami: Iwe League is a small nonprofit that aims to provide a high quality public school education to intelligent but indigent children in Lagos state. Currently our secondary school partner is Lagos state model college Igbokuta. Our scholars are selected through both a merit based exam and the national common entrance and have all been admitted on merit into school. We cover all their education costs and have more recently included opportunities for extracurricular activities such as STEM camps, mentorship from partners and will be providing formal employment internship opportunities for our inaugural class of graduates from secondary school. We also maintain strong communication links with their parents and guardians to ensure that we are jointly supporting the scholars’ overall development.

Tosin: In addition to what Dami has said, our first set of scholars will graduate from SS3 this academic year (2017). We are already putting things in place to sponsor their University tuition provisional upon a merit-based admission to a federal university and good grades. We are registered in the UK as Iwe league and in Nigeria as Iwe Development Initiative.

NMO: How do you go about raising funds and attracting sponsors? 

Dami: Our core funds are donated by the board members of iwe league. We also have a few donors and partners who have given consistently over x years. We also hold fund raising drives to a supplement our core finances and support special activities.

Tosin: Our funds/sponsorships are mainly from the trustees and individuals from our network (friends and family).  We occasionally source for funds for special projects. Our sponsors have the opportunity to make one-time donations, or regular donations (monthly, quarterly or yearly) and project-specific donations.

NMO: What were your goals when you joined Iwe League? 

Tosin: Neither of us was a founding member but the goal was to support indigenous children to obtain a good quality secondary education that they may not have otherwise had access to.

NMO: What were the challenges you faced? 

Dami: The biggest challenge I remember was coming together as a team to decide on what our short-term goals were in light of our bigger vision, what to prioritize administratively and how to create a sustainable program.

Tosin: Well, I think one of the challenges we faced when I joined was establishing a structure that was self-sustaining. Our processes and timelines have improved over the years, thanks to very motivated and committed trustees.

NMO: Do you still face any and what are they?

Tosin: Logistical challenges.  We (IWE league trustees) live in different countries and sometimes run into logistical challenges associated with operating in Nigeria. An example was when we wanted to register officially in Nigeria. Thankfully, each of us is committed to the vision, our trustee in Nigeria was a rock, and we relied on our network. On the more positive side of things, we sometimes have different ideas on what more we can do for our current and future scholars.

NMO: Where do you see Iwe League in the long term?

Tosin: In the immediate future, we want to provide our secondary school scholars with the adequate resources they may need to obtain scholarships into tertiary institutions. In the long run, we really would love to incorporate direct mentoring (both academics and career) and internship opportunities to our scholars to better equip them and position them to give back to their communities

NMO: How can our followers/readers get involved if interested?

Tosin: The easiest way to get involved is to connect with us via email – iwe.league.ng@gmail.com or visit our website – iweleague.org to learn more. We are always welcoming of sponsors and individuals who are willing to serve as mentors or provide internship opportunities to our scholars.

NMO: When did you first become a mum? 

Dami: My baby was born in January 2015

Tosin: I had the privilege of becoming a mum in March 2015

NMO: First time mothers have different experiences physically and mentally. Please share your experience with us.

Dami: I had a challenging pregnancy because I had something called ‘hyperemesis gravidarum’ which is like the worst kind of morning sickness ever. However, I had an extraordinarily easy labour and I have enjoyed being a mom tremendously. It was an entirely new experience but I’ve enjoyed researching all the little aspects of mothering from baby products and getting baby to sleep through the night to weaning and child psychology.

Tosin: The journey to motherhood (i.e. pregnancy and delivery itself) was relatively easy. We had not checked the gender but accidentally found out about a week to delivery that we were having a boy. It was an awesome and sobering experience. Sobering in a good and humbling way – knowing that God has made you a steward of one of his most priced creations – another human.

NMO: With a wealth of baby products on the market claiming to make parents lives easier, what was your most useful baby product? 

Ergobaby carrier
Image from ergobaby.com
beco baby carrier
Image from becobabycarrier.com

Dami: My most useful baby product was my ergo 360 baby carrier. We still use it now that he’s two! It’s been invaluable for traveling, church, trips to the city and getting him to nap and even holding him when he’s ill at home. It distributes weight evenly and is ergonomic so you don’t get back pain from carrying a very big baby and toddler.

Tosin: That would be my baby carrier – Beco Gemini carrier. Good thing with the Beco is that we could use it from right after he was born. The carrier made it so much easier and intimate to wear our son (yes, my husband loved it too) – in the house, at church, gatherings. It freed our hands while we ran errands or shopped. The baby could nap and I occasionally could breastfeed him discreetly while wearing him. It was also great to be able to wear him close when he was ill.  I would recommend it over and over.

NMO: How do you balance family commitments with your work and charity commitments i.e. juggle motherhood and work? 

Dami: This is definitely work in progress, but I think the most important things are that I pray regularly for wisdom and favor in how I craft and agree to my work schedule. I cannot underestimate the blessing of a husband who splits parenting 50/50 with me, can care for my little boy on his own and supports my career 100%. However, I try hard to be very organized. Plan meals, have everything at home done on a schedule so we can keep up and when I’m home from work I shut everything down and spend time with my baby till he’s gone to bed and then my husband and myself work and catch up on or lives as a couple.

Tosin: I try to leave work at work at the end of the workday and during the weekends and focus on spending time with my husband and son. I have an active toddler and there’s hardly a dull moment. We are teaching him Yoruba and that itself is a comic relief. It’s fun to hear him speak it back to us. I try to count my many blessings –every single bit of it and focus on what is working and what is good to derive the strength to deal with any “negatives”.

NMO: What is the best advice that you received that has helped you as a mum?

Tosin: I got very good advice and I wasn’t shy to ask questions. One advice I wish was really easy to follow was to sleep when your child sleeps. As good and sensible as that sounds, it is not as easy to do.

NMO: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your personal lives and how did you handle them? 

Dami: I think the biggest mistake was not realizing everything about our lives as a couple would change. I was edgy and cranky for the first few months because I didn’t realize we had to find a new normal as a family. However, my husband was pretty calm and took each day as a new day. I learnt that things will always happen and change but it’s important to embrace change and look for the good in it instead of being scared of the unknown.

Tosin: As an individual, the times when I have tried to do things in my own strength and just labored instead of casting all my cares on Him (Jesus) and taking his light yoke.  I keep learning how to trust Him completely – all the time.

NMO: What advice do you have for someone who would like to combine another activity such as running a business or getting involved in an NGO, with being a parent?

Dami: Start as you mean to go on! It has basically taught me that in all things parenting, remember what your end goal is. Progress isn’t linear but if you keep your end goal for your action or child in mind, it helps you to understand how to implement the daily decisions you have to take.


Thank you Dami and Tosin!

For more information on Iwe League please visit/contact:

Website: iweleague.org

Email: iwe.league.ng@gmail.com



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