Welcome back to another #womaninlaw interview! This month we are re-interviewing Adaku Ufere. Adaku was one the first #womeninlaw featured on our website 5 years ago when we started this platform. At the time she was an Energy Practice Leader at a leading law firm in Johannesburg, South Africa and a recent recipient of the Attorney of the Year award by The African Legal Awards. She was also the youngest person to ever win this award as well as the first Nigerian, at the time.
Adaku is an award-winning energy, gender and development expert, with extensive experience in designing and delivering large, complex development projects in the energy sector in Africa, establishing effective and trusted relationships with senior members of government and key counterparts.
A respected energy expert, business consultant and leader, Adaku has worked with governments across sub-Saharan Africa. She has advised governments, multinational and indigenous energy companies in over 30 African countries including; Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Mauritius, South Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sao Tome & Principe, Cameroon, Uganda, Congo,-Brazzaville among others.
Adaku is a Mandela Washington Fellow, an Obama Foundation Leader Africa and an Exceptional Alumni of the University of Aberdeen. She has also been awarded one of the 40 under 40 Leading Lawyers in Nigeria, Young African Professional of the Year and 100 Most Inspiring Women in Nigeria, among others.
A recognized international conference speaker and panelist, having spoken at conferences in Africa, the United States & the United Kingdom, she is also a prolific writer, with published articles in the field of energy, gender and project finance.
Adaku is the current Chief of Party for USAID and Power Africa’s West Africa Energy Program at one of Africa’s leading audit, consulting (and related services) firms.
I have always been in absolute awe of Adaku’s career and I am certain that you feel the same after reading our interview below with this phenomenal #womaninlaw.
What are some of your main passions and why are they important to you?
My passions are spending time with my family, reading, watching reality tv shows (anything with Housewives in its name is my drug) shopping and shellfish.
They’re important because they make me happy.
Can you provide an overview of your career journey and how you arrived at your current role as Chief of Party, USAID & Power Africa West Africa Energy Program at Deloitte?
I graduated with a law degree from the University of Nigeria in 2008, went to Law School the same year and was officially designated as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2009. I then started my legal career as a Maritime Lawyer at a law firm in Nigeria called Adepetun, Caxton-Martins, Agbor & Segun. I did that for a year, then resigned to go study for a Masters in Oil & Gas Law at the University of Aberdeen. I graduated with an LLM in 2012 and moved back home to work for the Oil and Gas business of General Electric Nigeria as Legal Counsel.
After about 3 years, my contract with General Electric was not renewed, and I was let go. So, I decided to try legal consulting and set up a consulting firm called DAX Consult. I ended up trying a host of different disciplines, I did Entertainment Law, ended up drafting the record contract for a pretty famous Nigerian musician. I also did some Fashion Law work, supporting fashion labels with IP issues.
Since 2008, while in Law School I had run a lifestyle blog called ThirdWorldProfashional, which was one of the first ever fashion and lifestyle blogs in Nigeria. It had been successful from the beginning, and I had won Blogger of the Year in Nigeria and was one of the first people to monetize fashion blogging and had earned a steady income from it. So, I took this career break to really work at it and ended up working with companies like American Express, New Look, River Island and MultiChoice Nigeria among others.
After a year of self-employment, I got a job as a Senior Associate at Centurion Law Group in Equatorial Guinea and moved to Malabo in 2016. Four months after being hired I was promoted to lead the firms Energy Practice. At 32, I became the youngest Practice Lead of a major law firm in Africa. I worked in that role for three years across over 30 African countries, facilitating billion dollar deals and drafting landmark legislation for the Governments of Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan.
I resigned in 2018, as I wanted to focus on building my capacity to transition from Oil & Gas to Energy & Gender (a few years before the world caught up on the energy transition by the way). I re-oriented my consulting firm to focus on clean energy development, renewable energy deals and gender mainstreaming. I also used the time to gain Fellowships with initiatives like Mandela Washington, Obama Foundation and Power Africa. The Power Africa experience led to collaborations with Power Africa, which eventually led to my being hired by Deloitte Consulting US in 2019, to implement a new $73 million dollar USAID and Power Africa Program, called the West Africa Energy Program (WAEP), as its Deputy Chief of Party.
After two years as Deputy Chief of Party for WAEP, I was promoted to lead the Program as its Chief of Party, overseeing 150 people in 23 countries across West and Central Africa.
What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishments or milestones in your role so far?
I’ll say being awarded one of the 40 Under 40 Young Lawyers in Nigeria in 2016 and Attorney of the Year at the African Legal Awards in 2017 was definitely one. At the time I won Attorney of the Year, I was the youngest person to ever win the award, and the first Nigerian, so it was very special. Also being able to join prestigious fellowships such as the Mandela Washington Fellowship YALI Regional Fellowship and Obama Leaders Africa have been incredible accomplishments. I was recently appointed as an Independent Member & Trustee of the University of Aberdeen, a school I graduated from with a Masters in Oil & Gas Law in 2012. Being chosen to be on the Board managing the affairs of the school, 11 years later, is definitely unreal. Lastly, my current role has been an incredible achievement. As the Chief of Party of the USAID-funded Power Africa West Africa Energy Program, I am the first African person to lead a Power Africa Program.
Gender diversity and inclusion are important topics in all industries. How do you promote gender diversity within your team and the broader energy sector?
I definitely start from educating and raising awareness. We hold regular team get-togethers to refresh ideas and share resources on gender equity and liberation. I make sure to set gender-inclusive goals and policies, not just for my team members, but also for the counterparts we work with. Mentorship and sponsorship opportunities where female leaders are paired with junior women are also very important. Having something/someone to aspire to goes a long way in serving as inspiration. Offering training and workshops to help women upskill, hosting or attending female networking events as well. Making sure to measure and track progress, helps identify areas where improvement is needed. Ensuring equal pay and benefits, as well as celebrating diversity and achievements ensures women feel recognized and appreciated.
As a leader, what advice do you have for young female lawyers aspiring to make their mark in the energy sector or international development field?
The journey in the energy sector or international development field as a female lawyer will require determination, continuous learning, and a willingness to break barriers. It is important that women embrace their unique perspective and contributions, and not be afraid to challenge the status quo to make a lasting impact.
- You definitely have to ensure you have a strong foundation in law. I have an LLB and LLM, worked in two law firms and as an in-house counsel before branching out into the development field.
- Also pursuing a specialization is key, I started out as a Maritime Lawyer, before deciding I wanted to work in the energy sector. I achieved qualifications in that field and geared all my employment towards working in that sector. Establishing my niche and staying in it, means I become much better at it and I’m able to build visibility within that space.
- Building a strong, professional network. Seek out mentors, both female and male, who can provide guidance, support, and insights into the industry.
- Don’t be afraid to take the initiative and seek out opportunities. Be proactive in seeking interesting projects, and volunteer for assignments that can expand your knowledge and skills. A lot of the career decisions I’ve made have been risky and not always linear. But taking those risks have always paid off.
- Keep yourself updated on industry trends, legal developments, and international issues. Reading industry publications and attending conferences can help you stay informed. I set google alerts for trending issues in my industry and receive any articles or breaking news on them every day. Helps to keep me up to date.
- Advocate for your own career advancement. Speak up about your goals and ambitions, and be prepared to negotiate for opportunities and compensation that reflect your value
How do you balance your professional responsibilities with personal life and self-care, especially in such a demanding role?
There’s honestly no formula. I’m very intentional about being present for every aspect in my life as needed. Whether its work, family, friends or social commitments. I truly enjoy all these things and make as much time as I can for them. I also outsource as much as possible. Whatever I can afford to pay for to make my life easier, will be sorted.
Are there any notable female mentors or role models who have influenced your career journey or leadership style?
Christine Lagarde President of the European Central Bank is one, Jacinda Arden former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Damilola Ogunbiyi CEO of Sustainable Energy for All…are just a few of the women I admire for their boldness and dominance in traditionally male sectors
Do you identify as a feminist? why or why not?
Of course I’m a feminist, I’d be an idiot to not be on my own side. Feminism is so simple and uncomplicated; I’m truly baffled by the millions of think pieces on the subject. It simply advocates for women to have access to all human rights and opportunities, how is that a contentious thing? You’ll notice I said “human” and not “the same rights and opportunities as men”, which is the more common saying. And this is because I read an article once by Mona Eltahawy which opined that that statement was redundant as all men didn’t have equal access. The summit is gender liberation, where all sexes and genders are liberated from restrictions, and that is the nucleus of my feminism.
As a professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How do you meet other professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?
I attend and participate in a lot of conferences, fellowships and programs and they have been invaluable in helping me build a network. I’m not an extroverted person and don’t really like small talk, so I have to work at engaging people I don’t know. Joining curated events, already geared towards networking, helps to break that ice for me to effectively engage.
What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers or law students?
I think it’s a fantastic tool for success when used well. I constantly experience people sending me messages asking me to be their mentor and its so tiring to constantly explain that that’s not how you get a mentor. The mentor-mentee relationship should be symbiotic and mutually beneficial, but its more typically viewed as one in which the mentee benefits from the connections, opportunities and network of the mentor. Which is quite parasitic.
To get someone you admire to mentor you, you have to start out engaging that person subtly. If you don’t have physical access to them, follow them on social media, comment on their posts, engage their content. If you succeed in getting them to follow you back, make sure your content is informative and authentic and interesting that they engage in turn. You can then ramp up the relationship by beginning to ask their opinion on minor things or offer ideas/solutions where you see its needed. This starts to build up a rapport, where the older person may start to share advice and opportunities and before you know it, it turns into mentorship.
I’ve found that to be a far more successful means of getting someone to mentor you.
Finally, How can our readers reach out to you? (social media handles)
Its Adaku Ufere on all platforms.