Dr. Ibilola Amao has spent the past 30 years proving that Nigerian and African women belong in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
As the daughter of a nurse and civil engineer, Dr. Amao was raised in a household that deeply valued education. She attended primary school in Lagos, but then moved to a different state in Nigeria for secondary school. At age 15, her parents enrolled her in a Quaker boarding school in England so she could continue building her math and science competencies.
She experienced many types of culture shock, including in the education system, where there were hardly any other girls, let alone other Black students. The teaching style was drastically different, and she had to learn to adjust.
From being an “A” student in Nigeria, Dr. Amao struggled in England. She persevered, eventually passing her exams and enrolling at University of London, where she graduated with first-class honors in engineering, following her late father’s path. She went on to earn her PhD in computer-aided design, drafting and structural engineering, where she was one of only two women in her graduating class.
Upon returning to Nigeria in 1991, Dr. Amao embarked on a year of national service as an associate lecturer at the University of Lagos. While waiting outside the Youth National Service building one morning, she noticed a long queue outside the building next door. Always curious, she wandered over to talk to the waiting men. They were registering corporations.
Dr. Amao had thought about starting a structural engineering or computer-aided design consultancy, so she decided to register a company.
Several months later, Dr. Amao received her incorporation paperwork for Lonadek Global Services. At the time, though, it was only an idea on paper. Dr. Amao was still in her year of service and did not think much about it. Further into her year of service, she began to understand how the company could play a role in preparing young Nigerians to work with advanced technology.
“There was huge gap between educational standards here in Nigeria and what I had learned and what I had trained to do in the United Kingdom,” she explains. “I started connecting dots. I wanted to use my qualifications to lift up Nigerians and bridge the gap between technology and the education system.”
That gap is even wider for Nigerian girls, who face deeply embedded cultural and societal barriers to entering the field. Dr. Amao experienced blatant and harsh discrimination and sexual harassment herself that made it difficult for her to establish and build Lonadek after her year of service.
After countless meetings and discouraging outcomes, her mentor, another female STEM professional, connected her to Bechtel Inc., a global engineering firm working with several international oil and gas companies struggling to set up computers for detailed designs, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Having already contracted independently with other companies to do the same thing, Dr. Amao had the expertise and knowledge to manage the project. At the same time, she could boost her credibility while avoiding much of the corruption that plagues Nigerian businesses.
For 10 years and 10 months, Dr. Amao worked as a subcontractor and grew Lonadek Global Services.
Today, with operations in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Lonadek provides specialized engineering IT solutions, talent outsourcing support, and training and capacity building primarily to the energy, power, infrastructure, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas industries.
During that time, she started her own family and built stronger relationships in the Lagos business community, especially with other female STEM professionals. Her immersion in these networks led her to WEConnect International in 2015.
WEConnect International’s focus on supply chains attracted Dr. Amao, who had been exploring opportunities for global expansion for Lonadek for two years.
Dr. Amao has participated in several mentorship programs with IBM and P&G, updated the company’s marketing and branding, and connected with and supported other woman-owned businesses in Nigeria and Europe. This year, Lonadek Global Services won WEConnect International’s 2021 Rise to the Challenge Engineering Award.
“The way WEConnect International encourages us to up our game and enter international supply chains is commendable,” she says. “I’ve really benefited from being a part of the WEConnect network, especially the mentoring.”
Lonadek will celebrate its 30th anniversary this September and has a great deal to celebrate. Last year, the company surpassed $1M in revenue for the first time. They have equipped more than 100,000 young Nigerians with the advanced digital skills needed to succeed in a global economy. The company is pursuing deeper partnerships with companies like Microsoft, Logitech and Amazon Web Services to stand out as a top talent developer in Africa. Dr. Amao also envisions Lonadek collaborating with more WEConnect International members to build a brand that empowers women globally.
“Our desire is to continuously empower young talent, help them identify and fulfill their purpose, and digitally upskill more females to be STEMpreneurs and TECHpreneurs,” she says. “It’s hard to be a girl in STEM. We need to stand out as role models, to show it’s possible to be a female engineer and have a family.”