Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) face an increasingly commercialized and competitive environment within which they must strive for basic survival and stability. This is no different in the case of United for Kids Foundation, an NGO established in 2002 by Temitope Balogun “incorporated in the USA, Nigeria and the United Kingdom established exclusively for charitable and educational activities targeted principally at needy children in Nigeria”. With the humanitarian objectives of relieving poverty and suffering through social interventions and community development, Temitope has played an important role in social and economic mobility in Nigeria. Temitope, based in Maryland, USA granted City People an interview discussing her contributions to Nigeria and the country’s image.
Tell us about how you got into your current profession
After two decades of combining various financial management roles with social entrepreneurship, I finally have the career balance I have always desired. I now work as an Agribusiness lecturer and advisor at the University of Maryland during the day, and a social entrepreneur focused on Africa women (She-EO) and children (United for Kids Foundation) development at night. I actually got my job at the university while trying to help my husband respond to posts in a Farmers’ group on social media. It was a dream come true because this is what I have dreamt about doing since I was 10.
Tell us about your breakthrough career-wise in the U.S
My breakthrough career-wise in the US is what a lot of people would actually consider to be a sad story. But to me, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me career-wise. In December 2008, in the middle of the recession, I got laid off from my job as a finance manager in a Fortune 500 energy trading company. I was devastated when It happened, but after staying at home for four months I realized that it was supposed to set me free so I could do the type of work I wanted to do. Being unemployed helped me scale United for Kids Foundation’s activities in Nigeria, and more importantly, it helped me rid myself of the need to live other people’s “American dreams.”
When you mentor young Nigerians who look up to you on how they can make it in life. What advice do you give them?
One of my most cons is pieces of advice to young Nigerians is that “the length of our lives will ultimately be measured by the number of hearts we visit, not the number of days we were here.” And I truly believe and try to live by that myself. I think we have been created to serve, and anything – relationship, career, acquisition, etc that doesn’t “shine the light within” is a waste of time. I also tell myself first and foremost, and my mentees that life without passion is death. I try not to do things I am not passionate about because that’s equal to investing my resources in things that won’t yield returns. And for an accountant and an Ijebu girl, that’s a no no!
Tell us about your schooling. You were born here in Nigeria. Why did you relocate to the US?
My parents did an excellent job sending my siblings and I to good schools. After finishing my secondary school education at the Federal Government Girls Sagamu, I attended Yaba College of Technology and the University of Lagos simultaneously until I completed my OND. I moved to the U.S. in 2002 to attend Emory University in Atlanta. I was fortunate to be among the 30 students in the accelerated program, so I completed my MBA in 12 months. I also attended the University of Oxford’s Women Transforming Leadership Program in 2014.
What were the major challenges you encountered along the way?
One of the biggest challenges I think I have encountered in my life so far has to be losing my “light” between 2009 and 2012. These were the years I entered and exited a marriage that almost took everything from me. I don’t regret that phase because it “birth a new me.” However, I realize that getting married because everyone wants you to or because you are feeling lonely are not good reasons to get married. I also realized that no one must define what success means for me. It has to be a solid agreement between my “GPS” (God) and I. You would think that was a short period, but when I look back at how much damage was done to my psyche, I know the only way I got back up was because God healed me, and blessed me with Ana amazing circle of therapists, friends and family.
How do you see the current negative image Nigeria is suffering from?
I always say I come from two countries that have the worst images in the world depending on where you go – Nigeria the U.S. However, I see this as an opportunity to represent both countries as an ambassador. We “ambassadors” will have no work to do if the country had the image of Sweden. My life would be boring perhaps. On a more serious note, it can be very frustrating and annoying to be judged by the bad choices of a few people, but I am hopeful that “Nigeria go survive.”
Why have you remained proud of being a Nigerian?
It’s interesting that you asked me this question. I shared this Sudanese proverb with my students today – Parents desire to give their children two things, roots and wings. Being Nigerian and proudly so means that I understand what role my roots play in my growth and identity. I spent my first 25 years in Nigeria, so it’s difficult to identify as anything else. To love Nigeria in spite of its challenges is to live myself in spite of my flaws.
Photo credit: Sisi Visage Nigeria.