Ogutu Okudo is an Oil Executive as well as the Founder and CEO of Women in Energy and Extractives Africa, a non-profit organisation working to bridge the gender gap in the oil, gas, mining, alternative energy sources and nuclear energy in Sub-Saharan Africa.
What drove you to the oil and gas industry?
My passion for oil came at a point when I was looking for a more challenging career and during this time, Kenya had just struck oil. After several case studies on the mismanagement of oil resources and how it had been termed as a “resource curse” due to poor planning of revenue, I decided to venture into this industry to assist my country manage her oil resource satisfactorily.
How can young people who desire to work in the industry participate? What are the qualifications?
It really all depends on what direction you want to take in the industry. Some choose a non-technical approach. I hate to break it to you, however, you cannot avoid the technical aspects. My advice to youth who are interested is to research before diving in.
How well are Kenyan institutions equipped to teach the course compared to universities abroad?
Having studied in the oil and gas capital of Europe, Aberdeen, I’d say that their level of execution of their oil and gas-related discipline cannot compare to ours because we are in different cycles. The North Sea has been exploiting for oil and gas resources for over 50 years with some fields already decommissioned; we are not even an oil producing nation yet.
As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and I believe that with the right people driving this agenda from a multi-pronged approach of private sector, academia, civil society and the public sector we have the ability to ensure we develop this industry sustainably.
JKUAT serves as an examples of one of the capable schools offering related courses. The Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas is also offering an array of courses ranging from long and short skill building courses such as Pipeline Mechanical Maintenance, which are very important because in Kenya we have only six certified welders yet we are trying to build a US$3.5 billion (Sh356.5 billion) pipeline.
What are some of the challenges that you see students facing over here?
I’d say the students lack mentorship, internships and apprenticeships. Everyone who has ever had the opportunity of working for an organisation understands that practical experience is extremely beneficial and cannot be taught theoretically.
As a young person, what were some of the challenges that you faced as you rose in your profession?
A young black woman has to carry herself with twice as much confidence, knowledge, self-esteem and grace to survive in the corporate world. One also has to be bullish because if you mess up, the blame not only goes to Ogutu but all young black women will be said to be no good. It is a burden that a lot of young women don’t even know they carry. I have been subjected to male chauvinist jokes to make me feel uncomfortable and hence deter my work ethic. I have had to hold my head very high. A big one for me was learning the hard way about intellectual property protection. I remember initiating a women’s association only for some members to push me out after they registered the organisations without my knowledge. It was a slap in the face, but I grew from it and learnt through it.
Besides oil and gas, you are also passionate about youth rights, do you believe that currently, the youth have an equal stake in the affairs of this country?
The youth do not have a fair stake at affairs in this country, because the government has intentionally refused to prioritise them. The key to mainstreaming youth into society is harnessing youth potential and elevating socio-economic and political participation for sustainable development. Through youth integration in decision-making and planning for policy formulation, analysis and implementation we will be able to realise the equitable development we want to see that lies in the youth.
Tell us about Women in Energy and Extractives Africa (WEX Africa)?
WEX is an organisation dedicated to promoting and progressing the development of women directly and indirectly affected by the energy and extractive sector. I fonded it in 2011, and we now have over 3, 500 members, from all corners of the world in energy and extractive -related communities, businesses and professions. WEX aims to promote for the rights of women and children and empower them with information and skills that would enhance their personal and communal development through tailored programmes.
You meet young women taking oil engineering courses in your organisation. What are some of the challenges that they face?
First of all, in a class of 60 you will find less than ten women. These dismal numbers represent the lack of interest/ knowledge of young women entering these male-dominated industries. The fewer women you are, the more pressure you get to perform and bullying from male counterparts. We witness over 50 per cent of women dropping out of these courses by end of the first year of study. Through WEX we have taken on quite a few young women through our Mentorship Programme and they have shared with us their challenges including gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and policies that favour male students.
That is why we are also working with girls through our ‘Kitabusi Taboo’ campaign this year in a yet-to-be-launched nationwide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) outreach that will see prospectively every student from Form Two to Form Four have the opportunity to learn about STEM-related careers and interact with companies that will share guidance at a nationwide career fair. This is something the British and American Curricula schools in the country are organising and letting their students benefit. We must ensure Kenyans of all walks of life have access to the same opportunities. We are not talking Nairobi, but in all 47 counties.
What recommendations would you give the government in terms of, opening up opportunities for young people in this field?
The government needs to put STEM at the core of the educational system. Traditional human capital is being replaced with artificial intelligence and so it is important for the government to spur and incentivise STEM-related courses as the opportunities are immense. Currently, East Africa is referred to as the next frontier of oil and gas. We need to prepare ourselves adequately through skill building to ensure local content is exploited to the highest degree hence building capacity within the industry.
You recently got the Power Gaga Award?
The Power Gaga Award is awarded to a woman under the age of 30 that has showcased leadership in the energy sector from a technical and philanthropic standpoint. I was very fortunate to be recognised by our Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, National Oil Company of Kenya and the Geothermal Development Company, which all came together to be part of this effort of encouraging and recognising women in the energy industry. This not only exemplifies the government’s commitment to recognising women in these fields, but also acts as a pull-factor for other women to get into the industry.