Move Back to Nigeria: Multi-linguist & Solar Energy Consultant, Dolapo Popoola Talks About Her Move, Passion & Aspirations

Dolapo PopoolaMove Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them.

Movebacktonigeria.com‘s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others. This, however does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.

Our spotlight this week is on Dolapo Popoola, Energy Consultant, Financial Advisory expert and Multilinguist, who moved back home with the determination to find her own path and also contribute meaningfully to her society in the process. Read on for some insight into her world, experiences and stellar aspirations. We hope you enjoy our Christmas special.

Thanks for speaking with us. Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Dolapo Popoola. I’m a fun loving and unique Nigerian who has moved back home to chart a course for herself as well as a career. I work as an energy consultant in Lagos state and I also recently set up a personal finance advisory firm primarily for young adults called ‘Discreetly Rich’, which educates them on financial literacy, money issues, setting financial goals and understanding the difference between disposable income and revenue.Surprisingly, it is something a lot of young Nigerians living in Nigeria don’t know about.

That’s interesting! You’ve described yourself as unique, in what way exactly?
Well, I speak English, Yoruba, German and Polish. I also speak a little bit of Spanish, Shona, and I read French. I like things that are extraordinary and I don’t necessarily like to conform to the status quo. I also like to do what I enjoy, what makes me happy and what I am comfortable with.

So, how exactly did your international sojourn begin?
I was born in Nigeria and left for my university degrees (Bachelors and Masters) after which I worked for a few years. My undergrad was at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where I studied Chemical Engineering. Upon graduation and after some industry experience, I knew I was not going to be happy working as a Chemical Engineer; and whilst an apparent solution was to go back to school, I had the problem of insufficient funds. So I worked for an international engineering conglomerate called IMI Plc. for about three years, quit the job and moved on to the Berlin Institute of Technology to study Renewable Energy Systems with a focus on solar energy.

Berlin is not a popular educational destination for many Nigerians. Did its status as a green city influence your decision?
Yes… I chose to study in Berlin because Germany was and is still arguably, the leader in renewable energy policy and technology (especially solar). I figured if I was going to learn from anyone, why not learn from the best. Admittedly Germany is not really attractive to Nigerians, but my experience in Berlin was great. I met a lot of good and warm-hearted people and I was able to learn German, which was a big plus for me.

What then came next?
Following a short internship in Prague for about 3 months, I moved back home and went through the NYSC program.

Why did you choose to return home?
I hope I don’t sound too cliché but there really is no place like home. I always felt that when I left, I was going off to get trained so I could become a better Nigerian and contribute whatever training I acquired to the development of my own country.

Another reason was that, in my experience, working abroad made me a bit complacent, as things seem to go seamlessly. Whilst one might face challenges, all efforts go towards maintaining an existing system, as opposed to here in Nigeria where if you are passionate and willing to work hard, you can achieve great things that will leave a marked impact and make the lives of others better.

You mentioned undergoing the NYSC program, where did you serve and how would you describe the experience?
During my time in NYSC, corpers were still allowed to serve with private companies. I served in Lagos with a private solar company where I quickly learned a valuable lesson – everyday life in Lagos is different from coming home for the holidays. For instance, I got to learn about how people drive in Lagos and how Yorubas tend to say everything except what they really mean; so you have to read between the lines. On a more professional note, working with the solar company got my feet wet in the local solar and inverter industry. In Nigeria, it’s easy to assume that not a lot is being done as regards to solar energy but that’s not entirely right. In the Northern part of the country, individuals have been using small-scale solar systems for decades!

That’s enlightening…And so, after NYSC, did you stay on with the firm?
No, I did not. My service year was an eye opener for me and I discovered that because of the nature of solar in Nigeria and the lack of incentives, almost all projects are small scale. So, after my service year, I applied for a program with the Siemens Power Academy in Lagos which was advertised in the papers and sponsored by Senator Gbenga Ashafa and the Lagos State Government. For 6 months, I learned more about the traditional sources of power, the Nigerian distribution network, energy development, how to incorporate renewables into our existing Nigerian national grid and more responsible energy consumption. This expanded my scope of knowledge and the services I could offer as an individual.

This is very fascinating! Do you need to have a background in energy to enroll at the Siemens Power Academy or is it open to all?
Courses at the academy are offered to anyone who is interested but you might have to work a bit harder than everyone else if you do not have a background in energy.

Did this motivate you to focus on solar energy full time?
Well, after the program, I was invited by my current employers to be an energy consultant for the State. I am currently working on energy development and we are just coming off our energy conservation month – a first for Lagos. The message is that if we conserve energy, we can save money. Governor Fashola is involved in this project and very passionate about energy conservation. In fact, the theme of his first ever Google+ hangout was energy conservation. Furthermore, something I would like to share with everyone is that your experience here in Nigeria is greatly influenced by your circle of friends and people you associate with. So if the people you associate with constantly tell you that Nigeria is bad and everyone is bad, you will end up with a negative attitude that will get you nowhere but frustrated. But if you choose to have mentors, friends and people who are a bit more positive, you will be positive. Fortunately, I have been blessed to have people in the public sector who are exceptional and who mentor me.

Can you tell us what your job entails on a day to day basis?
My role is really project-based, some of which typically include working on solar street lights for the state. There are already a few around the city in areas like mega plaza on Idowu Martins street VI, but what we are doing differently this time is to set standards and run trials on different types of solar lights along those streets. We judge the contractors based on feedback that we receive from the public as well as a standards document.

Another project of ours is the Energy Conservation Month, through which we are trying to increase awareness on energy conservation in Lagos. We want to increase the percentage of Lagosians using energy-saving bulbs and conserving energy because we understand that we get about 1,000 megawatts of power at peak from the national grid, whereas Lagos needs about 10,000 megawatts. We do need to generate more as a country, but we also have to conserve because no matter how much power we generate, if we continuously waste, our country will end up in a cost ineffective, never-ending chase for supply. That’s the message the governor gave during the hangout.

What has the public’s reaction to this message been? I ask because we know how ‘conservative’ we can be in embracing new concepts
Regarding solar energy, I think everyone knows that solar technology works and the public perception of it has been great; the negative part about it for me is that whenever anything is done by the government, the general reaction from the public is usually negative. People complain and assume that things are only being done because an election year is fast approaching. This may be because they don’t think anything good ever comes from the government but I hope I can be an example that will help change this perception and I hope more young Nigerians will consider working in the public sector. If we want change, we cannot leave our affairs in the hands of those who do not necessarily have the capacity or the passion to drive such change.

You’re clearly passionate about it! Earlier on, you mentioned being involved in financial advisory for young Nigerians, can you please tell us some more about that?
It started out rather innocuously during my NYSC year in 2011. My batch was the first to receive the doubled allowance and with the increased allowance and payment in arrears of about 3 months’ salary, everyone showed up the next week with a blackberry phone. Up until this point I thought everyone knew about budgeting, and that you don’t spend all you have at once, but save some for the rainy day. After speaking with a few people, I found out the blatant truth –money management is a HUGE gap in the education of the Nigerian youth. How to manage money is not a popular discussion in our environment, therefore our youth are left clueless and do not imbibe good money habits. I got a start giving handy tips to my friends and colleagues and after a while, I discovered it was a service that people actually needed, especially young people because of the time value of money. The business is still growing for now and I’m going through the process of registering it and getting incorporated properly.

There are certainly many young people who would value this service. On a somewhat different note, how have you adjusted to living in Nigeria since your move back?
I have had my fair share of challenges moving back, with the biggest challenge, a very personal one. Prior to moving back home, I was very independent – living on my own and so on but now I am very much accountable to my ever-nurturing parents with whom I still live. However, I think some factors have made my stay comfortable and they include the people I associate with. I had to cut off the negative people in my life who only saw the faults and not the positive aspects of moving back. It is also very important to network; I can’t say how much this has helped me.

Finally, you’ve shared a few positive views during the course of this interview. Do you have anything else to say to people who have recently moved back or are planning to?
A lot of us who move back need to take caution in not becoming conceited because we feel we know everything. We have been exposed to German precision, British civility, the American dream etc and so it’s sometimes hard to appreciate certain things that actually work within the Nigerian system. It is important to remember that if you really want sustainable change, it has got to come from the inside.

Also bear in mind that you need help, you can’t be great without the help of people here; your drivers, co-workers, government officials, everybody. In order to get their support and their help, you have to accept some things the way they are and learn to integrate. First, before you take on the challenge of changing things, learn what works right and why people do things the way they do; only then can you understand them enough to inspire them to change. I think that is part of the key to success for people wanting to move back to Nigeria.

Many thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.

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The  primary objective of MoveBackToNigeria.com is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. Move Back To Nigeria also features social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. Consistently engaging with and featuring Nigerian professionals in weekly  interviews, Move Back To Nigeria regularly publishes social interest articles relevant to the general public. Everyone is welcome to their online discussions & fora and you are invited to air your views & suggestions on the topical and trending matters section. For more information and further inquiries, please contact titi.owoyemi@movebacktonigeria.com.

31 Comments on Move Back to Nigeria: Multi-linguist & Solar Energy Consultant, Dolapo Popoola Talks About Her Move, Passion & Aspirations
  • Yinkz December 20, 2013 at 10:51 am

    This is the best story I have read so far.

  • sugar December 20, 2013 at 10:58 am

    all talk and dont really think what u do now is making any impact…all these white elephant govt initiatives that dont make any meaning……seems a well grounded young lady though….

    • Salewa December 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      I laughed when I read the solar street light part. Afi VI na. I was not surprised that, that is the only place she mentioned, and the rest fell under ‘other places across the state’. Probably because those ‘other’ places no longer work and we know Fashola’s focus is more on the island like he is trying to create a different country only for the rich. The one they installed on Allen Avenue where I live stopped working weeks after, and I am not sure it is still working sef because i haven’t been home this year. As long as they are paying her salary well and she believes she is making a difference, that is what counts

  • Ronke (nee Popoola) December 20, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Proud of you couz! and glad to have my egbon back. Keep doing what you are doing! Mmwah!

  • Dr. N December 20, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Very intelligent. “Learn what works and why” . Some people
    assume nothing works in Nigeria but don’t wonder why the
    expatriates keep flocking in. We have to engage government to
    produce change. Being haughty has brought us to this point where
    illiterates control the educated.
    drnsmusings.wordpress.com

  • mary December 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

    yawnsssss…..she will soon start eating national cake and then we”l see…..

  • frances December 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    @Sugar,what she is doing right now isn’t really making an impact? Atleast she is moving,she is doing something that will and can grow. Wish her all the best.

    http://imperfectlyperfect92.wordpress.com

  • Newbie December 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    This piece in my opinion is one of the few that truly give form to the oft-trotted ‘I want to come home to contribute to the development of my country’ mantra, when in actual fact they are coming home to just like everyone else, make a living – full stop (ain’t nothing wrong with that, btw).

    Dolapo, something tells me you’re onto something good! Fixing the energy sector in my opinion is the missing link in the several [disjointed] efforts to kickstart this our beloved country, Nigeria. You might come across negative people that will try to convince you that nothing good will come out of what you’re trying to achieve; ignore them. You will come across those that will try to corrupt you into cutting corners for personal gain; bind them. You could well come across an alternative employer who will quite legitimately attempt to tempt you away into the more popular sectors with juicier offers; abeg, resist them! We need young, fresh minds and brains like yours in the system, plus prayers that the old, stale ones at the top will listen to what y’all have to say!

    On the issue of conservation though – you can’t conserve what you don’t have nah. How much power is generated kwanu? I still think we should make more efforts to generate a reasonable amount of power first, before we start harping on about conservation. Attitudes to conservation can be changed without much too effort. It is called pricing lol. Have you ever seen a britico person on hols in naija? One of the ways you can identify them is that they turn off every light after them in every room they leave – each time. It is an unconscious behaviour because power is not cheap. Dem nor dey tell person – by the time you get a humongous bill, then a red reminder letter… attitude will change, sharp sharp.

    All the best, you are an impressive young lady.

    p.s. So what’ s the story with shona- I couldn’t make the connection from your resume as to how you learnt the language. pray tell.

    • energybill December 20, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      hahahahaha! “Have you ever seen a britico person on hols in naija? One of the ways you can identify them is that they turn off every light after them in every room they leave – each time. It is an unconscious behaviour because power is not cheap. Dem nor dey tell person – by the time you get a humongous bill, then a red reminder letter… attitude will change, sharp sharp.”

      As in you hit the nail on the head. My brother always fights me whenever I go to naija because I’m always switching off lights. I had to ask “eyin o kin sanwo ina ni? I was chatting to a friend in naija via skype a couple of nights ago and he asked why I was in a grandad pyjamas 4 sizes too big. Well I had just recieved my heating bill a day before and it’s not funny. I had to turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees and layer up. Biko I can’t come and be broke in the new year because I have used all my money to pay heating bill. lol

      Back to the main gist. Well done girl, I hope there aare tangible results to your efforts and that of Lagos State govt in the future, not just in VI but all other parts of lagos as well.

  • FunkyW December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    @Mary, please note that not everybody is like you. You don’t have to drag anyone down, even if you don’t aspire for better standards.

    Titi Well Done!

  • eni December 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Great Lady …listened 2 her interview on BBC. Well done!

    http://www.proudlynigerian.net

  • Felinda1 December 20, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    this is a unique background and experience, she will never be out of a job. If i could rewind the clock back i will not have done my MBA, cos the market is so saturated with MBAs now (even non accredited ones are even bragging), but if you choose a career path like this young lady here, not many people study it and the job will always be in abundance, you pick and choose whom you want to work for. Great story and testimony for young ones coming up trying to decide which course path to take. Enough of t he Law and the Business. Do something different

  • avuekwe December 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I am very proud of her. In nysc camp, she was my room mate and we served in the same lga. The babe na fire, no just mess with her.she was a very good friend of emma oh my God the comedian during our nysc days. Now I see why she hung out with talented people.

  • Different Shades of Nigerian December 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Good job miss! All this people flying their mouth left and right, remember, you can only truly change things from the inside. Yes her work may not seem like it is contributing much because you cant see it but imagine this lady leading this sector in 10 years, do u think she wud accept mediocrity? Nigerians want change, they dont know how long it takes for change to happen and they are not even willing to fight for the change na so so to criticize other people.

    Another important thing is that money management ! Lawd God !!! I used to think “how will u teach people to manage money when they dont even have enough for basic needs” but I have learnt that it is a lie ! Nigerians are wasteful, very very wasteful, everyone is keeping up with the rat race. My friends will pay 30k for asoebi and start nagging me on bbm. U earn 150k per mouth, u got to be fool to spend 30k on one piece of cloth. Shud I talk about bbm? I never owned a bbm till I left Nigeria, I cud not fathom spending 5k every month for a service and my friends thot I was d stingest person in d world. I kept gathering and saving my money and used it to fulfill my dreams of leaving naija for a better life ( I got help, but my own money gave me the confidence to ask for support). Our youths need serious financial management lessons, a lot of people are richer than they think, they need to learn about living below ones means and benefits of compound interest

    • tonitaj December 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I agree with you about money management. Most people don’t realise the importance of saving and not spending all of their income on trivial things. Several of my friends have tried to convince me about making the “brazillian hair” investment. Investment bi ti bawo? On principle i refuse to spend £350 on hair extensions. Back to Dolapo, the greatest journey starts with the first step and you have taken yours. With the red-tapes and sexism in naija, you have a mountain to climb and i wish you loads of luck

  • Lizzie December 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    lovely read, well done girl!

  • onyinyechi December 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Dolly Pizzle! great job, you are doing so well already and you inspire people like me who have been here for so long time and find it difficult appreciating anything in this country. You are bound for greatness, keep doing what you are doing, see you soon!

  • Yewande December 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I’m proud of you. I hope you have the best possible outcome :)

  • Joy December 21, 2013 at 2:00 am

    I read the entire interview to my astonishment. This
    demonstrates the quality of this piece. I am proud of you, girl.
    Schooling abroad definitely does something to your critical
    thinking and analytical skills. I am a senior radiology student,
    living in Florida USA. I intend to move back home later in future.
    I learned much from you. Thank you, and I wish you the best in all
    your endeavor.

  • chinasa December 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Congratulations for your brave decision to go back in time to the mother land. If what you hope to achieve is a living then with the right links you should be alright. However if you hope to change things with your skills then you are in for an up hill task. The problem with nigeria is not the lack of talent, dats not the problem at all. it is corruption. This corruption makes some people powerful and rich and others weak and poor. remember i said powerful, you see the corrupt fat cats want nigeria to stay the way it is because it pays them. Imagine the extent they will go to keep things the way they are, with the support of the west of cause, Why? how else do you think the west get hold of cheap oil. Nigeria is just one big sweat shop servcing the west and the politicians are the slave masters selling us out. Nigeria is a loss cause. however if you have assess to the national cake then do take a big slice. thats my take , I live the reality of Nigeria day in and out I wouldn’t advise my enemy to come back to this.

  • Cocobutter December 21, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    @ Chinasa I like your bluntness, and your are keeping it real. Gbam!

  • Tosin December 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Glad I clicked. Smart girl grabbing life by the balls. Hot.

  • ‘Midé December 22, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I read Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter and where she said “Nigeria is a nasty place that pushes people to lose their compass.” That is telling, I think. Nigeria is still on a slide to hell, it has not witnessed yet its worst times. Those days are creeping in and around its corners. I don’t envy the task you have taken up for yourself and I can only wish the best of luck. I know magical things do happen.

  • Tanwa December 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    I just watch a very telling utube video by a young girl called kola olaosebikan titled ‘why wouldn’t I leave Nigeria .

  • Wale December 23, 2013 at 12:12 am

    I thought this was one of the best move back stories, only to scroll down and see these very negative Nigerians’ bitter comments… smh

    • Tanwa December 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      You don’t need to worry about the negative comments. Just be inspired by what you want, take the bull by the horn and go to Nigeria or stay put if you are already there. If these comments affect you then Nigeria is not for you. Nigeria is for the Strong Willed not those that are swayed by mere words.

  • lyn December 25, 2013 at 5:46 am

    I like her.

  • Nnenna January 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    DP of life! Congratulations sweetie!!! Keep up the good work! Lagoon girls doing it big!!!#Proud

  • Meanwhile… January 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    How do we reach you for financial advice? Do you do seminars for teenagers as well?

  • me me February 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    well done girl! i’m of proud of you!

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