Daring falls several calibrations short of what would best describe Ogutu Okudo, founder and CEO of Women in Energy and Extractives Africa (WEX Africa). At 28, Ogutu has plunged into a realm that most women and men her age would not touch with a long pole: oil and gas.
To imagine that Ogutu is simply testing waters of oil and gas could not be more erroneous. This young woman is a fireball who is in the energy sector for the long haul; propelled by a robust desire to spearhead African women’s participation in the male-controlled sector.
But why would oil and gas –that for decades has been virtually a man’s domain –strike her fancy?
To start with, Ogutu holds a Master of Science in Oil and Gas Enterprise Management from University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
She has also been the country manager for SpringRock Energy, a global oilfield and servicing company, since she was 25.
“Women always get the short end of the stick in most oil-producing economies in the world. Men, on the other hand, take home billions of dollars in revenue, which is unfair,” she says.
This gender disparity in the oil, gas, mining, nuclear and alternative energy sources, she says, is what WEX Africa, founded in 2011, hopes to challenge, and push for a fair deal for women in the energy sphere.
“Closer home, oil has been discovered in Turkana County and even as the national government promised to give 10 per cent of oil revenue to the host community, there haven’t been further negotiations to increase the share. But most importantly, there are no deliberate efforts to determine what percentage of this revenue will go to the welfare of women and girls in Turkana,” Ogutu argues.
WEX Africa is an exclusive network of women professionals in both oil and non-oil industries but who are driven by the desire for equity in the industry, she says.
“We also have on board female students undertaking engineering courses in oil exploration and who have demonstrated passion about our cause,” she says, adding that their objective is to increase women’s understanding on what is involved in the oil and gas value chain, and different ways in which they can benefit from the process.
Currently, WEX Africa has 3553 registered members from eight African countries, among them Nigeria and South Africa. Kenya has the most members at 1200.
For incorporating women in their oil industry, Ogutu observes, countries such as Papua New Guinea have significantly addressed “fundamental economic challenges that are otherwise fuelled by exclusion of women in the critical industry elsewhere in the world”.
Active inclusion of women in critical economic sectors such as energy is the piece that has all this while been missing in Kenya and Africa’s economic jigsaw, she points out, and adds that “women are change catalysts. When you tap into their full potential, you are able to have more inclusive economic developments while improving living conditions for all in the society”.
Progressively, Ogutu reveals that the value chain of the energy sector is a multi-billion-shilling industry that women could exploit. She however sadly observes that when women participate in oil and gas, they tend to go for less rewarding areas.
“Women should gun for big-money areas such as oil transportation, security in oil mines, waste management and even consultancy services in all the stages of the oil value chain which earn more money,” she says.
If Kenya hopes to attain a manufacturing-driven economy in its Vision 2030, she says, then the country had better start putting more emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses.
“African countries such as Morocco now require 75 per cent of their students to undertake STEM courses at university. This has triggered an upsurge of girls going for science and technology courses,” she says.
According to her, adopting such a model in Kenya and persuading more girls to enrol for STEM courses would make massive strides towards its principal economic blueprint of a more industrialised economy.
To this effect, Ogutu and other women in the oil and gas sector have mentored more than 5000 girls in schools across the country.
“To have long-term shift in attitudes and outlook, we must start the process at the school level and inculcate in our girls the importance science and technology. Business courses, which most tertiary institutions are offering, are necessary, but currently Kenya needs skill building, and matching those skills with our economic needs,” she advices.
Ogutu is a board member of the Association of Women in Extractives Kenya (AWEIK). And has been honoured by Crans Montana Forum with the New Leader of Tomorrow award for her role in jostling for women’s position in the energy sector.
Besides oil and gas, she is passionate about youth rights, and believes that this group must be recognised as equal stakeholders in the affairs of a country.
“The youth account for 70 per cent of the country’s population, yet we constitute less than 10 per cent in the government. We must actively be involved in the conceptualisation, analysis and implementation of programmes that touch on our welfare. We should not be side-lined in resource management as has always been the case,” she concludes.