“I have had people refer to me as a Mr Ogutu. Especially when I haven’t met someone formally. So they get shocked when they come across a 27-year-old woman,” says Ogutu Okudo, founder and CEO of Women in Energy and Extractives Africa (WEX) Africa.
This shows how this ambitious yet humble woman has plunged into an industry that is predominantly perceived to be male dominated and also one, which many young men her age wouldn’t think of. Even her name, Ogutu Okudo, perpetuates this theme of standing out that characterises her life. They are both male names.
Back to drawing board
But being in the oil and gas industry was not her dream. She had joined United States International University (USIU) in 2010 to study Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. “I remember asking myself if I felt challenged enough, if I was getting enough of a “mental high” from what I was doing, and the answer was “no”. I have never been afraid to revisit the drawing board. I felt I wanted to be part of an emerging industry that had the ability if managed well to transform the lives of millions of Kenyans. That was solely the inspiration,” she recounts.
Consequently, in 2014, Ogutu travelled to Scotland for her masters in Oil and Gas Enterprise Management at the University of Aberdeen.
“There is no better experience than to study oil and gas in Europe’s oil capital, especially at such an alarming time. I started my course when the oil price was at Sh12,800 ($127) per barrel and by the time I was done with my course, it was Sh2,700 $27 per barrel. A huge slap in the face, entering an industry when it was hit hard by geopolitics, new energy frontiers (Shale gas in the US) and increased stockpiles globally. It was terrifying. However, challenge has always exhilarated me,” she says.
Ogutu came back to Kenya in 2015 and couldn’t find a job in the oil and gas industry. She ended up working in FinTech in 2015 as a business development associate for six months. “I just couldn’t stomach it. It wasn’t for me; so I quit my job to chase my dreams,” she says.
In 2016, at only 25 years, Ogutu got a job as a country manager of SpringRock Energy, a global upstream oil and servicing company.
The journey to the top has been full of ups and downs. That the industry is male-dominated globally intimidated her and made her have a lot of self-doubt. However, from an early age, the values of hard work and discipline had been instilled in her and this was what made her overcome her challenges. “I have been called, “young girl, little girl” and all sorts of derogatory terms by men in private and public sector. However, I never let that deter me. I always challenged myself to acquire as much knowledge as possible and to be the best I had to act like it.
Her interest to see development of women directly and indirectly in the energy and extractives sector led her to start the Women in Energy and Extractives Africa organisation. “In 2011, while still in campus, I was at a conference in the outskirts of Nairobi discussing environmental sustainability and the strategic tool women played. Right about the same time, in the Niger Delta, communities were protesting against neglicence in operations by oil companies resulting in oil spills. I noticed the men dominantly speaking, but it was the untold suffering of silent women and children that was the inspiration behind WEX,” she says.
WEX now counts over 3,500 members, from all corners of the world. Last year, on March 8, her organisation, hosted the “HER World Energy Forum’ to bring together women in the oil industry.
WEX aims to empower women through advocating for education and knowledge, promoting diversity, investing in the development of skills, fostering relationships and the career advancement of women and creating awareness of the existing and potential social, economic, political and cultural impacts the energy and extractive sector play in the livelihoods of women. Another aspect is to promote the energy and extractive sector as a career choice to women in all professions.