Women & Allies Leadership Program Opens up a World of Opportunity

A group of 17 people in a group photo outside

After 20 years on the job, Igeme Ezenwata (née Egwu) needed a change. For two decades, she worked in supply chain and procurement in the oil and gas industry in Lagos, Nigeria, but she wanted to take a professional swing. Discovering what that swing could be led her on both a professional and personal journey across the world.  

Flash forward to fall 2023, when Ezenwata had quit her job and found herself in a Babson College classroom. After years of searching for a professional development program, she finally found the steppingstone she needed.  

She was partaking in the Leadership Program for Women & Allies (LPWA), a Babson Executive Education program designed to help people identify and leverage their strengths in professional settings. She started the program with one idea of what she could accomplish professionally, only to discover she was limiting herself. 

“On the first day, I thought the worst that could happen is that at the end of the program, I would move to my next job with new skills. It would at least be in an industry I picked for myself,” Ezenwata says. “As the program progressed, it was much more than that.” 

After a week of self-reflecting and rethinking, she emerged with no desire to pursue traditional employment or to find that next corporate role. Armed with a new understanding of herself and entrepreneurship, she decided to forge a new course. 

Learn to Use What You Have 

The LPWA program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2024, is based on the principles of self-efficacy, or someone’s belief that they have the ability to accomplish something. According to co-faculty director of LPWA and former executive director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship Smaiyra Million P’21, participants are encouraged to think about the skills they already possess and embrace the idea that they can have a significant impact. It has been described by participants and the faculty directors as transformative and empowering. 

Igeme Ezenwata (center) with LPWA co-faculty directors Smaiyra Million P’21 and Kristen Getchell

“The hope is participants learn how to better understand their own professional and personal strengths and identify ways to leverage those strengths in their current and future roles,” says Kristen Getchell, associate professor of business communications and co-faculty director of the LPWA program with Million. “We want them to understand how they can make a greater impact by using what they already have and know and translate that into action.” 

Going through the discussions and exercises in the program showed Ezenwata she could turn what she thought of as hobbies into her actual profession. She landed on her passions for wellness and education.  

The next step was to identify what skills she already had. She landed on an unexpected one: gift-giving. She loves creating personal gifts for loved ones (“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like them,” she jokes), and now she runs a naturally scented candle and diffuser business. 

“I’ve never put myself in a position where I saw that as becoming a primary place of interest. It was just a hobby I had an Instagram for,” she says. “I had to take responsibility to move myself forward rather than wait for the next corporation to hire me. I realized it was going to be difficult to go back to a corporate role based on who I am and what I want.” 

Rethink What You Know 

Part of realizing the potential of her hobbies was to put some actual thought into them. “Before I came to the program, my idea of starting an entrepreneurship journey was you decide what you want to do and you just do it,” Ezenwata says. “I thought I would make the candles and people would just buy them.”  

She ultimately found a flaw in her plan. “I’ve realized you need to find a buyer and understand the market for your product before you make the product. The design of the product should be driven by the people who will use it, not what you think they need.”  She is embracing the constructive, thoughtful feedback the program provided, as well as the confidence in her abilities, something she says she didn’t get a lot of in her professional life previously. 

“I’m trying to put into practice everything I’ve learned and see how that works. The program helped me embrace myself fully in a way I wasn’t used to. I accepted that it was OK to be me rather than finding a way to fit in.” Igeme Ezenwata, LPWA participant

In addition to her business, she sits on an advisory board for a hospitality school for women in Lagos, playing an integral part in how the school secures scholarship funding. Last year, the board secured scholarships for hundreds of girls through donor funding. It’s a way for Ezenwata to keep her work community-minded; she also helps spread educational awareness and many of the school’s students open small culinary businesses in the area.  

Now that she’s home, she’s enjoying having more than one professional outlet. Ultimately, she’s grateful for the new outlook on her career and her life in general as she reflects on the LPWA program and the next chapter it helped her write. 

“I’m trying to put into practice everything I’ve learned and see how that works. The program helped me embrace myself fully in a way I wasn’t used to,” Ezenwata says. “I accepted that it was OK to be me rather than finding a way to fit in.” 

Posted in Community, Entrepreneurial Leadership, Outcomes

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