Q: Engineering is such a broad field of study. It requires artistic creativity, rational problem-solving, wild imagination, and a desire to improve the world. As a young student, what drew you to get involved in engineering?
A: As a child, like most kids, I was drawn to the physical aspect of engineering: form, shape, colour. I didn’t know it as engineering. For a long time, I only knew it as architecture. I was very interested in how I could design better buildings for my family. I was very much drawn to the idea of using creativity to build nicer spaces to be in.
Q: Can you recall the first time you were inspired by a particular architect, a specific building or structure?
A: I used to spend a lot of time in the home of an incredible architect called Demas Nwoko. My mum would drop us off there when she was at work. He’s one of Africa’s finest architects. He ensures that his architecture speaks the language of the people of the land. Every aspect of his structures speaks to the history and the culture of the community.
I loved the fact that the chairs were all hand carved. The tiles in the bathrooms had all been carefully hand-produced. They each told a very deep story. He built the house from materials that surrounded it. He produced the clay using a soil that was very much associated with the area.
“These days, everybody’s trying to ensure that their architecture speaks to its environment. That it doesn’t take away from the context but adds to it. It tells the story or the history of wherever you are or where you’re situating the building.”
There’s a self-reflective element to the architecture that I experienced as a child. I appreciate that even more now because I can see that many people are trying to get back to that.
Q: What does it mean for you to be a ‘Global Citizen’ and why should we strive to be one?
A: I’ve had the incredible opportunity of experiencing many different countries and cultures. Engineering, which is such a beautiful, universal language, has opened the world to me. It’s allowed me to speak the language of lots of different countries by being able to design for them.
I’m on a bit of a mission because we’ve got so many similar challenges all over the world. Yet, we lose so much time and efficiency in our attempts to find local solutions to local problems.
“When one country has a problem, it starts trying to find a solution to a problem that another has already solved. I’ll show the audience how they can use very basic but interesting, creative tools to solve global issues.”
Engineering requires us to rise to the task of solving these problems. We must be courageous and intentional in doing so.
Q: You’ve mentioned that you don’t consider what you do as ‘a living’ but as ‘your purpose’. Do you have an over-arching mission that you wish to achieve? If so, what is it?
A: To empower a generation of people to solve problems through engineering. By giving them access to education, we can help them understand exactly how they can use their skills to do so.
Q: What advice do you have for those who seek to find their calling in life and their own way to contribute to society?
A: For me, the first point is about looking at one’s journey so far, taking stock and being so grateful for it. You already have what you need to take the next step. If you’ve got experience or an interest, think about how you can use that to get yourself there.
The other thing I would say is that you need to be curious. You need to be willing to ask questions, to Google search to find out who you need to talk to.
“Purpose is an ongoing thing… You don’t wake up one day knowing all that you’re supposed to be about. It reveals itself through action, the process of trying things.”
By doing, you start to connect the dots. There’s something beautiful about that. You don’t know where it will lead you but you know what you need to be doing right now, using what you currently have.
Q: Your career has allowed you to work in many different capacities. Public speaker, TV presenter and engineer. What’s next for Yewande Akinola?
A: I’m involved in the academic industry. I work as an engineer. I speak at events. I am currently working on a YouTube series intended to inspire young people. This means that I’m now exploring how to write scripts and direct videos.
If a young person is thinking of becoming an engineer, I want to ensure that they have the resources to do so.
Thank you to Yewande for taking the time to answer our questions.
‘Global Citizen: reporting for duty’ takes place at the National Football Museum on the 29th of November 2022.