Have You Met Rutgers-Newark?

Empowering Girls from Newark to Nigeria

At the age of 24, Yetunde Odugbesan is networking on global scale.

She’s met former president Bill Clinton and Nigerian government officials. She was on the search committee that selected the new Rutgers University president Robert L. Barchi and last month, she spoke at the U.N. World Conference on the Status of Women, advocating for programs that will empower girls in Africa to realize their potential, even in the midst of poverty and political strife.

“There are so many gifted, talented young people who because of the instability of the government and corruption don’t have opportunities,’’says Odugbesan, who is working toward her doctoral degree at the Rutgers' Division of Global Affairs, part of the Graduate School in Newark.

Odugbesan, whose parents are from Nigeria, is a graduate of the United Nations Worldview Institute, an executive training program for global business professionals.

At the U.N. conference, she also spoke out against the practice of genital mutilation in African countries, hoping to encourage more dialogue on the issue. 

“It’s needs to be talked about,’’ says Odugbesan, a lifelong Newark resident. “I’ve met older women who went through this as young girls in rural areas. It was a cultural thing that they didn’t have any say about. They weren’t able to do anything. The end goal is to raise awareness of the negative physical and psychological effects of this cultural practice in the hope that it will be eradicated.’’

Odugbesan toured Nigeria three years ago with the National Global Leadership Collaborative, a group founded by Newark councilwoman Mildred Crump, which seeks to create international and local connections between women who want to make a difference.

She hopes to inspire girls in Africa and the U.S. to find their leadership potential.

“I’ve always had a lens both on the Nigerian in the American,’’ says Odugbesan, who operates her own business, Yetunde Global Consulting LLC, which specializes in leadership development. 

Odugbesan has received invitations from the Nigerian government and the World Bank to appear as a motivational speaker. Her message is that girls are key to building a better nation. 

 “I tell them the world needs you and society needs you. This will push you when all else fails,’’ she says. 

Because her parents emigrated to the United States to find a better life and were able to pay for Catholic school for Odugbesan and her brother, Odugbesan knows she has had opportunities that are denied to many Nigerian girls. But she sees commonalities. “I tell the girls that I have different experiences than they do, but young people here face some of the same issues. How am I going to find a job? How am I going to pay for my education?’’

In the past year, Odugbesan formed Young Women’s Guide, a mentorship organization that helps connect girls with women leaders and groups that can best help them pursue their quest for social change.

“I know a lot of young women that are accomplished, that are lawyers, political leaders and business women. And I wanted young women to get to know them,’’ she says “I wanted them to share how they got there, to help others find what causes speak to their passion.’’

As the organization grows, Odugbesan hopes to find a service project in Africa for members to work on.

One of her goals is to help build a school in Nigeria. “I’ve seen how deplorable the schools can be and I know that half of a child’s life is spent in school. I want to create a place that’s accepting and welcoming, where children can enter and call it their own.’’


Carrie Stetler