Member Spotlight: Jessica Odeyemi, Chair, Social Innovation Grant Committee
The first time Jessica Odeyemi flew on an airplane was when she was 17 and went to visit Princeton University, where she’d been accepted for the class of 2009. Her experience at Princeton, where she majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering, was transformational for the girl from Missouri City, Texas (near Houston). “I was surrounded by so many intelligent people that were so different from me,” she said. “Everyone was cool and quirky and had some interesting story beneath the surface.”
Jessica’s story arguably became one of the most interesting. A summer position in Texas with Schlumberger led to her first job as a fracking engineer in Germany. Several years later, she advanced to a leadership position with Chevron, where she was the only woman on an offshore oil rig with 199 men--managing many of them--in Angola.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “Yes, there were political differences, I looked different from many of my coworkers, and I was the only woman. But there was always common ground to be found. We were there for the same reasons. It was a high-pressure environment and we all wanted to do great work, take care of ourselves and leave the rig safely. I feel like that experience was a turning point in my life because I gained confidence in my ability to learn and supervise people who are very different from me.”
After seven years in the oil and gas industry, Jessica felt like the industry was ripe for change, and she wanted to learn more about how technology could automate workflows that had been done the same way for decades. That desire led her to get an MBA at Duke, where she loved the collaborative environment and was introduced to nonprofit management through Fuqua On Board, a program that pairs MBA students with nonprofit boards. She became a board member of the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce and learned a lot about how to build consensus collaboratively.
She also interned as a startup analyst fellow for NC Idea, a private foundation in Durham that provides mentorship as well as $50,000 seed grants for North Carolina based startups with high growth potential. She got to work with investors from all over the state and gained experience in grant reviewing, including how to review business plans, measure traction and evaluate advisory boards and founding teams. After graduating with her MBA in 2018, she accepted a job in Austin as a product manager for IBM Cloud.
How did you get involved with Impact Austin?
I have always felt the need to be involved in any community I’m a part of. IBM has a list of organizations that employees have been involved in and when I stumbled across Impact Austin, I loved the model of collective philanthropy. It really resonated with me. I went to my first coffee chat and learned that Rebecca Powers had also worked at IBM. She put me in touch with Christina [Gorczynski] who invited me to the pilot meeting for one of our new grant committees. I loved the idea that this organization that had been so successful was thinking about branching out into a new area. There were amazing women at the meeting and everyone had a voice. I felt encouraged to speak up. When I was asked to be the chair of the new committee, I thought, Of course! This is something I believe in and it is a great learning experience.
Tell us about the development of the new Social Innovation Grant Committee?
We decided that each year we would focus on something specific that’s affecting the Austin community. This year we are looking to fund collaboratives focused on systems change for women and girls of color. We came to the conclusion that when organizations come together within different spheres of influence to address a problem, solutions for systems change can happen. I am lucky to have found an amazing co-chair in Leadership Austin Fellow Robin Loving, a nonprofit effectiveness coach, as we formalize this committee. She is great! We meet weekly and her passion and commitment really show. She volunteers 20-30 hours a week meeting with various organizations and community leaders, doing research on what collectives exist, where there are gaps, and helping me formulate our strategy. We will begin taking our first grant applications later this summer!
What has been most rewarding about your experience with Impact Austin so far?
The fact that Impact Austin has trusted me to step up in this role so quickly. I love being part of this dynamic organization that is open to change and innovation. It’s only my first year but Impact Austin values my opinion, my perspective, and my leadership. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I hope that we can come up with a fresh model for this committee that other organizations can replicate. I think the Social Innovation Grant Committee elevates Impact Austin and shows the types of issues we care about. I hope it grows and stretches me as a person as well!"