Episode 21: Google brand strategist Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde intersects leadership, tech, life balance





Joining us in the premier Episode 21 of Season 3 is Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, head of brand and reputation for Google Africa. Dr. Connie was immediately taken by Jola’s energy and enthusiasm when they both presented at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in 2018, which focused on the future of cities. Jola’s technology expertise combined with her show-up leadership style make her a dynamic female leader and true maverick. 

Jola discusses several of Google’s initiatives to empower female entrepreneurs with digital skills, her leadership advice that focuses on purpose and how she balances a high-power career with being a present wife and mother. Dr. Connie also has Jola dig into technology for rural-urban collaboration, agriculture and the future of jobs. Jola also shares her team’s ideas for creating inclusive initiatives for economic development in Nigeria and around the world.

“The job of a leader is to, first of all, set the vision, so tell us where we’re going. And then once you’ve set the vision, you need to find the people and put them in the right places, so put people in the place where they will thrive.”
Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde
Head of Brand & Reputation, Google, Africa

About Jola


Experienced business and marketing leader responsible for Brand and Reputation marketing at Google, Africa. Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, human potential, gender equality, amongst others. Holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Lagos and a Masters in Management and Strategic Information Systems from the University of Bath, UK. Outside of professional life, wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend, nature lover, aspiring chef and organizer.


Mentioned In This Episode


Bold Voices Student Segment

Listen at 13:45 of Episode 21!

“When posting to social media, we try to start a conversation,” says social media guru Kaitlin VanLoon.

VanLoon, a senior advertising and public relations major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, digs deep into the future of technology, social media and rural-urban collaboration during the Bold Voices student segment.

VanLoon recognizes that social media can be viewed as both harmful and helpful but she encourages listeners to view it as a positive tool for engagement and information sharing. “My goal is to share the ways that [social media] can be helpful, because it is such a powerful tool in communicating,” she says.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie and we’re super excited today to have a special guest with us. Coming to us from Nigeria, is Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde. Welcome to the podcast, Jola.

Jola: Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Connie.

Dr. Connie: And I have to tell a little background on how we met. So Jola and I met at the Global Women’s Summit in Paris in 2018. And I have to tell you, I was there, I met a lot of great people, but Jola was the most friendly, just most excited and energetic person that I met at the whole conference. And it was wonderful to get to know you there and I’m so excited that you could come on the podcast with us.

Jola: It’s such an honor, for sure, and was such a pleasure to meet you. And I had to be excited, because, I mean, you went on and started telling me about how you lived in Nigeria at some point. And I was like, wow! And then I remember you said you were from Nebraska and I remember the only time I ever heard about Nebraska was my friend that lived there for a bit. And I was just excited, so it brought back a lot of memories, you were equally pleasant yourself. So it’s an honor.

Dr. Connie: Just recently Jola was promoted to the role of Head Brand and Reputation at Google for Africa. So tell us a little bit more about your current role.

Jola: What really excited me was the fact that it’s an opportunity to change the world in a very remarkable way. I mean I joined Google over seven years ago, I mean, I joined for many reasons. But one of those reasons was I wanted to make an impact on the world. Also I wanted to be in an organization that allowed me to feel like I was still a little bit of an entrepreneur and give me an opportunity to be at the forefront of technology, especially because, I mean, we all know, on the African continent, some of the issues that have been highlighted with plans such as the AU 2063, which is the AU agenda to transform Africa, as well as a sustainable development goals. We looked at it as saying, how can we be in a scientific way? So part of the continental goal is to drive social and economic development. Areas around jobs, areas around skills, around education and environment, gender equality, some of those areas that we have programs that we run already as a continent or we can create based on our product and so we’re doing that right now. And I will say we can blame the leaders, but what are we all doing in our corners, right? And so for me I feel like this is an incredible opportunity, I mean in a unique space and I can actually make an impact on the continent, in the very important significant way.

Dr. Connie: I love your just life philosophy around that, and your leadership philosophy around that. We all need to show up and really be in our purpose and do for the greater good. Could you give an example of some of the programs and initiatives that you’re working on there at Google to help empower women specifically?

Jola: One of the programs that we drive is our community initiatives which we’re launching this year to actually support women on their pillars of leadership, entrepreneurship, digital literacy and workplace; help women to understand that really they can, there really are no (mumbles), and even if there are we can really shelter them. That program is called Womenwill and the program is a community-led initiative. So we have Womenwill chapter leaders in different parts of the world, not just in Africa, and we’re going to be launching on International Women’s Day actually across three markets in Africa. The other program is I Am Remarkable program which was started off, I believe started off as an internal initiative by Google. And then now we’ve kind of done it and we do it externally for many people. I Am Remarkable is a program that basically helps women to show up, to basically say, truly, I am remarkable, to tell their stories. Because sometimes we are either behind our own awesomeness and we are afraid to kind of just showcase and shine. This year we’re also going to be running initiative around small and medium businesses, women-led businesses, where we’re doing workshops then up and down to learn digital skills and then helping them to grow their businesses, also helping them to show up online. So we have a product called Google My Business, that product basically gives you presence on Google Search and Maps and really even roam in their program to become, not just as a business listed, but also a profile.

Dr. Connie: In many of our rural communities what we keep hearing is we need to empower women, and that’s here in Nebraska, that was very clear in Japan, it’s clear in Australia that we’re still struggling around this a little bit in terms of what does this really mean and how do we do it really well. What can we do differently in what we’ve done in the past?

Jola: First of all, I think we’re doing a lot of things right. So this is not to shoot down any initiatives that are happening or any empowerment programs that are out there. The only other part that I see is the fact that I believe that, on one hand, we are truly empowering women, but we’re not also empowering the other gender. So we are beginning to ignore the male gender. And the problem is we can’t do one without the other. Everybody needs to be empowered. I know that, on one side, the scale is already tilted and you need to get it to a level. But what we would hate to do in the future is actually to tilt the scale to the extent that we now have a problem where we have a male empowerment program 20, 30 years from now. So we need to be deliberate, we need to make sure that we’re not the only world where at the end of the day we’re figuring out how to tilt the scale back again.

Dr. Connie: It’s really about empowering a global community and that includes everyone. And I think that’s something that, it’s not the easiest, but it is the best path.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell me a little more about your background, like how did you get to Google and what was it before that that kinda led you there but also your academic background?

Jola: I’d like to tell a joke, which is a true to life story of one of my superiors while I worked in consulting, who basically told me one day,

“oh, Jola, I thought you studied English.”

I was like, “no, I studied computer science.”

And was like, he was completely shocked and I found it hilarious– a little bit disrespectful, but a little bit hilarious as well. Because I was like, how do you come up with this confusion that you thought that I studied English? I’m a techie. Well, maybe you just think that because I found myself in strategy consulting, I’m not coding, then I should’ve come from like, I don’t know, maybe you just confuse that based on the fact that I talk too much. It was very hilarious and very fascinating too. Well let me just take you back a little bit in terms of my background. So I grew up in Nigeria. I did my primary school and my secondary school there and then my university as well. So my first degree was in computer science at the University of Lagos. And then when I finished that I proceeded to do master’s in management and strategic information system at the University of Bath in the UK. I’ve really always been passionate about Africa and Nigeria specifically. I wanted to come back home, I wanted to make a difference. I was very ambitious and very eager to make a difference at the time. So I did come back home and I took on a job with a local engineering company at the time. I had the opportunity, I’ve been fortunate to work with very brilliant and very entrepreneurial people. So I worked with this entrepreneur for a period of about six months at the time. I had an opportunity to renew my contract but I didn’t. And then I went home to do like a youth service program which is a program that we do as part of once you finish school in Nigeria you have to do it as service to your nation. It’s a one year program. So I did that and then I went on to work for Silverbird Group. Silverbird Group is a local entrepreneur that’s into media, real estate, cinemas, TV radio, etc. I was working very closely with the CEO, I worked in the strategy unit. Working closely with the CEO, gave me opportunities, we met a lot of bigwigs and a lot of people that we’re really investing heavily in different industries. And then from that I realized something. I realized that I was a bit, I felt like I got to the top of my career just too quickly. Again maybe, I don’t know, maybe that was my limiting mindset at the time as a woman and I started doubting myself. I’m thinking, how do I, like, I know very little, all those things I’ve been taught in business school, I’ve applied them, but I, there’s really no one to sanity check me because when you work in strategy and you work directly with the CEO you kinda make all the rules and tell everybody else what to do. So I decided that I wanted to really check my knowledge and I wanted to just test my depths. And so I started seeking out opportunities in consulting specifically because I thought that would give me a great opportunity to really test that. And I got into Accenture, worked in strategy consulting on many projects, fortunate to work across industries and projects and that was great as well. Again I was still very young, I wasn’t married, so I was very open to like living the lifestyle of the consultant: be anywhere at anytime kinda. But I got to a point I got married and then I realized that I wanted to be in a bit more control of my time, I wanted balance in a certain kind of way. So I was seeking out opportunities, companies like Google used to fascinate me, like who are these people that work for the best company to work for in the world? And I didn’t think, I wasn’t, I thought I was, I can do this. And then I was fortunate at some point that Google was recruiting in the market. And it was quite interesting because basically someone put a post on LinkedIn, I sent an email, I said I was interested, and before I knew it I got calls, basically interview scheduled and things like that. So for me, it was kind of like, wow.

Dr. Connie: You just basically thought, I can do this, I want to go where the best people in the world work, I want to work for the best companies in the world and I’m just going to go do it.

Jola: Yeah. So I basically thought, you know what, they are not superhuman. I’m human as well and I can get this opportunity. And it was funny because when I saw the post I was like, it’s Google, like are they really in Nigeria? I wasn’t sure if it was like a spam or something. One of the things that’s also magical about this place, the recruiters were amazing, my recruiters at the time were amazing. They make me feel like a superstar, right? I was not in the country when I got the call, and actually I’m not in the country, so, like I can’t do the interview. Like, don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. The entire process was like, you are definitely a superstar even if you get in or you don’t. More and more, I was falling in love with this place and, more and more, I was falling in love with the mission. Because also something, for me, it’s never about working to get paid. My work has to have meaning to it. So for a company that was building something, that was greater than themselves, I was like completely am with you. Organizing the world’s information, making it universally accessible, who does that? Like, just because. And then you find a way to monetize that. I was blessed and lucky to get the offer to join Google as a business development manager at that time. I worked on a number of products. Google Maps products, our access products, our Cloud products and I’m looking forward to all the impact that we can create.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit more about you as a leader, how your philosophy show up in your leadership style and approach?

Jola: The job of a leader is to, first of all, set the vision. So tell us where we’re going. And then once you set the vision, you need to find the people and put them in the right places. So put people in the place where they will thrive, put in the place where they will stretch them and will bring the best version of them, right? And then once you’ve done that, is that you go out and you make sure that you have the resources, the funding, the support of every stakeholder to ensure that your team is able to do the work that they’ve been hired to do. I’m very big on letting people know where they’re going and I feel like that’s always one of the biggest failures of leadership, when people don’t have a sense of, why am I following you, why are you the one leading us. I try to be very clear with my team in letting them know, this is where we’re going and this is the reason why. And I always tie that back into what I say about the bigger picture and purpose, right? Sharing my own reason why, building that into vision and being able to sell that to people that basically say, you know what, regardless of anything, I will come with you on this journey because this journey seems to be meaningful.

(music transition)

Katy Bagniewski: Hey, podcast listeners, welcome to Bold Voices. Our segment with student leaders from the University of Nebraska. I’m Katy Bagniewski, the production specialist of Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. And with me today is Kaitlin VanLoon, a Senior studying Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Welcome, Kaitlin.

Kaitlin VanLoon: Thanks for having me!

Katy Bagniewski: Kaitlin and I actually share an office and work together as RFI communications interns, so I’m super excited to talk to her about that. But first, Kaitlin, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Kaitlin VanLoon: I love social media and working with people and communicating. That’s really all I do really these days, so (chuckles).

Katy Bagniewski: Tell us why you’re so passionate about social media.

Kaitlin VanLoon: I think there’s a lot of different views on what social media is and how it can be harmful and how it can be helpful. And my goal is kinda to share the ways that it can be helpful because it is such a powerful tool in communicating. When posting to social media, we try to start a conversation or share information. I want people to see it as a good tool and not a harmful one. My first internship, I worked a little on social media and I was like, oh, this is kinda fun. It’s like what I do every day for myself but I do it for another company. So, yeah, I just kept going with it and now I’m a RFI doing social media, so.

Katy Bagniewski: So let’s talk about that. What is it been like to work at RFI as a communications intern?

Kaitlin VanLoon: It’s nothing like I thought it would be, in the best way possible. I didn’t really know a lot about what rural was. I’ve just learned that it’s going to become more and more important as time goes on that rural and urban work together because rural really is the backbone of our economy and we don’t even realize we’re really on it right now. So I’ve just really learned about this divide that we have and we need to stitch up so it’s not a divide anymore.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, I think that’s one of the most valuable parts about RFI, is that learning aspect of it especially with what you do: running our rural polls which is basically our term for social media management, but really just being intentional and at the forefront of issues and opportunities in that rural/urban dynamic. So how do you then think that we can use social media communications and really technology to bride that divide while fostering more collaboration between rural and urban?

Kaitlin VanLoon: Yeah, I think that’s definitely something that is such a big focus at the Rural Futures Institute and that’s something that I’ve been boggling in my mind since I started RFI in the fall, like how do we do that? Because with me doing social media, I’m like, how do I actually reach those places? It’s hard to wrap your mind around it sometimes, because how you live could be so different from somebody else. It is kinda scary, I think, going out there and realizing that not everybody lives the same but that open-mindedness is really one of the big first steps and it goes both ways, absolutely.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, Kaitlin, I think that you are really helping us do that here at RFI. And your contributions to our team have been so valuable. So I thank you for all of that, but also for sitting down and talking with me today. I think that you have been a great bold voice for rural and technology and social media and how all of that really intersects, so thank you again. And I’m excited to watch you continue on this path into the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’m going to ask you to put your futurist hat on. How do you see what you’re doing, really in the future, what do you see in the next five to 10 years in your work and in your industry?

Jola: There’s a lot of conversation about the future of jobs and machines taking over jobs and things like that, and they’re always talking, well, I don’t think that people will ever rendered redundant, right? It’s just, for me, means that people need to develop new skills. And the jobs of the future will be significantly different from the jobs that we have now, but there will be jobs.

Dr. Connie: I know too you’re a huge proponent of a workplace that’s supportive of families in life. And recently you were mum of the month in Lagos, so tell us a little bit about that. How did you become mum of the month, but also how do you see this as the future of work, how do you see this all evolving together?

Jola: I mean, that was an honor. So the blog LagosMums reached out to me and basically said, we want to do a profile of you and want you to be our mum of the month. I was like, “oh, really?” I try to be very authentic in terms of how I share even though I also try to be cautious and respectful. And maybe also from like my work in general, my relationships in general, people kind of get a vibe of who I am. I think that being a LagosMum for me or being recognized in that way was a huge one. And I really wanted to showcase something about that, is the fact that there is really no superwoman. t just doesn’t exist. So in my opinion, every superwoman is held by human angels, right? So you have a host of support system that you’ve invested in or that you, that are chosen to invest in you that kinda hold your hands all the way. Number one, you should always recognize who those people are. You should never be kind of apologetic or restrict yourself from actually leveraging those support systems because I believe that all of that is there for a reason. And then lastly, that you always be grateful for it and appreciate the people that hold you up, the people that support you in many ways. So that was one message I wanted to pass across there.

(music transition)

Jola: You need to put some structure around your life and also respect, honor those structures around your life to enable you to be successful. And also to also let people understand that it’s okay to fail, we’re all learning, right? And mommy guilt is a true thing, right? You would feel guilty sometimes. But also feeling guilty doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself down. You should all just keep striving to be better. So for me, it’s also making time for yourself, to refill, to recharge, to make sure that you’re the best version of yourself and that takes discipline.

Dr. Connie: I really love, from the article about this honor is taking care of yourself spiritually, mentally and physically part of that include strategic delegation and surrounding yourself with a team that can do things that frees up your time for other things that you’d rather be doing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach strategic delegation?

Jola: Number one, my staff, I try to hire people that I believe have certain qualities that I desire. You have to be patient with people and realize that everyone is not perfect, that’s number one. And so for me when I hire there’s some basic things that I cannot do without and I recognize them and they’re not a list of 10 or a list of 100, they’re just about three things that definitely these are my must haves– everything else I’m able to treat. My three must haves are really important to me and so I keep track of that. And so my staff formed a really big backbone for me in terms of delegation. And I’ll also say something around the fact that when you have good staff, pay them, right? If my employer wasn’t treating me nice, if they’re not paying me right, if they’re not giving me my annual increases and bonuses, I will be grumpy. Pay them for the work they do. So for me, I try to keep my staff happy as possible and I try to also build relationships with them that are beyond work, right? Truly getting into the authentic persons that they are, that they begin to feel like family. So in terms of that I delegate a lot to my staff. My mom, my mom is my rock star, right? I tend to travel quite a bit because of my job even though I try to be home every weekend, when I travel. My mom, for me, is, I completely believe, she brought me up, she trained me and I turned out okay. So I can leave my kids with her, I’m comfortable with that. I’ve heard women say, oh, no, my mom has traditional methods. I’m like, yes, she does have traditional methods. But, I mean I turned out okay. My mom is a big support structure for me. I use her liberally because I’m also like, grandma has duties as well, mommy has duties and grandma too has duties so let’s just leverage her. So, and my sister, my husband, my husband is my rock. I couldn’t have the career that I have without the support of my husband. And I don’t feel guilty about it. When I’m at home, I’m fully present. I do certain things that maybe people consider traditional. When I’m not there, I put structures in place to make sure some things happen. While at the same time when I’m not there, my husband covers for me where I need to and he’s completely supportive even with his own career as well that he’s pursuing. So for me, it’s really around looking around you, understanding your network of the people around you and being able to leverage them and also appreciate them and celebrate them in ways that matter.

(music transition)

Jola: So I leverage technology and I get stuff ordered to my house and things like that. So for me it’s really around how you put the right structures in place to enable you to be successful and to be happy.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I think it’s brilliant to think about how technology has, and agreed, it’s going to change jobs, that’s all going to continue to evolve, I don’t think we exactly know what that’s going to look like. But just like you said about Google earlier, it can also provide these solutions. Because I also notice we have sleep in common, I also value sleep. And so if I can’t get some sleep and get all these other things done, it’s screwed.


Jola: Yes, yes, I need my six hours or more. Otherwise, I’m grumpy.

Dr. Connie: You can be more creative and innovative when you’re rested, when you’re physically active or you’re eating well, when you have that balance at home. Well I think it’s so great to talk to a Google leader about this, because I think sometimes too it’s like, oh my gosh, if you go to work in a place like Google you don’t have a life, like you’re just dedicated to work and you’re coding in all hours of the night and all these hackathons, sort of this image. And to hear you come forth, like I went to work for a company like this because I wanted to work with the best people in one of the world’s best companies and do good for the world while also enjoying my life and my family is just a very powerful message.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: As you mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, I have a special place in my heart for Nigeria, spent extended time there as part of the global Farmer-to-Farmer program. A lot of my time was in rural Nigeria, and I love just to know from you and your perspective how do you see technology sort of enabling rural areas around the world?

Jola: That’s a really interesting question. So, first of all, the basic root of that is really access. By that, I mean technology access, internet access, data access, how do we solve for that in a sustainable way and also make people get on to the internet or to technology and use it to drive their sustenance or use it to drive their growth? I also think that there’s a lot technology can still do in agriculture. There’s a lot of innovation around that. Even when you talk about things like artificial intelligence and how artificial intelligence nowadays is helping families to kind of sort crops. So there’s a lot of innovation around that that can really make the quality yield when it comes to farms a lot better, a lot more efficient. But I think that the first level is access.

Dr. Connie: I remember even in rural Nigeria, at that time I had better cell phone access there than I did in Cook, Nebraska, where my husband grew up. Well, because Nigeria had leapfrogged the technology, and instead of landlines they were using satellites and we were still approaching things from an old model and not an advanced model. And I think it’s wonderful to think about, well, how can we sustainably get it to the next level? Because a lot of what we see too, is this whole rural/urban divide around access and technology adoption use. We know this is important for entrepreneurs in our rural areas, for example. How would you characterize the rural/urban divide but also the rural/urban connection and how technology can help build bridges between both rural and urban?

Jola: Basically, technology just breaks the barriers is my opinion. So I can be in rural Nigeria somewhere in the north and I could be selling my products to somebody in Nebraska, right, with the power of the internet. I don’t need to have that feeling or that need to move to the urban areas and to even more identify the urban areas. And maybe I really just want to live on the farm and I really just want to live around nature and think, I don’t want to live in the city. So technology would give an opportunity to be able to do that and to still make a living and to still, not able to just make a living, but also to thrive and to grow my business or my endeavors.

Dr. Connie: Part of our challenge is how do we bring this world together and use technology as a bridge to do that? Even your examples of agriculture, we know that agriculture in rural is important, not just in rural, but in urban as well but also those urban audiences are important to our rural businesses. The world really comes together in a prolific way around rural and urban.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’d like to know what words of wisdom, what parting words of wisdom do you have for our audience?

Jola: Try to be the best version of yourself. I always believe that everyone has potential. It’s really a matter of the mind and really a matter of you knowing that in the world you’re running a race, yes, you have benchmarks with other people, but you’re really running a race against yourself, right? At the end of life, would you say, oh, I became as famous as Oprah, or I gave up the entirety of who I am, and lived out the different expressions of my awesomeness, what would matter? And to me, it’s really the latter. And really going out of this world empty knowing that you gave it everything.