As Special Adviser to an Hon. Minister of State in Nigeria, Nabila (Isa-Odidi) Aguele MBA’14J is working to ensure data driven policy implementation to revitalise the country’s economy in a socially inclusive way.
Q. Why did you decide to pursue a degree at INSEAD?
I had been practicing law and teaching and was enjoying it, but I felt a pull to transition to some sort of role in Africa. The timing was perfect—I was at a point in my career where I wasn’t afraid to make a drastic change. INSEAD was my top choice because it represented my core values as an international citizen: I was born in Nigeria and grew up in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Qatar and Saudi Arabia before my family emigrated to Canada in the `90s. I later moved to the United States. I was looking for an MBA programme that didn’t just speak about honouring diversity, but really lived it.
Q. How did your INSEAD experience transform you?
The deeply nourishing and engaging dialogues I had with my classmates helped me identify my strengths, but also areas where I needed to work—not just to be a good business leader, but to be a better person. The experience helped me recognise that the heart of what drives me is impact. I want to feel that I’m making a difference, that the work I’m doing is meaningful and that I’m working with people who share those values.
Q. What challenges have you faced in your career?
Diversity in the legal field—and being a woman of colour in law in particular—were issues that I was very mindful of from the beginning. It was frustrating to feel as though certain opportunities that were made to colleagues were not made available to me. But I had mentors, both male and female, who have helped me thrive. More recently, I became pregnant with my first child after interviewing for my current job with the Minister here in Nigeria. It was exciting, but also a moment of deep professional anxiety, having to start this dream job under what felt like the least-perfect circumstances. What made the difference was having an extremely supportive husband, boss, and professional community who understood and worked with me.
Q. How has being part of the INSEAD alumni network benefitted you?
While I was looking for opportunities in Nigeria, I felt I needed work experience with an African focus. I attended the North America alumni conference, where I met a number of alumni and was struck by how interested they were in the journeys of others. One conversation led to an opportunity to work with Accion Venture Lab, where I spent two months doing fintech consulting work that sent me to Nigeria and Ghana. It was both an amazing and terrifying experience, because it was drastically different from anything I’d done before. It wouldn’t have happened without the INSEAD network, which goes beyond an alumni network. It’s friendships and relationships with people who value giving back as much as they do receiving. It’s like a family.
Q. How have you made an impact in the world?
I’m making an impact through service and as part of a bigger ecosystem of stakeholders. Our Ministry’s mandate includes national planning, budgeting and coordination across all ministries and agencies. My portfolio includes monitoring and evaluation—work that improves how government tracks capital spending and assesses its impact on citizens. We’ve seen significant improvements in this area and are developing a national policy. I also work in the area of international cooperation to improve how we coordinate development partner aid and assess the effectiveness of such interventions. Additionally, I anchor our work to ensure that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to alleviate poverty and promote inclusiveness, are mainstreamed and implemented.
Q. What advice would you have for women at INSEAD who want to reach your level of success?
Be open to the process and the journey while also taking time to periodically check in with yourself to ensure that you have a clear idea of your vision and what’s driving you. Often, for women as well as men, it can be easy to be swept up by what’s in vogue or what seems to be the right thing to do, even though you know that it’s not necessarily for you. Taking the time to build relationships with mentors is also important.