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Female Disruptors: How Author Dr. Adenike Akinsemolu Is Shaking up the Sustainability Movement

Just start with what you have, and do it. Dreams begin from where you start. Even though ideas could be overwhelming and vague, unless you start with what you have and where you are, you may never clinch your aspirations. The Green Institute has been a noble aspiration right from my college years. However, its daunting outlook was usually intimidating, which made me keep postponing its commencement. However, when I got over procrastination and forgo paralytic analysis, the Green Institute became a reality, and this has been our sixth year in existence.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adenike Akinsemolu.

Adenike Akinsemolu, Ph.D. is the founder of the Green Institute, a leading and multiple award-winning research institute in Nigeria dedicated to the broad sustainability discourse and to training leaders who will systematically transform attitudes about environmentalism in Africa. She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education. She is a Senior Fellow of Environment and Sustainable Development at the Institute for Oil, Gas, Energy, Environment, and Sustainable Development at Afe Babalola University, Nigeria. Her most recent book, The Principles of Green and Sustainability Science (2020), is the first sustainability text to deal exclusively with sustainability issues in Africa while offering viable solutions for the problems besetting our societies, especially the environment and unemployment.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I live in Ondo town right now. It is a rural community. Apart from travel, and some of my schoolings, I have always been a rural dweller. I grew up with the quietness and the foliage and the peace that comes with it. Despite being an adventurous traveler, I have never forgotten to retrace my steps back home. It’s like the proverbial saying that the bird always comes home to roost. As a passionate educator and youth enthusiast, I picked up a lecturing job at a community college, Adeyemi College of Education (ACE), to implement positive changes in my locality. On an eventful day, things fell in line like a pre-written script until I was jolted back to reality by my students. While I was teaching my students, I asked the seemingly obvious question, “What does it mean to go green?” Waiting expectantly for varied responses from different corners of the hall, I was met with blank stares of inquiry. Not one student in the group of 250 bright minds was confident enough to talk about the most urgent issue facing our planet and species. That was the moment I knew that things had to change. At the end of the class, I researched the status of sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa and was met with appalling reports of Africa’s SDGs progress, in addition to the knowledge scarcity on sustainable development. It dawned on me that if there wouldn’t be a generational knowledge gap of sustainability in Africa, I need not wait anymore. I wanted to inspire a green movement in the hearts and minds of my students. I embraced this challenge and founded the Green Institute, a sustainability organization whose mission is to raise the next generation of sustainability leaders through advocacy, education, and innovation.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I had been to parts of the world where students lived their lives without hurting their environments because they simply knew better. When I started teaching in the community college, I did not like the environment that I met. Students would litter the place without as much as a wince or a second look. I wanted to introduce a better way to my students. A healthy environment is vital for a healthy existence, and I wanted us to aspire to make our environment better for us and the generations to come. The work that I do is multi-faceted yet centralized. As a proponent of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, I strive to transform a global ambition into a rural vision.

Under my leadership, The Green Institute has trained more than 25, 000 green ambassadors. The goal of our Ambassadorship program is to provide a ripple effect of environmental stewardship from young leaders. We strive to educate and equip these ambassadors to challenge the status quo and advance the principles of green practices. Our ambassadors have blazed the trail in different capacities they find themselves, by promoting values of sustainability they imbibed from our tutelage. Examples of these global ambassadors are Odunayo Aliu, the founder of Bramble- a space where children find their passion for learning through creative resources, and Mahmoud Abdelhay Radwan whose internship at the Green Institute facilitated his smooth transition from a graduate of Environmental Engineering to pursuing his master’s in Development Practice at the University of Waterloo. These are but few of the disruptors the Green Institute has produced.

I envision wider environmental awareness, mediated by the future green leaders of our ambassador program. Ultimately, my work will help empower people, drive innovation, and build resilient communities.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Prominent among my mentors are my parents. My mum, who is an embodiment of quiet strength, has always pointed out the need to be resilient in all my endeavors. During my quiet moments, her words of becoming whomever, I choose to become and being able to have it all has continuously resonated within me, serving as fuel for the fire of my ambition. I have sought my mum’s advice at every crossroads in my life’s journey, and her input has been like an oasis in the desert, refreshing me as I trudge along. She has been influential in both my personal and professional life, giving me pearly nuggets when required.

My dad has been a towering pillar of support for my educational and career development. From the onset as a child in kindergarten, his fatherly role of protection, provision, and permission has blended uniquely to make me the woman I am today. I could remember vividly back in my early childhood when my dad bought me a bicycle bigger than myself. I didn’t know how I was supposed to gain mastery over such a gigantic bicycle; evident from the frequent falls I had in trying to learn how to ride. To cut the long story short, I finally mastered riding the bicycle and was so elated; likewise, my dad’s moral from the story was to never give up, but keep pushing. I want to say big thank you to my dad for letting me fly.

My sincere gratitude goes to former United States President Bill Clinton whose platform, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), availed the opportunity to commit to service. The idea of community service was instilled in me when I attended Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) in 2009. There were over 1000 students from all 50 states in the United States and 60 other nations. The idea was simple. Each student makes a commitment to action that will influence their community for the better. During the meeting, we collaborated with Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation to help clean the Lower 9th Ward area of New Orleans that was affected by Hurricane Katrina. All these vibrant young people came out without expecting money or any reward to help build and clean the places affected by the Hurricane. In his words, “People who work together generally do better than people who fight. People who build, generally do better than people who wreck. People who learn, generally do better than people who insist on remaining ignorant and people who care, generally fare better than the heartless.” At that moment, it struck me that one single act can make an impact in the world. I committed to doing something positive in my community, Ondo Kingdom.

Another mentor I look up to is Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). I was opportune to meet with him in 2018, where he gave me a signed copy of his book, The Age of Sustainable Development. Prof. Sachs is a proponent of multilateralism who has kept hinging on the importance of multilateral cooperation in our discussions. He was our keynote speaker when we hosted the largest virtual symposium on World Environment Day.

I would also like to mention Prof. Damilola Olawuyi of Afe Babalola University, who has contributed immensely towards my career advancement. He has provided moral and academic support over the years. He has been invited to series of the Institute’s programs where he unfailingly shared his insights as a professor of environmental law.

Finally, I would like to appreciate my Ph.D. supervisor for the professional advice he offered me during my stint under his tutelage. He encouraged me to think globally while acting locally. As an experienced professor, he understood the overwhelming nature of ideas and how one’s inability to harness these ideas could lead to the abortion of dreams in the land of lost hope. I tip my hat to this man because most of the career feats I’ve unbelievably been able to accomplish are due to his kind words that kept me advancing against all the odds. I could remember when I was about to launch the Green Institute and told him how overbearing it was, he patted me at the back and reiterated those words. He emphasized the need to take it one step at a time that every cloud has a silver lining. I remain grateful to him to this day for being a professional guardian in my journey.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first word of advice is the same that I equally share with my mentees: you don’t burn bridges. I learned that when I unofficially studied human relationship patterns. I realized that indeed it’s a small world after all, and one must learn the art of fostering relationships for you never know whose help you might need. Human relationships are not a zero-sum game if we need to be truly honest. We should often create a platform for negotiation and understand how to improve in our relationship. Some of the feats I have attained in life were courtesy of relationships. Hosting one of the largest virtual conferences on World Environment Day featuring the likes of Jeffrey Sachs (Director of SDSN) was a result of cordial relationships formed over the years. Some of the Green Institute pioneering initiatives have been kept alive by the bond of friendship. Our notable and renowned speakers who are invited to the Green Institute’s monthly webinar are friends of friends who, in their respective fields of expertise, are performing groundbreaking work. This indeed is the outcome of valuing relationships.

The second word of advice I would like to share is to do whatever makes you happy as long as you do not hurt anyone. From this advice, I got along my life’s journey, I understood why Albert Einstein would say, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Life is not a ten-speed bike where you can change to different gears and request for a spare. The gift of life comes but once, and you have in a lifetime to accomplish all your dreams, visions, goals, and ambitions unapologetically. Remember, happiness comes in the fulfillment of these dreams, visions, goals, and ambitions.

Always keep in mind that some fellows will hold you in derision on your march towards progress, but don’t let it sway you, as long as you keep at heart this second piece of advice. I have had lots of criticisms from people because of what I do. I am an environmentalist at heart, and I love what I do. However, as usual, I have had people questioned the legitimacy and logic behind what I do, but still, I have kept at it, unyielding.

Just start with what you have, and do it. Dreams begin from where you start. Even though ideas could be overwhelming and vague, unless you start with what you have and where you are, you may never clinch your aspirations. The Green Institute has been a noble aspiration right from my college years. However, its daunting outlook was usually intimidating, which made me keep postponing its commencement. However, when I got over procrastination and forgo paralytic analysis, the Green Institute became a reality, and this has been our sixth year in existence.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I desire and work towards leaving a legacy. Life is like a relay race; visions and dreams don’t die. They are handed down to the next generation to run with. At this stage, I am committed to raising the next generation of leaders who will be eco-conscious, socially responsible, and economically productive. The younger generations are agents of change and a bridge to a better future. This indeed is how I plan to shake things up- by equipping budding leaders with the requisite tools for growth.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

So many books, podcasts, and talks have concurrently impacted my thinking. However, one of the most influential authors whose books resonate with me is Wangari Maathai. In her book Unbowed, Wangari is seen as an environmentalist who advocated the conservation of natural resources. Her campaign to plant millions of trees in Kenya to combat climate change inspired my thinking that impossibility is a possibility by leaps and bounds. Armed with this mindset, I have always aspired to do my best in the environmental space. My desire to share Africa’s perspective on sustainable development with the rest of the world motivated me to author The Principles of Green Sustainability Science, published by Springer. Moreover, hosting one of the largest virtual symposia on World Environment Day with renowned sustainability leaders are a few of the achievements that the seeds from Wangari’s Unbowed sowed within me. Talk about planting a million trees by an individual, then nothing that crosses as an idea is impossible.

Another influential author whose books have impacted my thinking is Jane Goodall. Her books on Seeds of Hope and Reason to Hope remind me that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel for every personal and global challenge we encounter. No better time than our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is her message more profound and inspiring. Despite the staggering death tolls and threatening loss of world order, we indeed should have reason to hope. This mindset has stayed me clear off the path of pessimism and indeed has kept my hope for better days ahead alive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

#OfficiallyGreen is a movement that mobilizes millions of people to demonstrate their concern for our planet by adopting a greener lifestyle. When individuals become conscious of their daily living, the ripple effect will be monumental to achieve our coveted common future, as described in Agenda 2030. Every revolution started with individuals, and this is a movement I would want to live beyond me. #OfficiallyGreen is a public commitment to green practices that scale the individual levels to corporations and governments. This indeed is the movement I live for as an environmentalist and I hope it becomes global.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Nothing in life is a coincidence. Everything happens for a reason, and there is a premeditated arrangement for things that are and things that shall be. My life has been filled with adventures of going to places and meeting with people. These two crucial “Ps” have added vitality to living, which keeps me in a state of perpetual gratitude. The family I was born into, which has been instrumental to my success in life, has consolidated my belief that coincidence doesn’t find expression in reality. My network of friends and associates are people I imagined relating with. I treat everyone with respect because you may never know when the table will turn, and the table always turns.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can keep up to date with me by visiting the Green Institute’s website on and follow us on all our social platforms.




YouTube: The Green Institute

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



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