Odunayo: The Woman Who Transformed Education in Africa and Beyond

Dear Odunayo,

How are you doing, my dear? Retirement certainly looks good on you in this beautiful mansion in Ibadan decorated with a mix of modern and antique furniture; creating a harmonious and luxurious look. I had always known you had an eye for such a classy and impeccable living environment. You deserve it! I’m not so surprised you have some vintage artwork on the walls that showcases your artistic flair and interest in history. What’s with you and books though? These shelves could make you a fortune, except you intend to make this place some sort of historic library.

You have worked so hard and achieved so much in your life, ‘Ayo. Ironically, it’s contrary to what many people consider success. You’ve made real-time investments in people. You are a legend, a hero, a star. Saviour of the Slum, the Queen of Education herself, the Mother of Rural Innovation. Steady as a rock! I am not too surprised you pulled this feat. Doing the seemingly undoable has always been the goal.

You have always had a passion for learning and teaching and a vision for transforming the lives of children and youth in rural and marginalised communities. And you have turned that passion and vision into reality. You have created Bramble Network, an organisation that has transformed education in Nigeria and beyond. You have built hundreds of learning centres, and you have trained and empowered thousands of educators to carry on the Bramble effect. You have reached over 100 million learners across Africa and Asia and helped them achieve improved learning outcomes, increased confidence, and enhanced life skills. How did you even raise young people to replicate these results in other continents? Girl, you rock!

I see all you do for women’s leadership and empowerment in the education sector and beyond. You have inspired and mentored countless young women to pursue their dreams and aspirations, and to challenge the stereotypes and barriers that hold them back. Elizabeth is building trade centres in every African city, and for Bolade, it’s safe to say she’s changing the world as the current Minister of Education in Nigeria. You’ve always wanted to be involved in policy making and there you are with strong eyes and legs in government. You have advocated for gender equality and social justice on local, national, and global platforms. You have partnered with other organisations and stakeholders to amplify your impact and influence. You have received numerous awards and recognitions for your work and achievements. I am still surprised how you pulled all these off!

You have travelled the world, ‘Ayo, representing Africa and influencing women. You have met with presidents, and prime ministers, and the way you help billionaires use their money for social good is just remarkable. You have spoken at TEDx events, UN conferences, and Davos forums, even Oprah absolutely loved your visit. You have been featured in Times Magazine, Forbes was running to catch up with you the other day at the airport, CNN news too. Remember that film BBC documentaries showed about you having the largest family in the world? It was so inspiring. You have been honoured with the Nobel Prize, MBE medal, MacArthur grant, and Ashoka fellowship all for the sake of scaling the change you are creating.

Do you remember when you wanted to raise funds for 100,000 learners in 2024? You had launched a crowdfunding campaign on social media, hoping to raise $100,000 in one month. But things didn't go as planned. Many people were struggling to survive at the time, let alone donate to your cause. You were losing hope and faith.

But then a miracle happened. Mark Zuckerberg saw your campaign on Facebook and was impressed by your work and vision. He decided to sponsor your project with $1 million from his foundation. He also invited you to meet him in person at his headquarters in California. You took a selfie with him and posted it on your social media accounts with the caption: “Dreams do come true! Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for believing in me and Bramble Network! Together we can change the world!”

That was one of the happiest moments of your life.

Do you remember when Oprah also invited you for dinner after her show in 2025? You had just given an inspiring talk on her show about your journey as a woman leader in education. You shared your challenges and successes, your failures and learnings, your hopes and fears. You had moved the audience to tears and applause. Oprah was so impressed by your story that she wanted to know more about you. She asked you to join her for dinner at her mansion in Los Angeles. She said she wanted to help you plan some end-of-the-year events for Bramble Network. She drove while chatting with you about various topics: books, movies, music, spirituality and politics.

She then led you to her dining room where a delicious meal was waiting for you - Nigerian jollof rice, fried plantain, grilled chicken, salad, and fruit. She said she had ordered it specially for you from a Nigerian restaurant nearby. She said she loved Nigerian food and culture. She then surprised you with a gift: a cheque of $10 million from her foundation. She said it was a donation for Bramble Network. She said she believed in you and your mission. That’s a part of this whole journey you can’t forget easily.

You are amazing, Odunayo. You have made a difference in the world, and you have touched many lives. But you have also had fun along the way. You have enjoyed the beauty of nature, the diversity of culture, the richness of good food, and the warmth of people. You have laughed a lot, cried a lot, loved a lot, and lived a lot.

You should be very proud of yourself, Odunayo. You have done more than most people can ever dream of. But you have also faced more than most people can ever imagine. You have encountered resistance and criticism from those who do not share your vision or values. You have struggled with limited resources and uncertain funding. You have experienced stress and burnout from the demands and expectations of your work. You have sacrificed a lot of your time and happiness for your mission.

But you have never given up, Odunayo. You have always persevered. You have always found ways to adapt and innovate. You have always sought support and guidance from your family, friends, and mentors. And you have always remembered why you do what you do: because you love learning, because you care about people because you believe in change.

So keep doing what you do. Keep learning, keep caring, and keep believing. Keep dreaming big, keep working hard, keep having fun. Keep being yourself, keep being awesome, and keep being amazing.

You are an inspiration to me, Odunayo. And I hope this letter inspires you too. I love the woman you have grown into.

With love,

Your younger self.

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