Efe Fruci (pictured, centre) is founder of Odihi, a Vancouver-based organisation that improves the lives of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and marginalised People of Colour) women and girls. Efe grew up in Nigeria and Odihi means “the essence of greatness” in Edo, a Nigerian language.
“I remember struggling with school as a little nine-year-old kid in Nigeria,” recalls Efe, “I wanted to go into the medical field, either as a doctor or a scientist. And you need to be able to do Maths for anything like that but I wasn’t good at it.
“Fortunately, my mum was a professor and she encouraged me. So I was able to pass my Maths and graduated from high school when I was 13. But I remember a lot of girls in my class also struggled and they weren’t lucky enough to have someone at home who knew how to help them.
“When we moved to Belgium and the USA, I saw the same problem. So a question stayed with me, ‘if people don’t have someone like my mum, how do they overcome the challenges within the educational system?’”
Finding some answers
Efe carried this question with her until she was ready to supply an answer.
First there was her own education to focus on: studying BSc in Biomedical Science followed by MSc Health Sciences at Oxford Brookes (where Efe is pictured below on a recent visit).
As a student, she did more than just study – setting up workshops to help empower women who lacked self-confidence. And the qualifications themselves helped lead to bioscience jobs in Oxford, Belgium and as a Senior Analyst at Accenture in Vancouver.
All the while, the issue of how to help women and girls who were let down by educational systems was at the front of Efe’s long-term thinking. She worked hard to establish a project, working with sponsors and schools in Nigeria, which was on the point of launching when Covid struck and everything had to stop.
“I’d been holding onto this idea since I was nine and I looked at my husband and said, ‘is this a sign I shouldn’t do it? Should I change goals and do something different?’”
Happily, her husband was supportive and Efe chose to keep going with the idea – setting up Odihi in October 2020. The organisation enables BIPOC women and girls to find their own greatness. Odihi provides access to educational resources, training and career opportunities.
Services on offer range from workshops on job searches, CV writing and LinkedIn optimisation, to the Boardroom Programme, which supports BIPOC women who are seeking to join the board of a company. It does these by working with partners, including well known large companies and recruitment specialists.
Collaboration is at the heart of Odihi’s work, and Efe’s philosophy.
“When I talk to partners I ask them, ‘How do you want to be of service? How do you want to use your talents to empower somebody and add value into this world?’ Together, we can truly make an impact and change people’s lives.”
And this approach has seen Odihi take off, growing as much in two years as was originally planned for in five years. It works with women across the world, not just in Canada, thanks to the rise in online communications.
Odihi also put on the annual Bigger Ideas Conference™ for women to ‘connect with leaders and other great minds who can champion, empower, and support them along their journey’. And the conference is growing as well.
“It’s organised by women for women, incredible women who are leaders in their field – no fluff, sharing their experiences and giving people tangible advice. We had speakers from the HR field, technology, leadership, wellness and entrepreneurship. We’re going to do the same thing but bigger next year.”
For Efe, Odihi is the realisation of a long-held dream.
“Everything has come together – it’s been beautiful to see it grow and most of all the impact my team and I are making by giving people access to learning and to mentors.”
Supporting bereaved mothers
One strand of Odihi’s work is supporting women who have had a miscarriage. This is a subject that is deeply personal to Efe and one she has spoken about in a Ted Talk. She believes that by sharing her story, she can help others – and prevent them feeling they have to go through it on their own.
“Sharing my story is my invitation for people to have a conversation about what they have experienced and about what’s causing them pain – to allow them to be vulnerable to the people they trust. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to feel vulnerable within your circle of friends – your village – because there you can find community and love.
“Many women have come to me to say how my talk has helped them but also about the difficulty of having to deal with everything by themselves. I remember suffering alone and it shouldn’t have to be that way.
“We held an event for International Bereaved Mothers’ Day and a woman who had a still-birth two months previously said, ‘I could stay home and just cry, or I could come here and find my community’.”
Like mother, like daughter
Odihi was the answer to Efe’s question, “how do people who don’t have someone like my mum overcome educational challenges?”
Efe’s mother was a professor for 33 years and a missionary – someone who is dedicated to both education and serving her community. And these are also what drives Efe.
“People know my mum as someone who has always been of service – helping women and children, making people feel comfortable and know that they are seen. So I knew, growing up, I wanted to be like her. I wanted to take her good qualities – and she has so many!”
Whether Efe has emulated her mother’s qualities, only the two of them can really know. But she has certainly shown many great qualities through her care for others, her willingness to share even when it is hard to do so and by tangibly improving the lives of those who need a helping hand to find their own greatness. In doing so, Efe has found a greatness of her own.
All photos by Pavel Boiko (other than taken at Oxford Brookes)