Monthly Muse: Tessy Ojo

The powerhouse shares how growing up tall led her to become CEO of The Diana Award

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death; it's a huge year for The Diana Award charity. Two decades later, I find it heartening to know that her legacy lives on through thousands of young people across the world who are continuing her qualities of compassion, selflessness and service through social action. This year is all about celebrating her on-going legacy and our forward-looking programmes aimed at fostering and developing positive change in the lives of young people.

Our 15th anniversary was the most memorable moment in my career. I received a joint letter from Prince William and Prince Harry, saying how proud they were of the work we're doing and how their mother would feel the same. I shed a tear. It was the best feeling ever.

My height has shaped who I am. As a 13-year-old, I experienced life at 6’1”. Kids called me ‘too tall’ and a group of people at school made me stop dancing, the thing that I loved. My mum was a head teacher at another school and said I should run a dance club there. By involving me in teaching kids, she helped me look beyond my height and gave me hope. That’s what set me on my path to help young people.

As a teenager, I watched one of my best friend’s brother suffer with sickle cell anaemia and witnessed the pain it caused both him and his family. From that moment on, I wanted to be a doctor. I fell in love with chemistry at school because I had the most amazing chemistry teacher and chose to pursue it at university.

My mum helped me look beyond my height and gave me hope.

University was where I first accepted my height. My older brother also studied there and dared me to enter the beauty pageant he was organising. I said ‘why not?’ without even thinking about it and ended up finishing in second place. Stood on the podium, I was praised for my height. It took an external form of validation for me to appreciate what I have.

After graduation from university, I got my first job as a biochemist. I absolutely hated it. The job was far from my passion; working in a lab, I felt a deep sense of loss that I wasn’t connecting with people and also realised how far I was from my aspirations to be a doctor.

I ended up joining iBM, studying for an MBA and following the opportunities that came my way at the time.

It took an external form of validation for me to appreciate what I have.

Aged 31, I’d had both my children and life was just great but I kept thinking, ‘Am I really doing what I want to do? Am I changing lives?’ I had all this education, a great career, experience and could fortunately afford to take a year out. That was when I found the job with The Diana Award.

I thought if I spent the seven months I had left of my extended maternity leave, volunteering with The Diana Award, it might heal the ache in my heart to do something for society, and then I could return to my day job. It wasn’t that straightforward; although I’d offered my time for free, the role was only open as a paid position. I wasn’t sure about the level of sacrifice or if I would even be useful in the charity sector. Yet, I had so much potential to shape the charity and the opportunity to work with young people seemed so exciting. I’ve worked there for 14 years now and have been CEO for five.

I need to empower people around me to be problem solvers – then we can fly together.

Princess Diana believed that everyone has potential to give back and young people have the power to change the world. We work with those two principles of hers. Our motto is ‘Encourage, Empower, Engage’. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as CEO? I need to empower people around me to become problem solvers – then we can fly together.

At The Diana Award, we drive and mobilise positive change in the lives of young people by engaging young people in practical social action for the good of society. But we don’t stop there, because through our Award Programme, we encourage and celebrate them when change happens. I know firsthand the power that celebration and encouragement has on a young person and how validation encourages them to do so much more.

Dresses have a way of saying ‘I’m a tall girl. And proud of it too!’

Managing my work-life balance is a daily challenge. It comes down to choices and being intentional. Wearing LTS makes me feel feminine and professional at the same time! At work, I look around the boardroom and there’s so much black. The two things I go for are colour and dresses. I love dresses, they make me feel feminine. They have a way of saying ‘I’m a tall girl. And proud of it too!’

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Suit Jacket, Blouse, Trousers, Heels.

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