University of Westminster alumna and corporate lawyer with a passion for diversity and education, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu Phd MBA LLM MA LLB IAQ finished her first degree at nineteen, and since then has earned two master’s degrees, a PhD and an MBA, while working full time in demanding career roles. She is also, as she says, “mother to three lovely kids, wife to a patient husband, and a constant work-in-progress.”
Now 41, a full-time corporate lawyer who founded and is editor-in-chief of the Women in Leadership publication, Shola says she doesn’t feel like she’s accomplished that much.
Every year on my birthday, I assess myself – my career, my business interests, my family
“I have this thing I do on my birthday. It’s a self-assessment against my performance, growth and achievement from the previous year,” she says.
“I look at what I’ve done over the course of the year and I give myself a tick where I’ve been able to deliver, and a cross where I have not pushed hard enough or I’ve maybe not balanced things as I ought. I don’t believe in comparing myself to others. I am inspired by experiences and achievements of others but don’t seek to be them.
I cover every area in my self-assessment – my career, business interests, family, my kids and husband. I look at everything and question to what extent and how useful have I been in the course of this year? I also recognise times of the year when I have had what I call my ‘I can’t be bothered moments’. I look at what I was going through at that time, why I was feeling that way, and what I could have done to be stronger. Nobody else is part of this conversation. It’s basically me, myself and I.”
Times of success, times of lessons learned, times of exploring how best to deal with things
“Don’t get me wrong. We should all have our times of success, times of lessons learned, our times of exploring how we best deal with things,” Shola adds. “There’s a season for everything. But we have to learn from each season. I try to learn from my successes and my downturns too. I am a constant work-in-progress. I don’t aim to be perfect but to be the best person I can be in any given moment, circumstance or situation. If I get it wrong, which often happens, there’s no shame in putting up my hands, taking responsibility and growing from the experience.”
Essentially, each year, Shola gives herself a performance review – one that’s not limited to her career progress. And it’s clear that she has always been ambitious. After seeing her aunt achieve a degree in two years at the University of Buckingham, Shola – who grew up in Lagos, the US and, for a short time, Tanzania – decided that was where she wanted to go. And because she finished her secondary-level education at 16, it meant she started her first degree at the University of Buckingham at 17 and graduated at 19, ready to embark on her career at least two years younger than most students.
“I’m a very passionate person,” she says, “Somebody who is here to live life to the fullest and be the best version of me that I can be.”
Socio-legal values – how our laws interact with our collective values, beliefs and customs
Over the course of her work and studies to-date, Shola has developed a profound fascination with socio-legal values. ‘Socio-legal values are about how the application of law interacts with the values, beliefs and customs of the society it represents. It’s basically saying law cannot be applied in vacuum or in an abstract form.”
“I strongly believe that the law in a society ought to represent the beliefs and rules that society wants or it becomes redundant. So socio-legal values bring together what our societal values are in relation to the law.”
Shola explored this in depth for her PhD, which focused on corruption, in particular the perception of corruption from a socio-legal perspective. “I used Nigeria as my case study,” she says, “and interviewed about a thousand people. I also did comparisons with other countries like Russia, China and Bangladesh. I wanted to address the socio-legal values and the purpose of law in each of these societies. We don’t have a universal definition for corruption. Yes, we go by an understanding of corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain but we need to break that down and consider societal values. I am very concerned about a one-size fits all approach imposed by international organisations that lack a recognition of societal behavioural norms.”
Differentiating between corrupt behaviour and cultural norms in different societies
“The results of the empirical study I conducted in Nigeria yielded fascinating results,” she explains. “Though often perceived as a corrupt country, it was clear that Nigerians draw a line between what is categorically corrupt in their view, such as bribery, and what constitutes gift-giving, a long held and accepted traditional practice.”
“I interviewed a member of parliament in Lagos and he explained to me that there is no way you can go and meet an Oba – a King – without a gift in your hand. It’s respectful and expected. His counterpart, his opponent will do the same. Maybe we need to monitor what kinds of gifts are acceptable, but the reality is that gift-giving practice is not going anywhere. Of course, there’s a whole academic discourse behind the giving of gifts, and whether the gift is going to influence the person. But defining it as a corrupt practice isn’t helpful.”
Gift-giving, lobbying and old boys’ clubs: one country’s way of life is another’s corruption
“If organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) do their homework, and speak to the people at a grass roots level, they can adjust their thinking and have a much more productive platform to help the nations they want to help. I genuinely believe in the work of organisations like the IMF and World Bank however their programmes and initiatives would be far for effective if there was less push for a one-size fits all approach and greater understanding of the people they wish to support. This is no different if you go to Columbia, Brazil, India. It’s the same thing. There’s a one size fits all definition of corruption being imposed on societies, without the opportunity for mutual education on societal values and norms.”
“Corruption is not a cultural norm. It is an abuse of power. But there are certain practices that you may find odd because they differ from your societal practices. That doesn’t make them wrong or corrupt. In Western countries, legal corruption exists with for instance lobbying and Old boys’ clubs in my view, but yet you don’t see this criminalised. There’s such a great divide between understanding what makes a society tick and drawing the line under what is unacceptable and truly corrupt.”
Women in Leadership – the trailblazers and the unsung
Shola brings her genuinely global perspective to Women in Leadership. The Spring 2017 issue features a foreword by Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party in the UK, an interview with Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, and a beautiful and moving series of portraits of Syrian women leaders making a difference in refugee camps in in Lebanon.
“My baby!” she exclaims, when asked about the publication. “It was born out of my passions for diversity, inclusion and writing. It came about because I feel strongly that, as women, we don’t talk enough about ourselves. We talk. But we don’t tend to share those key things like the lessons we’ve learned in our career and in life widely outside our cliques. We celebrate successes, but I think sometimes the difficulty is just having the right platform so other people can get to know more in depth about a certain trailblazer or find out about how uncelebrated women with incredible backgrounds are doing amazing things.”
Over the next few months, in addition to the full time corporate law day job, Shola is planning to build on the success of the Women in Leadership publication.
But having motored through her twenties and thirties at Formula 1 speed, she is also taking stock.
Living for tomorrow, taking stock and opening up to different experiences
“It wasn’t until 2016, that I realised I had always been living for tomorrow,” she says. Whatever I was doing with my career, my life, it was a goal and objective for tomorrow and I kept pushing. Then sometime last year it hit me that I had not been living in the present. I was not spending enough time enjoying my todays. This meant I wasn’t opening myself up to other experiences or other areas of passion that I had. It seemed like I didn’t have enough time so I kept postponing my present for an objective for tomorrow. But it became a repetitive cycle because once that goal was achieved another took its place for tomorrow and my present was lived through hurriedly.”
“When I turned forty, I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to live in the moment and enjoy my now, while, clearly, still moving forward. And when I decided to do that, I started to make time for all the other things I’ve always wanted to do. My life is now much richer and fuller for it. It took some doing for me to shake out of the mould I’d put myself in and say ok, I now want to talk about this, I want to write about that. I’m a very vocal person, and I like to face things head on. I think that life should be about you being able to put your head on the pillow at night and sleep well, because you’ve done the best that you could during the course of the day.”
3 tips for your life and career from Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu
1. Treat every day like it’s the most important day. And whatever you’re interested or passionate about, get involved, and do it. You have no idea what other doors your choices might open for you, and what other experiences they could bring into your life.
2. Make sure you’re in it to be part of it. Life is too short. It waits for nobody.
3. Don’t rest on your laurels. Always ask what am I doing with what I have and what I know? How much more useful can I be to those around me?
“What, I ask myself, is the point of all my education if I am not applying it to create a better society for myself and those around me including my loved ones? One thing I have learned from education (both formal and informal) is that there’s never an end to knowledge, and learning is constant. But learning also has to be about application. If you don’t apply what you learn, it’s useless.”