If anyone embodies the aspirations of women in tech, it would be Titi Akinsanmi because she’s been there, done that, gotten the video and the T-shirt.
Having decided not to keep any part of her life’s story from the public anymore, she says, “I’m more than my work, you know?”
Though she believes that giving up her cherished private lifestyle to inspire young women will be worth it, she wouldn’t want anyone to copy her. Akisanmi would rather help them find clarity and arm them with the necessary knowledge to forge ahead.
According to her, the efforts to improve her social interactions are not futile as they align with her philosophy to impact, inspire, involve, and inform.
During the eighty-minute conversation, she talks about her background, career, and family. And, of course, her expectations for Nigeria.
The early steps
Due to her exposure and guidance from her parents — her father, a late politician; and her mother, a teacher — Akinsanmi appears to have figured out what she wanted to do with her life early.
“I’m a sweet combination of my parents. To a certain extent, a lot of my speaking skills, ability to negotiate and connect disparate thoughts and disparate humans, diplomatic consensus-building skills, my ability to work with the government, love for travel, and tenacity, I learnt from them.”
Contrasting her timid personality, she always wanted to travel the world — but not as an air hostess or an ambassador. A diplomatic position was what she wanted.
Always wanting to arbitrate — help people understand each other and be the connection between them — she earned herself the nickname Voltron: Defender of the Universe.
And like superheroes with secret identities, the extrovert within comes out only when necessary.
“I cannot abide to see around me any form of oppression or anyone being cheated,” she says emphatically.
Her first memory of standing up for someone was in primary school when she confronted a bully.
On every other day, she remains her “intricately private” self.
Behind the scene
Despite a long list of academic and professional achievements, Akinsanmi is rarely viewed publicly beyond her role as a Policy Expert for Google and the other roles she plays in negotiating with the government to develop a digital ecosystem.
To change this, she reveals one interesting fact about herself: she could be a singer, model, dancer, or even a professional comedienne if she had the time for a side hustle.
“I’m a firm believer that there are so many giftings in each of us that will play out at some point in life. It’s okay to have a spectrum of what you can do, and I understand the concept of helping people to focus on their career,” she adds.
And she has consistently worked on this for the last two decades.
In the years leading up to her graduation from Obafemi Awolowo University in 2000, when she got her first degree in English, Akinsanmi realised her need for computer appreciation.
As an undergraduate, she saw herself through a technical training program in Computer Appreciation with the returns from her small chin-chin — a West African finger food — enterprise.
After graduating, she remembered her goal to impact generations and joined a group of like-minded individuals. Gbenga Sesan, the founder of digital privacy advocacy organisation, Paradigm Initiative, was a member of this group.
The goal was to train young people across the country through a computer training program supported by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Something made possible by the influence of its first Director-General, late Professor Gabriel Olalekan Ajayi.
Realising how much satisfaction this gave her, she accepted some volunteering opportunities to upskill young people in technology online and offline.
“Volunteering formed the basis of my career. There’s a joy and opportunity that comes with giving people the gift of my time,” she proudly submits.
She noticed that training others was not enough, and so she decided to fill a gap she saw: inadequate government policies and regulations to support technology.
Akinsanmi has since developed a niche in this area, having worked with several global organisations — Google the latest — to grow Africa’s digital ecosystem while educating people on digital policy development.
In her capacity as an educator on digital policy, she gave the keynote address on “How policy can influence the future of African technology” during Techpoint Build 2020.
Taking the road less travelled
Curiosity saw Akinsami boldly choose technology over journalism as far back as the 2000s.
“That is a path less travelled. You know I like to challenge myself,” she says.
But that’s not the only risk she has taken that turned out well.
When she decided to go into technology, she also wanted to get married and have children. Searching for inspiration, she looked for women who had gone that route.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “I couldn’t find any.”
But she went ahead nonetheless.
Now a mother of two girls aged eight and five, and a five-month-old son, she takes pride in how her husband and children are her internal support system when she’s on a break or taking more daring strides.
With this system in place, it is not surprising that she pursued her strong interest in academia.
Apart from the recently bagged Master’s degree in Law from York University, she has two other Master’s degrees in Common Law and Public Policy and Development from the University of London and the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, respectively.
A Berkman Klein Fellow at Harvard, Akinsanmi also lectured post-graduate students in Telecommunications Policy, Regulations and Management (TPRM) at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
She also taught some African ICT ministers when the continent was only just dipping its toes into the waters of technology adoption, and there were uncertainties about how it would be regulated.
In her quest for more, Akinsanmi joined Google in 2013 as Policy and Government Relations Lead for West and Francophone Africa.
Despite her proclivity for exploits and conquering new frontiers, she has not been as involved with academia as she’d love to be because she makes at least 44 trips every year.
Obviously missing that part of her life, Akinsanmi remembers her moments in academia with fondness and says she has kept her strong connections in the space intact.
Although she has not published more literary papers, she has reviewed and sponsored academic papers in the last eight years, thus contributing to impactful research.
To further this drive, Akinsanmi started an initiative called African Academic Network on Internet Policy, where literary discussion about data protection issues, cybersecurity, Internet shutdown, data breach, and relevant topics can be explored.
Akinsanmi is worried about Nigeria’s political and economic landscape. But as an optimist grounded in reality, she hopes that the nation would someday be intentional about investing in its most valuable resource — humans — especially the young ones.
To Titi Akinsanmi, a woman of many sides and an inspiration to younger women, fulfilment is being a model her children can follow.
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