Increasingly, we are seeing a rise in demand for Communications professionals with skills in specialist areas such as Finance, Health and Energy. Our Comms Spotlight for this week falls into this category and she is building an organisation right at the centre of the Energy industry in Nigeria and Africa to solve the communication problems within the industry. Meet Tunbosun Afolayan. She is the Co-Founder of PRO ALLY and she has a fantastic career transition story. In our interview with her, Tunbosun shares her transition story and gives us a peek at what it’s like to work within an industry that is often misunderstood.
What do you do as the Co-Founder of Pro Ally and what prompted you to start it?
As a Co-Founder at PRO ALLY, I have the privilege of designing and executing our strategic objectives. PRO ALLY is a Communication and Stakeholder Management company for Energy, S.T.E.M and related sectors and I take full responsibility for the exceptional delivery of our service promises, these include simplifying Science Communication, humanising the energy industry eco-system, helping clients (executives and brands) achieve adequate sectoral positioning and supporting the execution and delivery of our clients cross-sectoral sustainability initiatives.
I started PRO ALLY as a solution to the age-old science and technology sectors’ challenge of effectively communicating their activities. For a sector whose impact delivers so much value to humanity, it is heartbreaking to watch them struggle with brand/value communication for public acceptance and advocacy and achieve the appropriate fiscal influence. These struggles are easily noticeable and encountered by in-sector professionals too.
As one with close to two decades of experience in the S.T.E.M (Energy) industry who has been seeking this communication simplification, I started to make comparisons with other commercial sector areas. Leveraging data, it struck me that science was perceived as difficult because we had a unique challenge of simplifying and sharing our stories for various reasons. Hence, equipped with energy and communications expertise, I decided to contribute my quota to change this seeming status quo and PRO ALLY was born.
Can you tell us why you decided to transition into the Communications industry and what steps you took to achieve this?
My transition story is three-fold. I transitioned from Petroleum Geoscience into Sustainability and then, Communications. My foray into Communications was first to deepen my knowledge as required for my role as the 2021/22 Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE).
Like every role I undertook, I had to give my best. However, this game was different even though I was a natural communicator. I knew it was not enough to deliver this role as I was suddenly the spokesperson, after the President, of a 40-year-old/ ~12000 professional prestigious association. I couldn’t afford to embarrass myself, and the society that had placed such trust and responsibility on me. Hence, it was time to unlearn and relearn.
Interestingly, I found my learnings useful for both my roles as Publicity Secretary and my transitioned “Sustainability” career path. It not only sharpened my raw “conversation holder” talent into “communication queen” expertise. It also became the answer to a long pondered question, of how science and technology could be simplified to achieve more impact and build public trust.
Steps I took to achieve this include:
- Identifying a good community of practice, which I found in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC),
- Taking up several formal and informal opportunities for hands-on experience: in Persuasive Communications – copywriting, articles, press and communique releases, and publications; Corporate Communications designs and strategy development; and Entertainment Communications which involves using media to reach and influence specific target groups.
- Learning, studying, and passing the highest IABC certification examination, which I consider proof of learning and understanding.
From your perspective, why is Communications important for the Energy industry?
The energy industry needs communication for its survival and a sustainable future depends largely on how we think, communicate, and understand the utilisation of energy. The field of Energy Communication is an emerging subfield of
Science Communication, as we try to share more on the role of energy in society and build more public awareness. It is also a critical skill required for the 21st-century Energy professional as they are critical in the survival and acceptance of the sector.
A lot is reliant on how well our sectoral activities and byproducts of energy are communicated, understood, and translated to tangible value by the general populace. We are in a world of show and tell what you do, if you don’t, you risk getting cancelled even when the cancelling stems from being non-aware.
Drawing the parallel from when Energy Transition became a global phenomenon, we saw the public calling for a fossil industry boycott, making unrealistic policies and pushing organisations to contend with stiffer and unsustainable regulations. This became clear: the world is divided into a rough estimate of ~5% energy-aware and 95% energy-unaware citizens. Our vision at PRO ALLY is to democratise energy opportunities, and one of our targets is to flip these numbers.
Can you please share some highlights from your career journey so far?
My career has been laced with curves, lows, and highs. A few of my positive highlights include several industry awards and recognition for the 2022 Women in Maritime and Energy (WIME) Rising Star in Energy award, the 2019 Distinguished American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Service Award, the 2016 NAPE Exemplary Service Award and several Staff recognition awards while I was at Shell Nigeria. Recent ones being West Africa’s first certified IABC’s Strategic Communication Management Professional and when I was invited to join the Rome Business School Nigeria faculty to teach Corporate Communication at the Executive Master’s level.
I particularly like to highlight when I took a sabbatical off work in 2017 and 2018. This was a pivotal time in my career and the beginning of my transition. I will say every professional deserves a sabbatical. Another one is my industry volunteering activities. If you have to choose between being a company or an industry professional, be the latter. I find volunteering the best way to checkmate your skills, character, and expertise across different cultural and organisational boundaries. It requires more effort to share insights and promote shaping agendas when we cross-collaborate. When you are an industry professional, you have more holistic perspectives.
My current biggest career highlight is founding PRO ALLY.
What practical tips can you share with professionals who want to transition to the Communications industry from other fields?
First, if you are considering a transition, you need to have a champion mindset. Second, if you have transitioned, you are a champion. Career transition is for champions and highly self-aware professionals.
Practical tips will include the listed steps above and these:
- Embrace the opportunity to start afresh. Stay true to self and accept your known and unknown blind spots.
- Don’t miss solidifying your foundational skills because you are comfortable with your transferable skills.
- Be actively vulnerable in your community of practice and don’t hesitate to seek help. Start with envisioning the future you want to step into. I consider imagining and describing yourself in the new career path a good exercise (this takes a lot of practice, and may never appear perfect, but keep at it). Doing this early helps one maintain a clear focus on the expected learnings, and competency gaps to close, and makes your goal more tangible.
- I would advise that you join IABC and The Comms Avenue, and If you are transitioning into the Energy Communication space, then it’s got to be with PRO ALLY.
What advice would you give to your younger professional self?
The world will stay round, and you are multi-talented for a reason. Keep the path, the dots will connect but you must leverage your skills early. Nobody is coming to save you, only Jesus, and you must take the responsibility to quickly advance yourself.
Your work will not speak for you, your boss is busy speaking up for him or herself and may never get around to speaking for you, you have to speak for yourself, early.
My favourite quotes are: “There is always a Better You within You”, and as the legendary Scientist Marie Curie advised, “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”