Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Tolu Ojo-Williams

In a world edging towards polarising extremes, recalling history is crucial to remind us of times past which mirror contemporary times, in order for the global community to avoid making the same errors as before. So, for me Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come as a society, celebrating the growth and freedom that has been claimed through that journey, and amplifying the voices of those who continue to win victories for us in their everyday lives. Black History Month is an intentional time to appreciate and educate each other. 

 

(Law LLB, 2016)

Published:

Why did you study Law at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in the legal sector? 

My father was a corporate barrister so I was introduced to a legal career from early on and decided that was the path for me (to my medical mother's despair!). At the time it was very important to me that I attended a university that was highly regarded for law so I intentionally selected Russell Group Universities at a starting point. Studying history and economics at school and college had guided my interests towards Human Rights and commercial law, and so Queen Mary was a top contender for its reputation in both areas. Another factor that attracted me to QM was that it was based in London, which allowed me to stay close to family and friends!  

I commuted to university for my entire degree so I sometimes felt I was disconnected from campus life. Joining societies like Unite, netball, the African and Caribbean society and commuters' society (and formed the EquipAfrica society) helped me find my tribe and connect with all that student life had to offer.

 

Could you describe your role as an Associate at Clifford Chance in more detail? What does it look like on a day-to-day basis? 

A phrase a lot of lawyers would say to me when I was a student asking this very question rings true now: my day-to-day responsibilities are varied and never follow the same pattern. As an associate in the Capital Markets department most of my work is transactional, meaning our clients usually instruct us on specific deals. Capital market transactions are simply a marketplace where securities (such as bonds, stocks and shares) are traded. On a day-to-day basis I am preparing legal documents related to the securities and managing the transaction generally: liaising with the client, the investors purchasing securities, their legal counsel, auditors and regulators of the relevant market where the securities can be traded. This primarily takes the form of emails, phone calls and meeting with my team and (rarely, in the age of Covid) the client. Securities are usually issued with specific purpose in mind (be it to finance renewable projects, for COVID-19 relief initiatives, central bank funding or general corporate lending) so no two transactions are the same and over time I get to learn a lot about how clients operate and their specific business needs. 

Could you tell us about your work with EquipAfrica? What inspired you to start it? 

EquipAfrica was formed in the Library Square on QM's campus in 2013. After attending an ACS event where I got talking with a medical student from Barts, a few students gathered in one of the Pooley House kitchens to talk about the medical student's experience doing an internship at a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. We discussed the severe shortage of equipment in the hospital, which led a 10-year-old boy losing his life and all agreed that we could gather our resources to raise money to buy equipment. From organising bake sales in library square, hosting 'Take Me Out' in Art 2 and other pop-up events, we met our goal of raising enough money to buy a heart blood pressure monitor. Seeing the generous nature of students and recognising the issue stemmed wider than Nigeria, we decided to continue fundraising and developing projects to equip, enlighten and empower medical staff and communities across Africa. 

Now seven years in to our journey as a registered charity, we continue to work with individual healthcare centres to equip staff with the essential tools (both equipment and training guidelines) need to provide a better standard of care in their communities.  

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

In a world edging towards polarising extremes, recalling history is crucial to remind us of times past which mirror contemporary times, in order for the global community to avoid making the same errors as before. So, for me Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come as a society, celebrating the growth and freedom that has been claimed through that journey, and amplifying the voices of those who continue to win victories for us in their everyday lives. Black History Month is an intentional time to appreciate and educate each other. 

On a personal level, Black History Month also presents an opportunity to learn about and connect with other black people with far and wide experiences and cultures beyond my own. Being a minority in the UK, black people are often assumed to be a monolith due to our shared experiences in the Western world, but we are diverse in more ways than we can count. As a Nigerian of Yoruba heritage, I am still learning about the values, traditions and journeys of the Igbo and Hausa people (two large tribes in Nigeria), and can only imagine how much more I don't know about smaller tribes, not to mention other countries in Africa and the global black diaspora. I greatly value the opportunity to highlight and embrace the nuance in those differences during Black History Month. 

This year’s theme is ‘Proud To Be’ and its aim is to celebrate being Black or Brown, and to inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture. What and why are you ‘Proud to Be…’? 

I am proud to be a black Nigeria woman! I am proud of the Nigerian women in my life who are an unstoppable force, and inspire me to go after everything I want with assuredness. I always feel part of something immensely beautiful and larger than life when around black women.  

Are there any Black historical figures you wish more people knew about?  

Not at the moment, I have more learning to do! 

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues faced by Black communities and what do you think needs to be done to break the cycle of oppression and discrimination faced by Black people?   

I think one issue faced by black communities I am involved in is that a lot diversity and inclusion initiatives, whilst well-meaning and vital for progression, are (unironically) only skin deep. When I speak with other black people in different sectors and industries, one shared experience is feeling present but not truly seen in our workplaces, local communities and social circles. This is because a lot of institutions perform diversity and inclusion as a check-box exercise by displaying acceptance of people from all walks of life without really taking the conversation past human resources/recruitment. Diversity and Inclusion is not a 'human resources' matter, as once we've made it through the door we find that we may feel accepted, but not necessarily understood, when the overall culture is still very exclusive. Striving to understand on a day-to-day basis how certain backgrounds and experiences shape our values and perspective is crucial to achieving inclusivity.  

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options?  

Speaking to as many people as you can in whatever fields interest you is key. When considering your career as a student, take the time to learn about your professors' career paths as there are some truly accomplished individuals who were once considering the same paths you are now. There may also be schemes, programmes and opportunities that they may have seen through the years which they can point you towards. Do not be afraid to go against the grain if it is your inclination: I knew I wanted to be a lawyer but only in speaking with other students did I also discover community and charity work was important to me. Don't think you have to figure it all out and specialise too early, as you are only just discovering yourself also. 

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?   

My most cherished experiences from my time at Queen Mary were all related to society experiences. I commuted to university for my entire degree so I sometimes felt I was disconnected from campus life. Joining societies like Unite, netball, the African and Caribbean society and commuters' society (and formed the EquipAfrica society) helped me find my tribe and connect with all that student life had to offer. End of year events at Drapers were also a highlight! 

Based on your own time at university, is there anything you feel that Queen Mary can do to improve the student experience for Black students?  

Better representation in the Student Union! 

Do you have any particular Black role models? 

My mother and Beyonce.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Hannah Dormor. If you would like to get in touch with Tolu or engage her in your work, please contact Hannah at h.dormor@qmul.ac.uk.