London-based Viv Oyolu’s infectious laughter vibrates down the phone line, compelling you to smile along as she shares the twists and turns of her extraordinary life. Even through the scratchy Skype connection, you find yourself gravitating to her voice, drawn in by her larger-than-life personality. Being profiled on Career 2.0 is rather ironic for Oyolu because, as a radio presenter and audio and podcast consultant, her “thing” is to give other people the opportunity to share their words, “My purpose is to give people’s stories a voice! I am in a position to do that but really it’s a gift to me to resurrect my life.”
Born in the UK to Nigerian parents, Oyolu returned to Benin city in Nigeria at the age of four. She studied marketing at Rivers State University and worked for about five years at Citizens, a commercial bank in Nigeria. In 1994, the adventure-seeking Oyolu relocated to the UK with her best friend to do an MBA at Durham University, “It was something completely different.”
Post-graduation, Oyolu oversaw marketing for a London business school. She eventually became a free agent and shopped her marketing services to big brands like BMW, Walt Disney, NatWest, and Barclaycard for many years.
It was all going swimmingly until she hit her 39th birthday, “I think I was having a mid-life crisis. I guess I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew something was off. I just felt so dissatisfied.”
Around the same time, she read Bill Wilson’s Whose Child Is This?, a harrowing book about abandoned children in New York’s projects. Fascinated by book, in 2005, on the spur-of-the-moment Oyolu rang Wilson’s Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, a faith-based organization which works with inner-city kids. Discovering they offered internships, she saved up for six months and raised funds from generous friends to support her stay in New York.
It was a decision that would forever change her life. Working for five months at the hardest job she had ever done, Oyolu recalls, “I had never known people living in such abject poverty in a developed country. It just changed my whole perspective. For no reason whatsoever, I was born into the family I was born into …. That’s given me opportunities, given me a life I can be proud of. These children haven’t done anything right or wrong, they’re just born into poverty … after seeing that, you really appreciate what you have.”
She returned to the UK a different person. With the help of start-up business grants, Oyolu decided to establish a social enterprise, Divine Communications Trust. DCT offered the Bina program designed to teach young people (11-13 year olds) about integrity and making good decisions. She also developed workshops lesson to help 16-19 year-olds headed for the workplace.
After about six years of operation, DCT lost a huge contract due to the economic downturn. Licking her wounds out one night with friends, Oyolu got chatting to a guy sporting a rather large camera. “He had a job but was training to be a better photographer so he could become a travel journalist later in life which I found really interesting. He asked me ‘So, what’s your thing?’ I was about to say, ‘I love to read’, but then surprised myself by blurting out ‘You know what? I’ve always wanted to be a radio presenter!’ ‘So why aren’t you doing it?’ he asked. I shrugged my shoulders, saying ‘I don’t know’ but thought, ‘Yeah, Viv, why aren’t you doing it?’”
And where did this come from? “Back in Nigeria when I was young, I always loved music. I listened to the radio all the time, made my own cassettes, created my own playlists. And, as you may have noticed, I love to talk … I always knew those two things went well together. Being a radio host is something I knew but I always felt it was so far out of my reach.”
A few days later, at a meeting with a friend to “resurrect” DCT, Oyolu recalled the conversation at the party. Serendipitously, her friend knew of a radio station looking for non-experienced presenters. She knew immediately what her pitch would be, “The focus would be on someone like me who had a dream and wanted to follow her passion.” At the interview, which turned out to be a live radio show, Oyolu came into her own: “I was talking as if I had done it all my life. I went on and on and on. [The presenter] barely got a word in. I had found myself, my voice. I never knew I had what it took to do the show, but I did.” And Dream Corner was born.
In its third year of operation, Dream Corner profiles female entrepreneurs, mostly “ordinary women doing extraordinary things, in a small way, big way or however. But no one will hear about them if I don’t interview them,” Oyolu explains. The 300 stories shared to date are mostly by referral only. She is not paid for the show and, despite its revenue-earning potential, she has no intention to turn it into a business. “The women on my show have built me up, opened up my world. It just makes me love my job even more. If they have never believed in themselves and I have allowed them to communicate who they are in a way that they are proud of and begin to see themselves in a new light, I think that’s just amazing. What I have gained non-monetarily is exceptional, their journeys have inspired me. I cannot quantify this,” she adds.
Interestingly, Oyolu observes that while her radio show is a platform where women can talk about themselves without any interruption, most of them have to be guided into the conversation. “Women can talk endlessly about their job, being a mum or a wife, but they never focus on who they are or what they have achieved personally. Dream Corner allows them to do this and reconnect with who they are.”
The multi-tasking Oyolu edits a radio show once a week and runs an audio and podcasting consultancy, Audio Byte that helps clients build a rapport with their audience and communicate better through audio channels. She is also starting to promote the Bina program again. “Because I am not solely reliant on it, I feel liberated to work on it. My ultimate goal is for independent schools to buy it and use it as a tool.”
And why not go after the high profile stories on Dream Corner? “I like the ‘ordinary’ woman who is just like me, who can believe in her dream and be successful. Success is what you make it to be. Some people would say I am successful. In a way I am because I am doing exactly what I want to do. It brings me so much joy to share people’s stories … Sometimes I interview a guest and go lie down. I want to keep the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from talking to these amazing women as long as possible.”
At the risk of being redundant, the common theme running through all of Oyolu’s projects is clearly her mission to help other people. “I think it goes back to my experience in New York. I’ve learned so much and been given so much why not give back? It’s rare for someone to find what they love and do it but giving people’s stories a voice has done just that for me. If I died tomorrow, that’s what I want on my tomb… ‘Here lies Viv Oyolu, she gave people a voice’.”
Here’s hoping Oyolu’s no predictor of the future and sticks around to draw people out of their shells, bring a smile to their faces, and act as an inspiration for others to follow their dream and find success.
Interested in learning more about Viv Oyolu? Listen to a 6.37-minute- audio version of this interview … learn why she does what she does and how you too can find your true purpose.
Viv Oyolu’s Tips for Success:
- You never know the fullness of your potential until you stretch yourself.
- In hindsight, I should have made it easier for myself and had a job or other source of income when setting up my business. I was under a lot of pressure to succeed.
- Being a risk taker does have its disadvantages. I recommend not trying to do too many things at the same time.
- Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on – rejoice with you for good news and cry with you when things don’t go according to plan.
Have you ever considered doing some significant volunteer work as a means to find more fulfillment in your life?