Think beyond your current circumstances — It’s easy to get tunnel visioned on the present when building an organization. But overtime, I’ve learned the importance of keeping an eye on societal trends and global events that could impact your industry.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Ngozi.
Inspired by seeing a lack of women in leadership roles, Jen Ngozi was determined to be part of the solution. After discovering that a lack of access to networking opportunities and confidence was partly responsible, and feeling out of place at many traditional networking events, she launched NetWerk to make networking less intimidating and help women gain the confidence and community needed to become leaders. NetWerk® is a global women’s organization and movement that builds leadership with creative networking events combined with dance fitness and learning experiences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up in the US as a first-generation immigrant from Nigeria, presented its unique set of challenges. I often didn’t know what I didn’t know. I understood the importance of hard work and giving back. But I learned important career and life skills later in life because of cultural differences. I often found myself playing catch up.
This laid the foundation for NetWerk and my mission of creating a safe space for women to develop both personally and professionally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb
From the support I received from my parents growing up, the dance programs that developed my confidence, to the mentoring that filled the gaps in my understanding of running an organization, it truly took a village to help get to where I am today.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m currently reading a book called “The Magic of Thinking Big” and it’s a real eye opener. We often set our goals too low out of fear. I’ll admit, my goals were too small when I founded NetWerk. And had I achieve them, I’d have nothing left to work towards today.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
My career path has been far from traditional. As a lifelong dancer, I actually spent most of my career working in Leadership Development consulting for Big 4 and Fortune 500 firms.
It was seeing a lack of women in leadership roles in the organizations that I worked for and reflecting on my personal experiences professionally and at traditional networking events that inspired me to launch NetWerk in 2018.
What started as a networking and dance fitness event offered in my apartment’s basement dance studio, soon led to us offering events in cities across the country.
Before the pandemic, our community was growing at NetWerk, it was an exciting time and we had plans for ongoing expansion. Then COVID-19 hit..
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, I witnessed a major shift in the needs of our community. It was check ins with a few NetWerkHERs that helped me realize how much the pandemic impacted the women in our community professionally. Suddenly, many of them were unemployed, underemployed, felt isolated working from home for the first time, or took time off to care for kids with schools closed. I realized that in order to meet the changing needs of our community, we would need to switch gears.
Months of surveying, feedback calls, and research led to the creation of NetWerk Society. NetWerk Society is our new global digital leadership development membership community for women. Our goal with this program is to offer career, leadership development and employment support to both professional women currently in the workforce and college women entering the workforce in these uncertain times.
The program allows us to collaborate with brands and employers that share our interest in developing women and helps take our mission of building leadership and confidence one step further. NetWerk Society also allows me to tap into my experience working in Leadership Development consulting, merging my past with my present.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My “aha moment” came while reading an article that highlighted some discouraging statistics on how the pandemic was setting women back professionally and wiping away years of our progress. Something about this article, lit a fire in me. I felt immediately called to be part of the resolution.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Pivoting to a new program offering is both exciting and scary all at once!
Developing a program around leadership development forced me to reflect on my own leadership journey and all the ups and downs. It’s a pretty emotional process.
Being a woman of color and first-generation immigrant to the US, came with unique obstacles throughout my career. It’s rewarding to finally be able to channel those experiences into something positive.
The good news is that we’re in the final development stages and preparing to launch NetWerk Society in early 2021!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father has been instrumental in getting me to where I am today.
Decades ago, he left Nigeria and his comfort zone to start over in an unfamiliar country and give my family a better life. His sacrifices and bravery continue to inspire me to chase my wildest dreams today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
WithNetWerk Society, getting started was overwhelming without having all the details ironed out. But the interesting thing that happened once we actually started the program development, was seeing how things organically came together overtime. The scariest part of beginning a new initiative is typically taking the first step and actually getting started. But once we did, ideas and opportunities presented themselves that weren’t very obvious in the beginning.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be Bold — With NetWerk the bigger my expectations, the more opportunities I began to attract. Had I understood the correlation between my thoughts and my outcomes when I started the organization, I would’ve aimed higher from the start.
- Think beyond your current circumstances — It’s easy to get tunnel visioned on the present when building an organization. But overtime, I’ve learned the importance of keeping an eye on societal trends and global events that could impact your industry.
- Have a pulse on your community — As leaders, it’s easy to become fixated on an idea for your organization. But I’ve gained the most insight by reaching out to our community and listening. It was feedback from NetWerkHERs that planted the seed for NetWerk Society.
- Don’t overlook past experiences — Throughout my career, some of the most priceless leadership lessons that I’ve learned came from setbacks. It’s easy to dismiss negative experiences from our memory banks, but these are often hidden gems.
- Mute Self-limiting Beliefs Early — Our thoughts and words are so powerful and have the ability to shape our outcomes. The sooner we train our minds to silence self-limiting beliefs, the better.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
As a dancer, I’ll admit that I’m often focused on physical wellness. But like many, the uncertainty and devastation surrounding the pandemic shifted my attention to my mental wellness this year. I knew that I could never serve our community if I’m not both physically and mentally fit. This year I’ve prioritized my mental wellness by dancing indoors more often and practicing daily prayer and gratitude exercises.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, it would encourage women to live boldly!
This means chasing our wildest dreams, self-promoting shamelessly, demanding our worth professionally and living life unapologetically.
Too often the only thing standing in the way of our next level, is us. The movement would elevate women towards their best version.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’ve always been impressed by Oprah Winfrey. It’s her ability to create something from nothing and thrive despite adversity that does it for me. She’s always been an inspiration and would be my dream lunch date hands down!
How can our readers follow you online?
To stay in touch and follow my journey, join our mailing list atwww.netwerkmovement.com.