Ola Ojewumi

Ola Ojewumi - 2016 Nominee
Position: Founder/Director
Organization: Project ASCEND
Ola’s nonprofit supports women/girls repro health/education in Guatemala & college scholarships for poor women in the U.S. She’s lobbied Congress for funding for UN women’s programs and wrote about repro health access for Marie Claire in Guatemala. – Nominator
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

As an activist, I've lobbied Congress for increased funding for UNFPA family planning and reproductive health programs in over 100 hundred countries. In addition, I've written about the challenges women in Guatemala face from maternal/infant mortality to global violence against women for Marie Claire. These writings were used by the Population Council to teach indigenous women the English language. My experiences inspired me to create a nonprofit, Project ASCEND, which supports women and youth education programs in the across the globe. In addition, I've worked on the White House on President Obama's Council on Women and Girls, Office of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Population Action International and in the Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington Developing Leaders Program.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

I am a daughter and descendant of Africa, a region facing a reproductive health crisis due to high rates of death during childbirth, minimal access to professional medical care and contraceptives, bans on abortions, early motherhood and limited freedom to decide when to begin a family. This inspires me to change the world for my fellow African sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts that yearn for the same rights, privileges and opportunities that I have in the United States.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

My largest challenge was establishing a nonprofit at age 20. After traveling to Guatemala and witnessing limited reproductive rights women abroad have inspired me to act. As a college student, I didn’t know how to effectively run an organization. After 5 years, we have expanded from a small organization to a sustainable nonprofit with funding from MTV, Glamour magazine, HSC Foundation, Keds, TMI Agency and Zip Car with initiatives in Washington, D.C., West Africa and Central America.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

I’m a native of Washington, DC, which is home to a crumbling public education system, high rates of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, incarceration and poverty. I watched as my friends fell victim to these structural inequalities. Our largest family planning issue is not equipping impoverished youth with access to affordable contraceptives, abortions and comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, our government works to reduce women’s rights. Public policy needs to change for women and girls to thrive.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

In 5 years, I hope to expand my nonprofit organization and begin supporting family planning education in more countries. I hope to overcome a few obstacles in order to achieve my dreams. I am the recipient of a heart and kidney transplant, I’ve battled a post-transplant cancer and I recently underwent chemotherapy. I hope to share my story of survival with the world by emphasizing the importance of using our short lives to make an impact and improve the lives of our fellow man.

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