Aberdeen businesswoman and “inspirational entrepreneur” Yekemi Otaru has been officially installed as University of the West of Scotland’s (UWS) chancellor.
Ms Otaru, renowned for her passionate commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the university.
She started the role in September last year, succeeding Dame Elish Angiolini, but had to wait until today (June 29) for the special ceremony, held at Paisley Abbey, due to Covid restrictions.
Since starting the position Ms Otaru has made several trips to the University’s various campuses and met with staff, students, and entrepreneurs in UWS’s incubator space.
She has also facilitated introductions between the UWS’s careers team and Thermo Fisher Scientific African Heritage Employee Resource Group, to explore how the collaboration can drive more diverse recruitment within Thermo Fisher.
Ms Otaru, who is also a tireless supporter of women in business and an active mentor of business owners in the world’s poorest countries, said: “My first priority was to get to know the staff and students.
“It’s been fantastic to see what they are working on and what makes each campus tick.
“I spent time with the entrepreneurs and listening to their business ideas.
“Mainly the entrepreneurial journey can be quite difficult and lonely so just hearing me say that’s quite normal and providing some support and perspective has been enjoyable.”
Embraced the chancellor role
The offer to become chancellor came as a shock to Ms Otaru but it was an opportunity she has certainly grabbed with both hands.
The mum-of-two said: “I would never have gone out to be a chancellor.
“It was something that I was asked to do and I didn’t really know what to expect.
“All I knew is it was going to give me an opportunity to be close to students and staff who are working hard and I’ve got a passion for higher education.
“It’s helped me a lot in my career.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and meeting all the people and getting involved in some of the student focused activities.”
Experienced in business
Ms Otaru holds four degrees, including in chemical engineering and an MBA, and has considerable industrial experience in engineering and marketing.
She is also co-founder and director at Doqaru, the Aberdeen-based sales and marketing consultancy.
During her time in the city Ms Otaru has seen a rising number of women in business but believes there is still time for more to “thrive”.
She said: “It’s fantastic. I’ve been in Aberdeen for 18 years now and I’ve just seen it the amount of women go from strength to strength around business.
“To be honest I wonder whether the oil and gas downturns that we’ve had have motivated and inspired people to go out and find something else they are passionate about.
“I think a lot of new businesses have sprouted as a result of redundancies or opportunities in new sectors.
“With the women in the north-east quite a few supportive groups have come up and opportunities for women to be mentored and have access to some level of funding.
“I think women are getting more confident.
“There is a lot of space for women to thrive. Even looking back five years ago we have made great progress.”
Greater need for funding
However, Ms Otaru still believes more can be done to help kickstart women in business.
She said: “I don’t think the work is done, there is still room especially when it comes to access to funding for women.
“Research shows it takes around five years for a woman to take the courage to go back to a bank if they’ve been turned down for funding.
“There are more women than ever before in the north-east who are running their own businesses, we are an example with children and a family, but we do feel there are some limitations.
‘Incredible impact’ as chancellor
In attendance at the ceremony was a range of distinguished guests, stakeholders and UWS colleagues and students.
Ms Otaru said: “I’m delighted to have celebrated my installation as chancellor at UWS in today’s ceremony.
“It was such a lovely and uplifting event, made even more special as I had my family and close friends present.”
UWS interim principal & vice-chancellor Dr Lucy Meredith said: “In her short time as our chancellor, Yekemi has already made an incredible impact on our university community.
“She has inspired, encouraged and supported colleagues and students and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
“It’s fantastic to gather together in person to celebrate Yekemi after the challenges of the pandemic and award her with a richly deserved honorary doctorate.”