A project being run by a Nigerian is helping scores of African expats in the UAE increase their chances of finding jobs that match their experience and qualifications.
The Road to Success Seminar offers a lifeline for many Africans who have been forced to undertake low-paid work despite being many being highly skilled and possessing prestigious degrees.
Mayowa Adegoke, 34, from Nigeria, told The National that she launched the project to provide a learning platform for Africans living in the emirates, who were often thrown into the deep end when it came to finding jobs in the UAE market.
Ms Adegoke, a popular TV presenter in Nigeria, moved to Dubai in 2019 to be with her husband who was working here.
She said she was inspired to launch the Road to Success Seminar following her own experience of building a new life in the UAE.
“I hear many stories of Africans who have postgraduate degrees and PhDs but end up as cleaners and domestic workers. I wanted to change that narrative, build their confidence, and help them grow,” she said.
“I came to Dubai for love, to a new country where nobody knew me. But look at me now, I am flourishing,” said Ms Adegoke, who also runs a consultancy and media company.
Although settled in Dubai, Ms Adegoke said it bothered her to see how many of her fellow Africans were groping in the dark in the UAE job market, forced to settle for jobs that were beneath their qualifications.
“It was sad to see people were selling themselves short because they believed that was all they could get,” she said.
“The irony is there are many Africans who are doing great. They are super successful and are living the Dubai dream.”
She said she kept complaining about the disparities for more than a year before finally deciding to do something to change it.
“That is how I came up with the idea of a ‘Road to Success Seminar’ and launched it in June 2022 with the sole aim of bringing together people of African descent and giving professional guidance and networking opportunities for those in need.”
Weaving success stories
Since then, several people have reaped the rewards of the events and networking opportunities Road to Success Seminar offer.
John Henry Ugbewanko, 31, from Nigeria, who works as an estate agent in Abu Dhabi, said the seminar threw him a lifeline when he found himself jobless and penniless a year ago.
Mr Ugbewanko, who holds an electrical engineering degree from the University of South Wales, and was a professional footballer for Swedish club IK Frej, came to the UAE in March 2019 in search for work.
“I could have been an engineer or a footballer. But I ended up as a teaching assistant at a school in Abu Dhabi,” he told The National.
However, after finding himself out of work he heard about the seminars.
“That changed my life. I met my boss and he hired me within a couple of days. Now, I am in a very happy place because of RTSS,” said Mr Ugbewanko.
He said all job seekers should attend the seminars to network and find leads on jobs and mentoring opportunities.
“It is changing people’s lives,” he said.
Cleaner to Salon owner
Another Nigerian, Comfort Babatunde, 39, said she learnt crucial business strategies to run a salon after attending an Road to Success Seminar event.
Ms Babatunde, who has a bachelor's degree in international peace and conflict resolution had to take up the job of a cleaner at a hotel when she came to Dubai in 2017.
“I came to Dubai looking for greener pastures. But my visit visa expired and I had no choice but grab whatever came my way,” she told The National.
After a year, she worked as a waitress in a Dubai hotel for two years.
“My contract expired and I was again jobless. I managed to raise a loan and started my own salon,” she said.
Ms Babatunde said she did not know much about running a business and was struggling.
“Attending the seminar was an eye-opener to me. I got so many new clients and also learnt about business strategies to take my salon to the next level. Today, I have four people working for me,” she said.
Widening the reach
Since being launched, RTSS has organised three successful events with 17 guest speakers from various industries sharing their success stories.
Past speakers at the seminar included some of the most notable Africans in the UAE including Nina Olatoke- founder of the All Africa Festival, which celebrates the continent's culture, Eddie Umar, the first African to have a show on UAE radio, and Magdi Mohamed, a TikTok influencer with more than 55,000 followers.
Ms Adegoke said she is planning to host up to 200 African experts and entrepreneurs at the next seminar, which will take place in late October.
Road to Success Seminar also has a weekly newsletter, with more than 500 subscribers, that shares success stories and professional tips.
“We are also launching a podcast to reach more people,” she said.
“The response has been great and I am glad the platform is expanding to even reach people from other nationalities who are reaching out to us for help.”