During her secondary school days, Maureen Okojie was one of the two female students in an elective science course of thirteen. "I have always been interested in tech and STEM and it didn't matter to me that there were fewer girls offering elective courses in these areas at the time," Maureen told Benjamindada.com about being one of two female students in an elective science class of thirteen.
"My love for logistics was birthed from an admiration for the Maersk branded containers lining my route to school," she added.
Maureen went on to read urban and regional planning at the University of Benin. Although her undergraduate classes were in social sciences, she found her way into STEM where she started her career as a cartographer at a software company that specialised in cartographic and spatial mapping.
Fast forward five years later, Maureen's admiration turned into reality as she landed a role at Maersk, one of the largest shipping companies in the world. During her twelve years career at the company, Maureen worked in different departments and roles and took up several leadership responsibilities. According to her, "it was a good entry point for me because I was exposed to a lot about the logistics industry. Most especially, the logistics problems that plagued Africa. A lot of things that I know about the sector today are because of my experience there".
Maureen relocated to the UK from Nigeria, where she met Larry Oti, the founder and CEO of SEND, a digital freight forwarder and customs broker for Africa, in what she describes as "an opportunity to do what [she] had always wanted to do." The vision Larry shared of integrating and simplifying the supply chain in Africa through technology was daring and exciting.
Maureen joined SEND in 2019 with 15 years of experience in the logistics industry as a co-founder to solve Africa's supply chain problems; the logistics sector on the continent is plagued with a barrage of problems which SEND is solving including arduous booking processes, inability to track goods in real-time, poor visibility and control of the customer supply chain
Together with Larry and Kingsley Oti, she worked to build SEND, a proprietary technology that manages the entire process of shipping, including customs clearance, payments & trade finance all on one platform.
A YC-backed company, today, SEND has delivered over 3000 boxes across Africa and has grown from a team of three to thirty. Launched in 2020, the company has since expanded its operations into Nigeria, Ghana and Togo—it is currently furthering its expansion plans into Eastern and Central Africa.
Embracing gender equity in Africa’s logistics sector
Whilst is known to be a male-dominated industry, Maureen is one of the several female founders and executives that are breaking the bias in the logistics sector which is expected to reach a valuation of $380 billion by 2025.
While sharing her experiences about navigating the industry as a woman, she stated that "Maureen at fourteen is pretty much the same Maureen in her thirties with the purpose-driven mindset. I make sure to accomplish what I’ve always wanted to do without being limited by who else is doing it. It helps that I had enablers like my parents who were willing to support me to do what made me happy while making an impact in society.
When I walk into a room of brilliant minds, I walk in there with the mindset to be the best person for the job, not just the best woman. This mindset has helped me to navigate this male-dominated industry for 15 years."
Maureen admits that not every woman will have the same enablers she had, hence, she is deliberate in representing & mentoring women in her capacity. “If I give my best performance at my work, it will create an avenue for more women to want to aspire to work in the industry, and also thrive,” she added.
According to the co-founder of the YC-backed company, embracing equity in the logistics industry starts with ensuring that there is an even distribution of all genders in rooms where decisions are made.
"This starts with deliberate recruitment and attraction of women to these companies," She said. "It is not about paying lip service to conversations about gender inclusion but intentionally creating policies to drive inclusion and equity such that women can go beyond entry-level to senior leadership roles." As a senior executive, Maureen has ensured that SEND adopts this strategy to ensure the inclusion of women in every department and level.
On the role of mentorship in the inclusion of younger women in logistics, Maureen said that: "The world is changing and society is realizing that women can aspire to work in various spaces, even male-dominated ones and thrive at it. With the media throwing light on successful women, there are more role models for younger women. Also, the responsibility lies on us who are already on the leadership path to mentor others."
In Africa, women entrepreneurs in Africa often struggle to access funding to start or grow their businesses. Additionally, reports show that women are less likely to receive loans than men, and when they do, they receive smaller amounts and pay higher interest rates.
Maureen agrees with the aforementioned and stated that SEND provides trade financing for entrepreneurs. "Ironically, the best loan repayment rates come from women-owned businesses," she added. Asides from providing credit, the company works to provide end-to-end infrastructure for businesses to simplify their supply chain and also track their shipments using SEND’s software.