#LLAInterview: “I am greatly influenced by nature because nature is powerful and full of abundance” – Adun Okupe, Executive Director of The Sahara Centre

Adun Okupe

With over a decade’s experience as a researcher, business advisor and domestic tourism advocate, Dr Adun Okupe has been a leading voice in her field, championing the cause of using the creative industry to drive societal change. Dr Adun is the executive director of The Sahara Centre,  a not-for-profit social organization committed to advancing socio-cultural development in Nigeria through research projects and interventions.

One of the expressions of The Sahara Centre is INDIGO – Nigeria’s first fully solar-powered shared working space in Lagos. Dr Adun has worked with and consulted for several organizations including the Lagos Business School, the Universities of Edinburgh and Surrey, the World Travel & Tourism Council, KPMG London and the W Hospitality Group. She is also a Senior Advisor with Red Clay Advisory, and the Founder of Compass Insights, a boutique market research and customer engagement company.

Meet Adun Okupe

Adun Okupe likes to think of herself as a forest child – someone in love with nature and all that nature stands for – the life force, and the abundance. Professionally, She is a researcher primarily working in the fields of tourism and sustainability, all looking to see how she can contribute towards societal change.

Work at the Sahara Centre

The Sahara Centre for the advancement of culture and tourism in Nigeria is focused on sociocultural development. Culture is who we are and what shapes our identity. We focus on the ‘people’ element of sustainable development to build a better Nigerian society. For me, the sustainable development and the sustainability conversation is really about people, the communities that support us, and our ways of life. Usually, sustainable development focuses on the economic and political factors, we are trying to look more at the people, how they are organized, their societies and their culture and forms of expression.

The goal of our work at The Sahara Centre is to develop systems that account for and integrates both the material and immaterial socio-cultural factors into the nation’s development framework to ultimately create a Nigerian society that understands more about who it is, and its own ways of life and is able to chart its evolution, anchored on a true sense of self and belongingness. In 2021, we are going to work more closely with the creative industries to ensure this anchoring, participation and evolution.

Creation of  INDIGO

INDIGO for me is a physical representation of what we are trying to do. We have the zen garden that has become an oasis in the city, the solar system aimed at creating serenity, and we have reimagined a shared workspace in Lagos that provides office space in a thoughtful way to meet the needs of its users. INDIGO is a truly green workspace with a deliberate effort to ensure that the materials used to finish the space were sourced from Nigeria, as best as possible.

Adun Okupe
Highlights for the Sahara Centre in driving sustainable development in Nigeria

2020 affected our plans, as it did for many others, but this year, we are happy to have been part of the COVID-19 Committee for the Lagos State Ministry of Art, Culture and Tourism, advising the government on its support for the industry. We have also concluded our Creative Economy project funded by Ford Foundation, on behalf of the NESG, which focused on understanding the creative economy in Nigeria and the impact of interventions on the industry and opportunities to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). We also finished our Lagos Island project, understanding what leisure, recreation and tourism mean within the Lagos Island community, as a way to draw out community focused recreational interventions. Finally, we were able to raise some money during the

COVID-19 lockdown which supported creative sector agents. So, it has been a long year, but I think we have been able to do some good work. I look forward to having dissemination workshops in early 2021 to share some of our findings.

Challenges faced as a “Sustainability Evangelist”

“It is really about getting us to understand that the term ‘sustainability’ is not a foreign concept”, says Adun. It is a concept that is deeply connected to who we are as people. If we look at some of our traditional practices, in terms of how we approach the elements, we see a respect for nature, and a focus on reuse and recycling. For example, which has then brought us some new products, I usually give the example of black soap made from plantain skin, leaves, tree bark. But there are many more examples. It is really in finding them and sharing these stories that we realize that focuses on economic, social and environmental good is a core element of our society. We also need to reconnect with that in a stronger way.

Surmounting challenges in the Year 2020 

It has been a difficult and strange year that brought a few sad experiences, but it has also brought some good. I would say it has helped us to renew our focus and streamline what we want to achieve as an organization. During the COVID-19 lockdown in Lagos, we thought it was important to provide assistance to those in precarious working conditions in the cultural and tourism industries who are out of work at this time. Around the world, relief packages were being released for the cultural and tourism sector, and whilst we continue to work to ensure the government prioritises the cultural and tourism sector in Nigeria, we decided to put together relief assistance for freelancers, self-employed agents in the sector. We raised money, and also then put together a selection committee made up of key people from the industry, as well as supporters. They were Adeola Olagunju, Akin Oyebode, Dr Femi Daniel, Ojoma Ochai, Sam Adeleke and Katja Ikongio who reviewed over 200 applications to shortlist projects that could contribute to a sense of community and positive spirit across several locations. We were able to support 9 projects and provide humanitarian relief to 25 people.

Our Conversations at TSC moved online and in a way, contributed to creating a space for people to express themselves. The conversations are our monthly salon-style conversation series where big questions on various elements of life in Lagos and Nigeria are asked and answered. This space is important to encourage curiosity and open-mindedness, and to teach people how to have meaningful conversations, ask deep questions and share answers that can contribute to critical thinking about the realities of life in Lagos, and Nigeria.

The conversations helped me personally to learn more and connect with like-minded people. We also then started a midweek art and wine session and art as therapy. Again, I am happy to say, we were able to create a small community that has remained even after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. 2020 has been tough, but I am learning that humans are really a special breed. We keep moving.

Adun Okupe
Personal stuff — Books and Music

I tend to read several books at a time, but I am currently reading DO Fagunwa’s Forests of a Thousand Daemons, the English version translated by Wole Soyinka. It is such a magical book and I am connecting it to other conversations on forests, nature and history. I also tend to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace often. If life could write, it would be this book. I return to it over and again to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun, and to marvel at his mastery.

I have several playlists for different purposes. This week, I am listening to Cesaria Evora, the Cape Verdean singer – her voice takes me to Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits. Cavemen’s Roots album has really truly been a great addition to the year. Ludovico Einaudi – I tend to listen to during the week and my latest find is Herp Alpert’s Rotation. I tend to listen to the same songs over and over and over again.

An all-expense-paid trip to anywhere in the world

I really would like to go to Latin America. I’ve never been and I would like to go for 4-6 weeks, slow travel from Chile to Peru and then to Cuba. That’s my first choice, and my second choice would be Tanzania again, I love Tanzania.

Greatest influences in life and business

I am greatly influenced mostly by nature, have you looked at nature and really tried to understand a bit of what it has to offer? It’s powerful and it is also about abundance. Other influences have been the books I’ve read, and the authors who have penned them, and then art – art has the ability to evoke, it has definitely inspired me, learning the stories and inspiration of various artists, around the world. In terms of humans, I would say I have learnt a lot about the strength of character, integrity, honesty, contentment and kindness from my grandmother and my mother.

Intention for the Year 2021

My intention for 2021 would be to write more. These journal papers need to be finished!


The Leading Ladies Africa weekly interview series focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.


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