The inaugural 40 Under 40 Public Health Catalyst Awards aim to highlight the rising leaders and innovators of the public health field. The Boston Congress of Public Health (BCPH) and the HPHR Journal selected a group of “leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, activists”, and doctors that will inspire the next generations of public health workers to change the world. The individuals featured for this award have not only shown excellent work performance and an extensive academic history but have also brought innovative solutions to public health issues around the world.
The NYC Daily Post interviewed 40 under 40 award winners to learn about their career journeys leading up to their nominations.
What’s a piece of advice you’ve received that has impacted your career journey?
Confidence in the workplace is built through competence. As a young black woman in corporate America, you have to always stay on top of your work to build confidence in yourself and among your colleagues.
Do you have a mentor you’d like to recognize? If so, what would you like to say to them?
Throughout my career, I have been privileged to have bosses who have taken an interest in my potential for leadership, invested their time to mentor me, and given me complex tasks from which I have learned and delivered. I am grateful to my bosses both at the oil and gas company – Chevron, where I started my career over a decade ago, and the World Bank, where I now serve as a public health consultant.
Special shout out to the hiring manager who recruited me into my current team at the World Bank, who has since continued to demonstrate exemplary leadership, given me leadership opportunities, and invested his time into the success of my career.
What advice would you give a young professional beginning their career in your field?
My advice: A career in international development is fulfilling, meaningful, and impactful. It will always be your way of giving back and elevating the lives of others. Seek for opportunities to advocate and liaise with underserved, and marginalized people, as it will broaden your perspective and cause you to look for ways to add value.
If you could do one thing, leave one mark, on your profession, what would it be?
I would eradicate hunger and malnutrition among underserved children. Every child deserves good food and nutrition regardless of where they live.
Name a challenge you’ve faced and how it turned out.
The most work-related challenges I have had have been skillfully addressed with honesty and transparency.
What is your ultimate career goal as you see it today?
I would like to serve as a director in international development organizations.
What alternate role(s) would you be interested in pursuing?
Whatever role I pursue must lead me back to international development work in the areas of policy, nutrition, and health systems strengthening.
What core values are important to succeeding in your professional field?
Empathy, Teamspirit, Innovation, Respect, Hard work, and Integrity.
Ten years ago, I thought I would be …
Interesting! Ten years ago, I thought I would be a petroleum engineer – can you imagine? I was working for an oil and gas company, Chevron, as a healthy environment and safety specialist, and i wanted to move into the core business of the company which is engineering. I had gained admission into University College London and Kings College London to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering, with plans to return and work in the engineering space. Talk about how our choices are shaped by our environment and experiences. I am glad my mind shifted, and I am glad how things have turned out for me.
Ten years from now, I want to be …
Whether it is with organizations like the USAID, the Ministry of Health, and the UN organizations, I want to be globally recognized as an authority in international development, leading health policy, nutrition, health systems, and universal health coverage efforts. I would also like to expand my baby food company, providing nutritious food for underserved children.
Would you want to acknowledge any family/friends/partners (beyond mentors)? If so, who?
Of course, I would like to acknowledge my husband, Simeon Okara for his support, guidance, and mentorship. My husband demonstrates an uncommon interest in my progress and has consistently supported my ambitions. My daughters, Cara and Carina, have also been phenomenal. They have quickly learned to adapt to the family’s needs and continued to demonstrate their love and support. I am grateful for my family.
Please indicate your hometown, place of study, degree field(s), and an interesting fact about yourself.
I am from Edo State in Nigeria. I am currently pursuing a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree from Loma Linda University, California.
Anything else that you might think is relevant to your article?
If you’re interested in following some of my work, follow me on Nomnom_Babies on Instagram and Latifat Okara on LinkedIn.
Interview prepared by Brianna Gray
Feature Image: Latifat Okara, personal archive