2024 Women of the Year Awards: Diversity and inclusion champion – Winner Anthonia Ogundele

Anthonia Ogundele, founder of Ethọ́s Lab, is the winner of the Diversity and inclusion champion category of the 2024 Women of the Year Awards


Anthonia Ogundele
Founder and executive director, Ethọ́s Lab

A typical day in the office for a resilience professional like Anthonia Ogundele might include evacuating a community from a flood or forest fire, managing an IT disaster recovery, facilitating a large-scale transition in government or creating a business continuity plan in the midst of a major emergency. Intimidating stakes, for sure. But nothing Ogundele can’t handle. “It’s actually comfortable for me—when you’re an entrepreneur, emergency management gives you the right skills to be able to handle anything,” she says.

Taking action comes naturally to her—the Vancouver-based urban planner’s passion for problem-solving and serving her community fuelled her establishment of the Hogan’s Alley Land Trust (which has since merged with the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project to become the Hogan’s Alley Society) and the Cheeky Proletariat Gallery (a small but bold Gastown gallery that’s hosted over 60 emerging artists). In 2020, she set out to tackle an issue that was particularly close to her heart: a lack of representation in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, applied arts and math).

It was searching for extracurricular activities for her daughter that initially sparked Ogundele’s interest in creating a new space for youth. “She would often be the only Black girl—or the only girl—in the room,” Ogundele recalls. “I wanted to create a space where she was reflected in the leadership and her strengths were acknowledged.” So she founded Ethós Lab, a nonprofit STEAM academy for teens.

“It’s not necessarily about learning STEAM,” explains the founder. “It’s really about understanding the context and problems that are occurring in the world, and then using STEAM to solve them.” For example, Ethós Lab’s Mixed Reality camp is focused on “hacking housing affordability”; participants build their own imagined city using Unity (a game development tool). “We’re really focusing on emerging technologies,” says Ogundele—artificial intelligence, 3D modelling and virtual and augmented reality are all tools available to Ethós Lab participants. “We can impact the medium- to long-term future if we start acting now… we can ensure that this technology is reflective of a humanity that we’re centred in,” she explains.

Last year, Ethós Lab impacted over 500 youth directly through programs, and another 500 or so through school assemblies and community events. The nonprofit centres Black youth, but welcomes teens of all backgrounds. “We really are doing something different and transformative for every young person,” says Ogundele, “not just in the projects that they are creating, but in their confidence, courage and sense of belonging.”

And while the founder loves to see the program’s impact on local youth, some of the most rewarding aspects of her work happen without her. “I’ll be at home, and my daughter will say to me, ‘Is Ethós Lab open?’—I’ll say yes, and she puts on her shoes and goes,” she says. “That’s the best part of the work: my daughter feels safe to go and find connection.”