Hilina D. Ajakaiye

Pioneering New Models for Growth and Inclusion in Boston’s Travel & Tourism Industry

When it comes to leadership, women have been around for a long time. Women have taken leadership roles in many fields, playing an increasingly important role in our society. And one of them is Hilina D. Ajakaiye, Executive Vice President of Meet Boston (formerly the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB)), Founder of R.I.S.E. Women’s Leadership Conference.

She brings over 20 years of sales, marketing, and operations expertise to her role at the organization. She has specific oversight over several Meet Boston departments – including Human Resources, Membership Development, Information Technology, Finance, Publications and Advertising, Leisure Destination Services (includes two Visitor Information Centers), and Operations – and leads many of the Meet Boston’s most important initiatives related to community engagement, workforce development, accessibility, and a wide range of mission-critical work in the equity, diversity, and inclusion space.

A Seasoned Leader With Extensive Experience

A native of Ethiopia, Ajakaiye came to the United States in 1987, where she learned English as a second language and graduated with a high school diploma and an associate degree simultaneously at the age of 17. Her undergraduate studies were completed at the University of Massachusetts, and in 2017 she graduated from Northeastern University with an MBA in International Marketing Management. The seasoned leader had previously worked for Ahold Delhaize, where she had achieved national distinction for successfully managing several teams and managing a $805 million operating budget.

Hilina D. Ajakaiye AHOLD DELHAIZE, Headquartered in Quincy, MA

Overseeing a diverse workforce of 150+ associates, Ajakaiye has faced many work-related challenges, but one of the biggest came not from within but without: In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene barreled into town, causing her store to lose power for more than 26 hours. This emergency required monumental efforts on Ajakaiye’ s part to corral her team, employing quick response and clear actions, steps and thinking to mitigate chaos. Through her leadership, more than $1 million of company assets were successfully secured, with minimal loss to the store. Although Ajakaiye was unable to get home to her family for nearly two days, she was able to serve as a source of comfort and strength for her associates and many area families who had no power for many days after the storm. The result was that her store suffered the fewest losses of the division’s stores in the affected area. Putting employees FIRST remains the focus of her leadership.

Ajakaiye is passionately committed to causes that promote equity. She is the driving force behind the Meet Boston’s collaboration with Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM), which aims to diversify the travel and hospitality profession, especially in the upper management and leadership tiers. The US Travel Association has officially acknowledged and accepted the Meet Boston-TDM model that Ajakaiye has established as the benchmark that other destination marketing organizations should follow. She also currently serves as co-chair of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee for Destinations International.

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Partnership is the cornerstone of success for Ajakaiye. She is leading an overhaul of the Meet Boston’s traditional membership structure to replace it with a partnership paradigm. This initiative aims to improve the organization’s value proposition by broadening the range of constituents and stakeholders – driving more community participation and inclusion while bringing businesses and communities who were previously on the outskirts of the tourism economy into the fold. In her endeavor to drive a greater value proposition for the Meet Boston, Ajakaiye has developed a 501 (c)(3) private foundation that will allow the organization to pursue charitable work and community partnerships like never before.

Furthermore, under her guidance, Meet Boston unveiled TheBOS, a new Mobile Visitor Information Center. TheBOS takes the visitor center concept and puts it on wheels, offering tourist services to major events, fun festivals, and local happenings throughout the metropolitan area. In this project, she led from the angle of equity and bringing\getting into neighborhoods critical information about visitors.

Ajakaiye is also the Founder of the R.I.S.E. Women’s Leadership Conference, for which she was named “Rhode Islander of the Year” in 2019 by Rhode Island Monthly. She has been called on to serve on The Network of Executive Women (NEW), as a board director for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Progreso Latino, and as a board trustee for the Woodward School for Girls. She has recently joined the board of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, where her voice will amplify and guide the Greenway’s core mission to create a sustainable urban green space that is active, immersive, and, above all else, accessible.  Ajakaiye also serves on the Board of Trustees for Centreville Bank and Mosses Brown School.

Ajakaiye is an inductee into the Big Brothers, Big Sisters “People We Admire” program and is a graduate of The Partnership, Inc.’s Leadership Program. She frequently travels with her husband and two kids and believes that travel lowers boundaries, promotes the flourishing of intercultural relations, and develops global citizens.

In her personal and professional life, the dedicated and steadfast leader is deeply committed to philanthropy, community development and supporting the underserved, and women empowerment in all that they do. R.I.S.E. has allowed her to create a successful brand that has supported over 10,000+ women over five years and is currently in its 6th year. The company has also given 30 young women scholarships for their education.

Creating a Safe Environment For Girls And Women

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Realizing Inspiration & Sustaining Excellence (R.I.S.E.) envisions a world devoid of unfavorable societal norms that impact all women and girls who work. The RISE Women’s Leadership Conference fosters communication, thought leadership, and connections between a wide range of extraordinary women. The experience creates a safe environment for girls and women to have daring and inspiring talks about the subtleties of social-economic, workplace, and gender parity. R.I.S.E is a 501(c)(3) educational organization with the purpose to inspire, connect, recognize, and assist women and girls as they navigate the workplace and entrepreneurial landscape while appreciating the significance of work/life balance that occurs across both areas.

RISE supports women and girls to live out their fullest potential in traditional, entrepreneurial, and creative professional experiences through peer engagement and mentorship opportunities. In addition, R.I.S.E is deeply invested in the young women of today who will be leading the world and futures of tomorrow. We partner with many great organizations that positively shape the lives of youth for the future. After all, the outcomes of tomorrow are grounded in the efforts of today!” says Ajakaiye.

Meet Boston (formerly The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) is the primary private sector marketing and visitor services organization charged with the development of meetings, conventions, and tourism-related business. Its goal is to enhance the economy of Boston, Cambridge, and the metropolitan area.

Meet Boston is a non-profit, membership-driven sales, and marketing organization comprising over 1,200 businesses in Boston, Cambridge, and around New England that rely on the tourism and convention sectors for their success.

The following divisions are involved in Meet Boston’s marketing strategy: Group Sales, Visitor Services, Media Relations & Tourism Sales, Visitor Marketing, and Destination Services. The solicitation of conventions and meetings involves city and state government, area hotels, exhibition companies, and other Meet Boston member companies.

“The tourism marketing effort is a carefully planned strategy that takes into consideration every opportunity to partner with state and city government, as well as local and private groups who share the same objectives. Through our partnerships, the GBCVB works to stimulate growth in international and domestic markets that offer the highest potential for new business for Greater Boston,” states Ajakaiye.

Promote DEI & Belonging

Be excited about failure as it is a great sign of growth. I would share with young women an excerpt from one of my favorite authors: You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by themMaya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter.

To Ajakaiye, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean a true delivery on Belonging. When all women and diverse people have the same opportunities and access to lead a life, they want it both personally and professionally, with no unnecessary obstacles. The initiatives she has led to promote DEI&B is creating the R.I.S.E. Platform, where 14,000 women get together annually to share resources and learning. She has led all DEI projects within Meet Boston, particularly promoting diverse workforce development, and accessibility and reimagining their Partnership model to include diverse and small businesses.

Challenges Women Encounter In The Business World

As a female leader, Ajakaiye knows that women face many challenges in the workplace. Below mentioned are some of them:

  • Representation of Women.
  • Gender Pay Gap.
  • Sexual Harassment.
  • Unemployment Penalty.
  • Race and Ethnicity.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination.
  • ‘That Time Of The Month’
  • Women Bosses.

That’s why the intentional and passionate leader urges women to continue to use their VOICE and COLLECTIVE power to continue to demand change.  While women have made some strides, there is still a very long way to go. She believes supporting one another is CRITICAL to all collective progress.

Source of Motivation

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When asked to share her source of motivation, Ajakaiye replied, “I am motivated by making sure that there is Equity, Diversity, Inclusion AND Belonging in all that I do. Please refer to the bottom two articles that can provide details on my work as a tourism leader in Boston and also my philanthropic work with R.I.S.E. Women’s Leadership Conference.

Admirable Female Leaders

According to Ajakaiye, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Melinda Gates, Kamala Harris, Dr. Amani Ballour, Indra Nooyi are all amazing female leaders which she admires.

Describe In One-Word Or One-Sentence

Ajakaiye, when asked to sum herself up in a single word or phrase, responded confidently, “Intentional & 1000000% Authentic. A Capable woman who uses her voice!

Future Roadmap

In order to support those around her, Ajakaiye’ s future goal is to attain access and heights on both a personal and

professional level. She is passionate about the world she lives in and how she navigates through her community intentionally. Her future will be firmly rooted in philanthropy, leadership in travel and tourism, and treating everyone she comes in contact with the utmost respect.

Valuable Advice

As a seasoned leader and skilled businesswoman, Ajakaiye would advise young women to be bold in creating goals for themselves. She also states, “Be excited about failure as it is a great sign of growth. I would share with young women an excerpt from one of my favorite authors: You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by themMaya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter.

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