Sunday, February 27, 2011

Youth inspiring and empowering youth: Grace Ihejiamaizu

Grace Ihejiamaizu is a graduate from the Department of Sociology, University of Calabar and an emerging Social Entrepreneur. As an undergraduate, she served as the Project Director of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), University of Calabar team. Grace, like many young emerging leaders is poised with great passion for positive change in Nigeria. Passionately committed to creating value and helping young people develop their leadership and entrepreneurship skills towards nation building, she has recently initiated and launched the RYPE Project.
Before now, Grace has been actively involved in various community based and youth-led projects under the auspices of various youth organizations. In 2010, she was conferred with the SIFE Nigeria’s Prestigious Award for Excellence in Leadership and Service. She also got a US Government Sponsored scholarship award to study Social Entrepreneurship at the University Of Connecticut's Global Training and Development Institute, Connecticut, USA.

Here is a short interview feature to inspire you:

What is Rype? If not RYPE what else?
RYPE is an acronym for Raising Young and Productive Entrepreneurs. The RYPE Initiative is a youth-led “afterschool youth development program” designed to empower secondary school graduates to be more competent. These set of youths are found to be the most vulnerable to social vices. Their strengths and energies are all opportunities, not ‘threats’ and must therefore be meaningfully engaged and channeled towards productive ventures. It is the sole aim and purpose of RYPE to reduce unemployment, violence and idleness amongst youths, by educating, inspiring and empowering them to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Apart from RYPE, I am also working on producing the maiden edition of the GoldenYouth Magazine later this year as well as helping out with SIFE UNICAL activities and projects while awaiting my National Youth Service Corp. 

What inspired RYPE?
The venture idea is inspired by the entrepreneurial drive in the United States that has led to most of the visible and sustainable development in the country; coupled with the fact that many youths in Nigeria (especially the Niger-Delta area) are wasting their youthful energies in violent and unproductive activities when they can actually invest them in more meaningful and productive ventures and contribute to nation building.

You recently held a youth forum for youths in Calabar, how is it different from other youth gathering events?
Yes! I would start by saying that aside consolidating on the basic entrepreneurial skills, goal setting, self awareness and leadership, which is the first goal in the action plan of RYPE Initiative, the main aim of the forum was to harness maximally the potentials, passion and strength of young people towards attaining socio-economic benefits for themselves, communities etc. It was to serve as a medium where young secondary school leavers can get application forms and become part of the one year RYPE program. Top highlights of the event hinged on sessions that exposed the participants to major guidelines to passing JAMB and Post-JAMB with ease.

The forum brought together over 30 young people in Calabar. Its focus was on secondary school graduates who have not yet been admitted into the University. Many Youth gatherings hardly focus on this target group. It was a huge success as the facilitators used practical means involving group exercises to teach the participants the various topics. The topics ranged from Creativity, Goal Setting and self-awareness to Leadership and tips for Success. This for me stands it out from other youth gatherings. It was more involving and more interactive and the comments we received from both the participants and the facilitators confirmed this.

How do you intend building a synergy with other youth organizations in your community?
RYPE for now is at its startup and we hope to work in partnership with other youth organizations here in Cross River State to achieve some of its objectives. Currently, we have links with ASPMP headed by Esther Eshiet and SIFE UNICAL headed by a team of undergraduate students. We hope to organize programs, brainstorming sessions and conduct other activities and programs that will attract youth organizations with similar interests and foster partnership.

What is your long term vision for RYPE?
To build a solid and globally competitive platform on which youths, from the secondary level up to the higher institution level can acquire real life skills, express themselves, expand their horizon and become productive social/business entrepreneurs.

Who is your role model and mentor(s) and what role do they play in your life and work?Jesus is my role model as well as my dad who is late now, may his soul rest in peace. I look up to adults who inspire and motivate me, apart from my mum, I have Mr Nelson Ozoduru, Regional Manager of AfriHUB, South South Region. He has always been there! He also happens to be the RYPE Team’s Ally/Mentor.

What is your message to Nigerian youths?
I am greatly inspired by Nelson Mandela’s quote that “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that great generation”. Yes indeed you can be that great generation. This statement calls for concerted action not just words. Do you have the vision? Have you got the passion? Then start taking action. The world indeed is hungry for action not words. Nigerian youths must rise up and start taking action; they must realize that their potentials, strength and number are all opportunities, not threats and must therefore be channeled in more productive ventures and harnessed in taking action for positive change. No matter how little, please start something, do something and make a difference. Your good works and impact will find you out. God Bless you.

Inspired by Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu who recently won the $50,000 Rolex Young Laureate Award!

UPDATE: Nnaemeka recently won the Future Awards in the Young Person of the Year category. Check out our most recent interview with him here

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu wants to build on the achievements of his Smallholders Foundation – which is already broadcasting 10 hours daily to 250,000 listeners on Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio – by establishing a communications network reaching 3.5 million farmers in almost 5,000 villages in his own region, Imo State, in south-east Nigeria. Not only will farmers receive advice on a wide range of topics – from sustainable farming practices to HIV/Aids and opening and running a bank account – they will also be able to contribute information, thanks to interactive mobile radios, known as AIR devices. These small, solar-powered machines allow listeners to send voice messages, free of charge, to radio stations, which can, in turn, broadcast them. Imo State’s farmers will have a platform to share experiences, ask questions and receive answers in their own language. Ikegwuonu’s long-term ambition is to extend the service to other regions in Nigeria and Africa.”

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu recently won the $50,000 Rolex Young Laureate Award. CP-Africa caught up with him during the award ceremony in Geneva to talk more about his work and project initiative. In this interview, 28years old Nnaemeka talks about his passion for agricultural development in Nigeria and plans for expansion to other African countries.

When you got the news about winning the Rolex Award, what was your first reaction?

When I got the news that I got the award, I was a bit surprised because there were other young people with brilliant ideas. I was surprised not because we are good but because it was another recognition of our relentless effort to promote our agricultural development.

What is the latest update on the Smallholders Foundation?

Small Holders radio aims to get 3.5million listeners. To get this number of listeners, we need big transmitters, big antennas, and we need to put more people to work with and expand our scope. We have been able to recruit 10 new radio broadcasters who are small farmers themselves. We have been able to put in place best practices within the broadcasting chains, knowing that these journalists are not professional broadcasters; there is the need for them to understand the basic principle of journalism…within the scope of our organization which is to improve agriculture.

How many programmes do you have running?

We have the agricultural programme, environmental management programme, market information programme, health programme and youth development programme. All of them are in the local language (Igbo).

How do you think the project (Working with rural farmers) has impacted your life?

The project has impacted my life in the sense that I am always trying to see what more can be done to improve lives and agriculture in Nigeria. In response to farmer’s need, my organization will be starting a micro-finance programme by the end of this year.

For the benefit of our readers, can you give an example of how the programme implemented by your organization has helped farmers?

There is what we call rainwater harvesting. Rainwater harvesting is an age long indigenous practice. It means during the raining season, we conserve rain. But it has been abandoned over the years –so we started doing a radio programme that educates farmers on the importance of rainwater harvesting. Not because they need to harvest rainwater but because there is an agricultural benefit in rainwater harvesting…such as when you conserve water during raining season, you use it to plant crops during dry season…instead of you relying on one season farming of vegetable, you can do two season farming and make money from it.

What plans do you have in terms of replicating the Smallholders Foundation in other parts of Nigeria and/or Africa?
I am looking forward to working in West African countries and replicating the idea in East Africa and South Africa. But first, we want to ensure that any where we go to, we are able to adapt our programme to fit the local environment.

What has been your most challenging experience so far?
Getting money to start up. I was considered a high risk. Because I was only 21 when I was about starting so it was difficult to get support. But I wrote a proposal to UNESCO and they approved it. I guess it was more of when the time comes; I don’t think the mountains can stop the time. Dreams are realizable. You can be whatever you want to be if you believe in yourself. One needs to be focused and make sure frivolities don’t distract you.

Now that you won the Young Laureate Award, will funding still be a problem?
Funding is still a problem. There are never enough funds to do all you want to do. But one thing I get from the award is the knowledge exchange between older laureates and younger ones like us. This knowledge exchange- tips on how we can expand our revenue generation scheme etc. is greater than any money.

Why and how did you develop an interest in this field? Why did you start Smallholders Foundation?
I grew up in a family that did a lot of agricultural work …but I never wanted to be a farmer in as much as I am a farmer now. I listened to a lot of radio programme as a kid and wanted to be a journalist. But it was not until I started working in a non-profit organization focused on HIV/AIDS awareness that I realize there was where information that should get to rural community stop. One of the effective tools in reducing poverty is education. You can educate somebody on changes and practice, you can educate somebody to improve on their health. I took time to study why agricultural extension services was not effective in Nigeria, I discovered that agricultural extension services was like traditional services where people are recruited and supported by the government to go to rural communities and teach farmers new methods in agriculture, inform them about news seeds etc. but such practices are not sustainable because there are other areas government have to invest in. I realized radio could be used as an effective tool to avoid the challenges inherent with existing agricultural extension services. (To bridge the gap in the agricultural sector) In 2003, I decided to start up smallholder’s foundation and use radio to educate farmers.

Any plans to expand to TV?
That is possible. But most rural people will need electricity to power their TV.
CP-Africa: What is your advice to young people aspiring to venture out to do similar thing?
You can do what ever you want to do. It does not come easy. There are people who will discourage you but come on, pursue your dreams, you will achieve it.

What was your reaction to the rumor that TIME magazine listed you as one of the 100 most influential in the world early this year?
I knew TIME magazine didn’t name me. The fact was that Rolex published news about us in the TIME magazine. But some journalist misquoted the story. I think Nigerians are equally good enough to be among the most influential in the world.

Considering your level of exposure and exploits, do you sometimes feel any pressure to relocate?
I live in Nigeria permanently and I love Nigeria. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather and I love my work, which I can only do in Nigeria.

How would you rate the following resources- money, people and idea? Which comes first for you?
Ideas, money to drive the idea, then you get people to drive the idea.
The mission of The Smallholders Foundation is to tackle extreme poverty and hunger among rural small farmers by boosting small scale agricultural production, the only way to kick start and support self sustaining growth and employment in rural areas. For more information about Smallholders Foundation, please visit the website

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Music. Poetry. And more...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Too many GREEDY people out there! #Scammers

Why will any body just wake up one morning and decide to scam other people? How PATHETIC!  
When next you want to send money to ANY BODY? Please ensure to state clearly that the person should collect the money with a specific ID card, preferably an INTERNATIONAL PASSPORT or a DRIVER’S license. If not, the person might get to the bank or the western union center, only to be told “You have already been paid” :(

Apparently, someone must have gone ahead to pick up the money using a fake ID! Now don’t ask me who that someone is! I have just learned these western union agents have “mole” meaning “insider” who disclose info to people to come cash money transfers that are “vulnerable” i.e. whose sender does not indicate means of IDs. Or it might just be the pretty face Banker who tells you your MTCN number is incorrect, only for you to turn your back and whew! She claims the money! 

Does this not call for some INVESTIGATION? I'll hate to think we can't trust Banks any more! Not to talk of WESTERN UNION!

So I too have experienced the ugly side of Western Union/Technology/Man’s inhumanity to man a.k.a GREED.

In case the thief comes reading my blog someday (you know how they say "it is a small world") I have only one message for YOU and that is: THANK YOU FOR STEALING MY TRASH! 
WILLIAM Shakespeare says it better: “Who steals my purse (OR MONEY), steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.”
Compared to honor, money is mere "trash."

I feel so sorry for ALL pathetic scammers out there! EVERY DAY is for the thief... but one day go be one day! $$$$$

DON’T BE CARELESS people! Too many greedy people out there who wants to reap where they have not sown! Never again!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

SWEETER THAN SEX 2011 (Valentine’s event for teenagers)

Read the latest post on this:

What are you doing this Valentine’s Day? Are you young and daring? Would you like to try something different this year? Then you have to be at “Sweeter than Sex”, a FREE peer-mentoring event organized for teenagers. February 14th, 9am- for more info on how to participate individually or as a group/school, call Precious-Promise on 08028454348. Come learn something new about the sexual orientation of this generation and why abstinence remains key for teenagers.

READER’S RESPONSE (to previous articles):
I read your article on the Nation newspaper about this generation and I want to ask this question: what do you do for this generation? It seems many youths don’t read newspapers. Young people nowadays find it difficult to read…what other ways do you intend reaching out to people apart from newspaper? Currently we work with artists like Mr Seth, men of intelligence, Ice Prince etc. We advice people to read articles like yours that will help them. We will like to say well done; the sky is your starting point not your limit. If you have seminars, don’t hesitate to invite us. Jermaine, Council of Hip-Hop Kulture, Jos.
Two hotels in Kabusa village Abuja FCT- Happy Night club and Lady sunshine are being used for prostitution and selling of cocaine. Joseph A.
Those making write ups on sectional cum ethnoreligious line should stop the callousness and concentrate on getting transparent and progressive government. consider the insecurity, epileptic electricity, accidents, looting of of national resources etc. while the masses suffer. Think about this honestly.
I love the spirit behind your article advocating of virginity. Abstinence is my watchword and on your political party ground I will ever stand. Otache Monday, Jos.
From what we’ve seen, we don’t have a credible leader yet. I mean, what is Jonathan doing? He’s busy contesting for election while things are going wrong with the election process. Else, why will he just pass comments instead of act on this difficulty of the registration process? First, students have to be stopped from going to school because there were no umbrella canopies or shift tent for the election registration centres, despite the huge budget allocated to Jega. Then we have stolen machines and the available ones are quack. Instead of voter’s card we are being given voter’s paper and to make matters worse, people have to laminate the paper because the laminating materials were exhausted! Christiana Catherine, Lagos.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catching-up with a Nigerian in Diaspora

Olanrewaju, my High School friend, visited Nigeria recently. I asked him how he felt about the situation back home and he replied, "I saw a couple of changes—people have more stuff. When I was there, there were no movie Theaters and Plazas. This means more job opportunities are opening up. 

However, the people don’t look happy. Their facial expression didn’t give me a good vibe. Nigerians are the happiest people on earth but their facial expression didn’t depict that when I visited. The visit to Nigeria discouraged me from considering coming home soon. Electricity is still bad. I thought things would have improved. In the US, customer service is held at high esteem but in Nigeria, it seems nobody cares. At the airport, I was trying to have my bag checked, the officer directing me pointed to a group of guys and said "go meet that man there" when there were about 5 men…"

When Olanrewaju left Lagos in 2002, his plans were simple- get a good education overseas and come back to serve Nigeria as a politician. But Like many young Nigerians in diaspora in search of a qualitative education to achieve their dreams, once they acclimatized into the system abroad, their plans change! ‘Lanre’s perception on life was broadened after he got into College. He obtained a BA in Accounting from Georgia State University.

Does this imply he is in support of brain drain?
"It won’t hurt to gain experience here and learn what is making them successful and use it to improve things back home." He said.
In his opinion, some of the things young Nigerians need to keep in mind in the quest to contribute to Nigeria’s development includes:
Educate people that don’t want to be educated by telling them about the importance of education to personal and national development.
Set a goal:
Know what you want out of life—have a goal in life and set how to achieve it.
Community service and volunteer work:
learn to give a little of your time to serve your community—giving your time shows you care about your country.
Keep good companion:
Hang out with good people. If you hang around with the wrong crowd, it will rub off on you. One of the principles I learnt in High School is that joining multitude to do evil will make you evil.

The Book: "Preserve My Saltiness"

"In Preserve My Saltiness Jennifer addresses life's everyday experiences to our world's trends and shared challenges of the 21st century.  Every poem embodies piercing insight and breathless passion.  This is the work of a career poet." Jess Rimington,  Spoken Word artist & Executive Director of One World Youth Project

R is for Register S is for Select #RSVP #Nigeria2011 #Elections #BuhariBakare #BB

Going into unfamiliar territory will not destroy your old, comfortable world. Rather, it will expand your world, your vision, your knowledge and your possibilities. The next time you come across a road that you've never traveled -- whether it is an idea, a person, a belief system, or an actual road -- take a side trip and make your world a bigger, more interesting place.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

An Era of Entrepreneurship #YouthLeadership #Education

For a minute, imagine if Michael Adenuga, the founder of Globacom Nigeria, Consolidated oil and Gas (Conoil) and Equatorial Trust Bank, Aliko Dangote and other leading multi-billionaire entrepreneurs in Nigeria never branched out to create their own company. Imagine if Adenuga had played safe, jumping from one full-time employment to another while his big vision went stale. Millions of Nigerians today will be unemployed or at least not earning  the good employment package provided by Glo. There will be no Glo to give other telecommunications companies a run for their money by introducing per second billing system.

An excerpt of his profile on “Strategic Business Team”, an online news stream, reads “Mike Adenuga is not on our list of school drop out billionaires because he attended Ibadan Grammar School, obtained a degree in business administration from Northwestern University, Alva, Oklahoma, and an MBA, majoring in marketing from Peace University, New York, both in United States of America. He also has an honorary doctorate degree from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye Ogun State. While schooling in the United States of America, Mike Adenuga worked as a cab driver and security guard to pay his tuition fees."

A qualitative education- be it formal or informal, plays a critical role in raising a generation that is willing to create wealth for sustainable development. It can be recalled that last year, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) developed a new Senior Secondary School Education Curriculum (SSEC) that will be implemented in September 2011.

"The new SSEC structure is to ensure that every senior secondary school graduate is well prepared for higher education, and has acquired relevant functional trade/entrepreneurship skills needed for poverty eradication, job creation and wealth generation; and in the process strengthen further the foundations for ethical, moral and civic values acquired at the basic educational level." Said the Executive Secretary of NERDC, Prof Godwill Obioma.

Like most people, I am apologetically excited about this new initiative and got my fingers crossed that the average Nigerian student will be able to adapt to this change. The introduction of Entrepreneurship into High School curriculum means, it is no longer business as usual. Hopefully, it will allow more room for creativity and critical thinking in our classrooms instead of the usual “handout” and textbook cramming. The average teacher/educator will also need to be well prepared enough to competently teach the subject. Infrastructures that will encourage the subject should be provided in all schools.

What Nigeria needs right now, to curb the increasing rate of unemployment and underemployment, eradicate extreme poverty and sustain the private sector is to stay committed in developing entrepreneurship skills among young people- right from primary school age. We need more Michael Adenuga and the likes in our generation and beyond.

Photo by: Gbemile Oluwatosin

Saturday, February 05, 2011

An Interview with Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu on his Young Person of the Year Future Awards 2011 win!

In this exclusive interview, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu chats with Jennifer Ehidiamen (CP-Africa) about his recent Young Person of the Year Future Awards 2011 win! Nnaemeka was given the award for his work as an agriculture advocate through the Small Holders Foundation, an organization he founded when he was only 21 years old. The Smallholder’s Foundation provides information on contemporary agricultural techniques to rural communities in Imo State. Last year, he won the Rolex Awards for enterprise where he was honored for his work along with five other young change makers around the world with a $50,000 cash prize. Read the interview below, get inspired and share on the social web!

Jennifer: Congratulations on your win Nnaemeka! What factors will you say gave you an edge over the other nominees?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: First and foremost, I want to say that the other nominees are doing great things. I respect their work, their achievements and they are also inspiring other young Nigerians. I think the fact that we are young people, running an organization that works with rural poor farmers to enable them increase their agricultural yield and household income may have given us an edge. We are working in a sector – Agriculture which is unattractive to young Nigerians. There are few young Nigerians who are willing and ready to spend time in the rural areas. Places where there is no electricity or water, or even access road. But our goal is to make agriculture attractive to them.
Jennifer: If you had not won the Young Person of the year category, who would you have voted for among the other nominees?
Nnaemeka: Honestly, I don’t know who I would have voted for. The entire nominees for “Young Person of the Year” are great achievers. They have excelled in their professional endeavors. They are role models to younger Nigerians. I was truly impressed with the achievements of the nominees and I am confident that the future of Nigeria in the hands of the present generation will be bright.
Jennifer: What does being “The Young Person of the Year” mean to you?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Being “The Young Person of the Year” is a great honor and a great privilege. To me it means a “Call for Greater Action”. I will like to use the platform created by the award to engage other young people in Nigeria and promote 3 causes Entrepreneurship, Education and Girls Empowerment.
Jennifer: You left immediately for Owerri after the Future Awards event to attend to business matters. What is new with Smallholders Foundation?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: I had to leave for Owerri because I have series of meetings to attend and represent the Smallholders Foundation at high level interactions with government officials and community organizations. The new things happening at the Smallholders Foundation, include The Small Farmers Computer Learning Center at our community radio station. The computer learning center will offer free computer classes to farmers and their children in computer appreciation, word processing, spreadsheet and use of the internet to source for information. We are using our World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards 2010 grant to fund this project.
In addition, we launched a “Call for Mini-Grants Application from Secondary School Young Farmers Clubs”. We are giving out mini-grants to secondary school students who belong to Young Farmers Clubs. The grant will be used to expand existing school gardens or acquire new crops, fruit trees or livestock for existing school gardens. Information on this call is available on our The deadline for submission of application is on the 31stday of March 2011.
After several months of planning, we launched our “Smallholders Microloans Program” in January. We gave out micro loans to the first batch of 27 women selected from 5 farmer cooperatives in Obitti Village of Ohaji/Egbema LGA of Imo State. On Tuesday next week we will give to the 2nd batch of 30 women in Nkwerre LGA of Imo State.
We have commenced our big World Bank supported project “Climate Change on Air” – a 20 episode climate change radio serial drama. This radio educational drama will educate farmers on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We will use state radio stations in the 5 southeastern states to broadcast the drama for 1 year starting from May. We aim to reach 15 million listeners. We are presently establishing “Farmer Listener Clubs” in 95 local government areas of the 5 south-eastern states.
Jennifer: Tell us a bit more about your micro finance credit loan for women
sm pg09Ikegwuonu 1 CP Africa interviews Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu  on his Young Person of the Year Future Awards 2011 win!
TALK TO ME: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu interviewing a smallholder for broadcast. Sharing knowledge – modern and traditional – on air has helped improved the lot of rural farmers tremendously.
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: The Smallholders Microloan Program is a new program. It was launched in January 2011 though the planning started in June 2010. We used award money from our UNDP Equator Prize to start off the program. The loan is exclusively for agricultural purposes. It is not for trading or for anything other venture that is not agriculturally related. We are targeting women small farmers who belong to cooperative organizations. This is because women do about 60% of farm work in this part of Nigeria. There are also a few men who received the loans. We placed priority on cooperatives that has partnered with us or a listener club for our Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio. The application was rigorous and an applicant needs to complete an application form with an endorsement from the Cooperative Chairman and Village Chief. We gave out 27 microloans on Monday 24th January 2010 to the 1st batch of loan recipients in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. We are giving out the loans to the 2nd batch of recipients in Nkwerre LGA on Tuesday February 8th 2011.
Jennifer: What more should we expect from the Smallholders Foundation in the immediate term?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: For us, the next step is to scale our Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio from its present community radio status to a state radio at the first instance, to reach an estimated 3.5 million small farmer listeners living in 27 local government areas of Imo. Farmers will receive timely, relevant and well-adapted information in agriculture, environmental management, health and market prices. They will have a unique access to ask questions and receive answers.
We are working round the clock to make sure we achieve this with minimum resources available atleast before the end of the year. We also expect to extend our programs to the south-south this year.
In the long term say in 5 years, we intend to establish further radio stations across Nigeria to reach 90 million small farmer listeners, driving the next Green Revolution all across Nigeria.
We will also be extending our school gardens project to reach more young people and introduce the concept of students owned gardens into Nigerian universities.
Jennifer: What other awards have you received till date?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well… I am an Alumni of the prestigious Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES) Braunwald, Switzerland – 2008, Global Fellow YouthActionNet – International Youth Foundation – 2008, Ashoka Fellow 2008, Caux Scholar – Initiatives for Change Switzerland and USA – 2009, Fellow Global Social Benefit Incubator of Santa Clara University, California USA – 2009 and a Clinton Global Initiative University, Outstanding Commitment Award Recipient – 2009. I am a Winner of the YouthActionNet/Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Awards 2009, Winner of the World Bank Development Marketplace 2009 on Climate Change Adaptation, Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise – Young Laureates Program 2010, Winner 2010 UNDP Equator Prize.
I am a Winner of the World Youth Summit Awards (WYSA) 2010, Fellow of the Unreasonable Institute, Fellow Rainer Arnhold Fellowship Program of Mulago Foundation, Laureate of the World Innovation Summit in Education (WISE) 2010 of Qatar Foundation and Architect of the Future Award of the Waldzell Institute 2011.
Jennifer: Wow, impressive! In what ways have these awards impacted your work?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Some of these awards come with financial support to expand an existing project or implement a new project. Others, in the case of Ashoka Fellowship is a stipend to dedicate your time working for your organization and expanding it.
Secondly, the award grants us local and international publicity which is leading to new local and international partners for The Smallholders Foundation.
Thirdly, the awards grant us access to knowledge through the exchange of knowledge with fellow laureates, winners or colleagues. The knowledge and cross fertilization of ideas enables us achieve our long term project objectives
Jennifer: Without them, what would be different about you and your work?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Receiving the awards is good for the work. Especially in an era of many organizations doing one thing or the other. It actually makes people know that you are serious about what we are doing. Without them we would have gone ahead to do our work because this is what we came out to do. However, our pace of achievements and expansion would have been slower without them.
Jennifer: Some people critique  young entrepreneurs by arguing that they are driven by recognition and awards than by genuine commitment to the on-field work. What is your response to such critics?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well, I cannot really give a full comment on this. From my own understanding entrepreneurs, I have meet are driven by their ambition, passion and commitment more than recognition and awards. You have to also understand that most entrepreneurs pass through the same trajectory. From concept or idea stage to piloting their model to early stage to scale – up and to replication of the model within geographical areas. I think entrepreneurs can only go through this process with only a formidable business plan or project idea. For us at the Smallholders Foundation, we are agricultural based. Incidentally agriculture can only be done on the field and that is the place we work.
Jennifer: When you are not working, where else can people find you? (What do you do for fun?)
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: When I am not working, I watch TV. My best channels are CNN, BBC on the weekends, National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. Some weekends I hang out with my friend wherever we feel is quiet and we can gist and laugh.
Jennifer: How are your family and/or friends responding to your achievements?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well… my family and my friends are supportive but not surprised that I am receiving these accolades. This is because; ever since I have been a child I have always wanted to serve humanity. I have always been different. Different in what I want to do, different in what I want to become, different in the way I approach people and do my things. Most of my friends are years older than me, but since childhood I have lead.
Jennifer: In our last interview with you after you won the Rolex Award you spoke about your feeling some sort of pressure to do other things. What are some of these things and how are you responding to these pressures?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: To be honest with you, the pressure comes from our ambitions to do many things. We want to create lasting social change, we want to improve the lives of millions of Nigerians and we want to do this as quickly as possible. Of course many communities want us to do one thing or the other for them, not realizing that we are do not have access to funds as they presume. As such we prioritize these appeals and requests as the come. At times pressure comes from the project itself. When you realize you have to do 3 to 4 things at the same time because the deadline to submit a project report is fast approaching. We are a very small organization and of us are multi-skilled.
Jennifer: What is your personal mantra?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Honesty and hardwork.
Jennifer: Have you registered to vote? Will you vote?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Yes I have registered to vote and I will definitely vote.
Jennifer: What are your expectations for 2011 general elections?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: I expect the 2011 general elections to be free and fair without violence.
Jennifer: What is your advice  to other young people in Nigeria and/or in Diaspora?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: My advice to young people in Nigeria and in Diaspora is to “Do something for Nigeria”. However, be sure not to do it to gain attention but to improve the lives of those benefitting.
Aim to achieve big but start small. This will enable you have an impact.
Don’t let failures, disappointments and the problems in Nigeria to frustrate you. Consider them as part of the learning process.
Thanks for joining us at CP-Africa Nnaemeka!
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Images via Rolex/Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Women Entrepreneurs in Nigeria Encourage Government to Develop Support System

(Press Institute): Studies show that more than half of Nigerians don’t believe that women should have equal rights. Despite that, Nigerian women are building businesses, striving to prove society wrong and combating rising youth unemployment all the while.

by Jennifer Ehidiamen Reporter, Friday - January 28, 2011

LAGOS, NIGERIA – When the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted a 22 nation survey last Spring, Nigeria was the only nation in which more than half of respondents, 54 percent, said women should not have equal rights with men.

“Many things are working against us in Nigeria,” says Fatima Aliko Mohammed, one of three representatives of Nigeria at the April 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship called for by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

Mohammed is the editor-in-chief of Draftbill Magazine, which she created out of frustration that many Nigerians didn’t know who represented them in the National Assembly or which bills were debated.

“Traditionally we don’t own properties, and women are relegated to the home,” she says.

In order to curb poverty in Nigeria, reverse its effect and increase economic success in the country, it is imperative to empower and engage those at the bottom of the pyramid, especially women she says.

Mama Joy, a restaurateur in Lagos, a port city in Nigeria considered to be its economic and financial capital, says she is proud to be a woman entrepreneur in Nigeria. She also owns a small-scale restaurant and catering company in one of the busy motor parks in the Lagos metropolis.

Like most major motor parks in Lagos, the Ogba motor park is situated in a central location where commuters can access public transportation to other parts of the city. It is boisterous and busy. There are banks, schools, a police station and a large retail market in the multi-ethnic community. Mama Joy’s restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from the Area G Police Station, so security is no challenge for her and her staff.

She started her business more than two decades ago and has maintained a level of consistency that has made hers a trusted spot in the neighborhood.

Before moving in to her new restaurant, which can hold just 20 customers, Mama Joy sold her food in a makeshift store at the bus stop near the motor park, where artisans, traders and drivers were frequent customers.

“Whoever bought food always came back the following day and also told others about my food,” she says of her word of mouth reputation.

Since moving on from her food stand at the bus stop, Mama Joy, a widow, has been able to raise and educate her six children on her own through her catering business and restaurant.

“I have been able to [send] six of my children to graduate level in the university through this business,” she says. “As I am now, I own my own building in Lagos and in my hometown.” Mama Joy was born in Edo State, to the east of Lagos.

Her success has come from faith, determination and hard work – as well as some help from Nigeria’s microfinance industry.

“Everything belongs to God,” she says. “Before I came here, I was at the bus stop.”

Like Mama Joy, many women in Nigeria venture into small-scale businesses, like selling petty items by the roadside. When they save up enough money, they branch out to rent a shop and expand their trade. Microfinance banks aided by the government and initiatives by nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, targeting women are slowly gaining more popularity to complement government-orchestrated projects. The Nigerian government pledged earlier this week to back the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to create a Microfiannce Development Fund, but some women say they wish the government would do more to specifically help businesswomen.

Earlier this month, the governor of the CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, told the Fifth Annual Microfinance Conference and Entrepreneurship Awards in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that because of a lack of bank access, 46.3 percent of Nigerians are financially excluded, according to Microfinance Africa. The addition of 816 microfinance banks, which provide financial services such as loans to low-income Nigerians based on the idea that they can lift themselves out of poverty if given access to financial resources, is a start, but greater financial inclusion will boost Nigeria’s economic growth, he said.

Sanusi says 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. The 2010 Global Monitoring Report of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization revealed that 92 percent of Nigerians live on less than $2 USD per day while less than 71 percent survive less than $1 USD.

Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga announced in June that Nigeria’s unemployment rate was 19.7 percent, according to Reuters. Almost half of Nigerians ages 15 to 25 in urban areas are unemployed, he said. In 2009, the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Social Development announced that 40 million youths were unemployed – and 23 million of those were unemployable because of a lack of schooling or skills.

Reflecting on the high rate of unemployment in the country, Mama Joy says she urges young women to be more entrepreneurial. 

“Mothers need to teach their daughters to be more industrious,” she says.

With no white-collar job experience and no intention of getting any, Mama Joy ventured into the food business as a young girl, learning the ropes from her mother.

“It is the business my mother did,” she says.
Finding a start-up capital is not easy for most women. But it’s not impossible. To get her start-up capital, Mama Joy says she “patched up,” or bought the supplies she needed to cook her food on credit then paid it off as she made sales.

She realized early on that it would take time before she earned a profit from her business.

“Some weeks you will make profit, other weeks you will record great loss in the business,” she says. “So it takes patience to run a business.”

Especially in the food industry.

“Food business has no real peak and off-peak period,” she says. “Disruption occurs mostly during [the] raining season, as most customers stay indoor[s] to cook their own food.”

She credits her success to the microfinance bank, New Life Microfinance Bank, where Mama Joy received a loan to expand her business and recruit more staff. With the loan, has been able to expand her business and grow her staff from 1 to 16 employees.

Joseph Oluwadare, one of the officers at New Life Microfinance Bank, says that microfinance loans were established to grant financial services to the poor and economically disadvantaged.

“We also provide free services,” he says. “We tell them what they can do to improve their business. It is not just limited to money, we give other management services.”

“Start-up capital for new business offered by microfinance bank[s] is very helpful,” Mama Joy says. She hopes her success motivates more women to start their own businesses.

Felicia Adeduwon, 51, has a shop in Zaria, a city in northern Nigeria, where she sells phone cards, food and beverages. She started the business with about 11,000 naira ($70 USD) most of which she got from her husband and her personal savings.

“I am managing the shop to support my husband,” she says.

Adeduwon advises women who are considering becoming entrepreneurs to not be held back by fear that they lack adequate funds. No start is too small, she says.

“When I started, I used to buy 2,000 nairas ($13 USD) worth of phone cards to sell at retail,” she says. “But now I sell over 25,000 nairas ($160 USD).”

Like Mama Joy, a microloan also helped Adeduwon take her business to the next level. In the market where she runs her business, a group of other traders form a daily contribution group where they each save at least 200 nairas ($1 USD) daily. This allows them the opportunity to support one another when the need for a loan arises. Adeduwon says she has been loaned 6,000 nairas ($40 USD) from her community savings group.
Her long-term goal is to expand her business to the point where she can sell items wholesale, mentioning the drivers who frequently ask to buy crates of mineral water from her.

While Adeduwon and Mama Joy laud the microfinance system, it is not without its flaws.

After reviewing 820 microfinance banks from February to June, CBN revoked the licenses of nearly 200 banks in September, according to The Nation newspaper. The banks were deficient in their understanding of the concept of microfinance and delivery of services to their clients, according to Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, CBN deputy governor. Many lost their focus on the financially insecure population they were supposed to be helping, he said, citing a high level of non-performing loans and poor corporate governance.

In Nigeria, microfinance banks are not alone in the push to build women entrepreneurs.  NGOs are also working to empower aspiring businesswomen.

Adeduwon says she participated in a small-scale business management-training program organized by Growing Business Foundation, GBF, a non-profit NGO that promotes private sector investments in microfinance projects to support underserved communities, and especially women.

Different initiatives have been implemented to effectively create access and opportunities to women at the grassroots level, says Wande Pearse, GBF program director of Projects and Business Development.

“In recent years, there has been [an] increased campaign for women to be more involved in business,” he says. “The microcredit movement, for instance, is one way women have become more enterprising. GBF since inception in 1999 has supported more women (90 percent of beneficiaries are women) through its enterprising development programs across Nigeria.”

Another nonprofit, Women in Management and Business, WIMBIZ, demonstrates another model of supporting businesswomen by sponsoring lunches, lecture series, conferences and mentor programs. WIMBIZ has recently completed a phase of its mentoring program, which paired 72 aspiring businesswomen with mentors for four months.

But as some women are able to participate, others say they are stifled by the patriarchal culture and the lack of opportunities available to women. There is still much work to be done, says Mama Joy who believes the existence of a well-structured support system from the government would have better equipped her entrepreneurial venture.

Adeduwon advocates for more support for businesswomen from the government, too.

“[The] government should loan funds [under] favorable condition[s],” she says.

And finally, she says her prayers may be answered. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged earlier this month to back the CBN to establish a Microfinance Development Fund, according to The fund aims to reduce the country’s poverty rate and improve its GDP by financially including all of the economically active poor. According to Oluwadare of New Life Microfinance Bank, the government already supports microfinance through banks and various NGOs.

The federal government is also trying to engage the country’s youth. The Federal Ministry of Youth Development established in 2008, for the first time ever, the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan for 2009 to 2011 to counteract high youth unemployment rates.

At the state level, the state of Niger has spent more than 1.5 billion nairas ($9.9 million USD) to help establish microfinance banks in all local governments, according to Microfinance Nigeria. Chioma Ohakim, the first lady of the state of Imo, in southern Nigeria, announced in November a partnership with women in the business sector in order to improve the state’s economy, according to

But Mama Joy and Adeduwon say more resources need to be directed specifically to women.

“Women should be seen contributing in every home and not depend solely on the men,” Pearse says.

 First Published in the Press Institute