Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Run with your heart" Ayo Owodunni

 This story is very inspiring! As the writer said, “read it with the end in mind.” I really want to appreciate Ayo for having the courage to share such a powerful story, one that will inspire our generation and generations to come. In life, we all have the power to change whatever situation we find ourselves, for the better.  Read how Ayo found the courage to change his. I hope you are inspired as much as I was inspired! Read on, Read it with your heart :-)
Run with your heart
Guest writer: Ayo Owodunni

I have been blessed by God to be very talented in running. By the time I graduated from high school, I was ranked 10th in the country in the 600 meters, 5th in the state of New Jersey in the 800 meters and top ten in the state in the 400 meter hurdles.  I was an all conference champion 3 years in a row and I was named one of the top returning track runners in South Jersey twice.  I graduated High School in 2002 and continued my track career at Rider University.   
By the end of my college career, I held the school record in the 500 meter dash and was also part of the record breaking 4 by 800 team.  I am a three time conference champion in the 400 meter dash and a four year 4 by 400 meter conference champion.  I held the fastest 400 meter time in the conference for three years in a row and I was fortunate to attend college for free on an athletic scholarship. 
Reading about all these great accomplishments, one might think, “this kid must have been born with this amazing talent.” I will say it is an honor for anyone to think so well of me but my story does not flow that way. 
The truth is, I was never a good athlete growing up.  As a matter of fact I was very horrible. I was clumsy, slow and lazy. I was labeled a wimp and mama’s boy.  I remember being made fun of as a young boy at Ona Ara Prismoni Children’s school.  I was never one with the crowd, more like ostracized.
When I was 12 years old, I had the opportunity to move to the US.   
One quiet boring day in the valley of the Springs in Sicklerville, New Jersey,  while having a conversation with my cousin, I was advised to join the track team.  “After all,” said my cousin “you are tall and you’re African. You should be good.”
 As it turned out, that random suggestion made a lasting impact.
 Trying out
While in 8th grade at Ann Mullen Middle School, I joined the track team. I tried out for everything.  I ran long distance, short distance, and mid distance. I jumped, threw the shot put and did everything else imaginable in the sport.   
To cut the long story short, I was too slow to run the short distance and too lazy to run the longer ones.  I was too clumsy to make those timed and well-defined jumps yet also too skinny to get better at the shot put. 
 After going through a long list of the things I could not do, I was happy to find out that mid-distance could be very fitting for me.  I decided to join the mid-distance group.
 My first year of track was NOT a joke.  It was not as great as I thought it would be. I recollect running a race for about 700 meters and totally quitting towards the end of it.  With about 100 meters to go, I fall over and lay on the track because I was just too tired to go on.  I also remember running a race in my basketball sneakers that ended up as a disaster.
 The end of 8th grade labeled me one of the worst runners on the team with no potential.  My coach had no faith in me.  I remember watching Greg May, Oorie Gaines, Jacob Hill, Jim Bonnet, Chris Bledsoe and a few other teammates shine.  People rallied around the track when it was their turn to run.  They were unstoppable!
I graduated 8th grade and moved on to Highland Regional High School. Once again, I eagerly joined the track team.  Yes I was one of the worst runners and yes I was told that it might be in my best interest to find something else for myself but I refused to give up. 
 The feeling of being part of a team kept me going.  I enjoyed the friendships, the joy, the fulfillment, the practices and the competition.  I took up another year of track.
 Good mentors, great mentors
Two men changed my athletic life forever- Bill Collins and Bobby Wagner, head coach and assistant head coach of the track and field team. 
Coach Wagner and I immediately connected.  Wags, as we would all call him, was a friendly, relatable, funny, nice, loving and positive coach. He had a great gift of seeing potential in you.  He is known to recognize hidden potential and develop it. 
 Coach Collins on the other hand had a completely different style.  He was knowledgeable, experienced, and also a great coach but his approach was totally different. Collins was tough nosed, strict and very challenging.  He told you things as they were and that was that.  If you ran horrible, he’d tell you.  If you were lazy, he’d say it.  If  you’re slacking, he’ll tell you to get off his team.  Coach Collins was totally amazing, in his own way. 

I recollect Collins saying to me over and over again, “You’re a quitter.  You have no heart.  You will never become a great runner. You might be good but you’d never be great.”  Wags would object and say “Bill this kid is going to be amazing. You watch.” Those two went back and forth on me for a complete year before either of them saw changes.   
My high school career started out just as badly as the middle school career.  I was once again one of the worst on the team and track became more of a social gathering than an actual sport filled with competition.  I was part of the team and going out to track meets but I never saw myself as being good, so I became comfortable at my present crisis. 

The Turning point
I finished my freshman year as one of the bad runners on the team. I had made slight improvement in some areas but I was fed up and wanted to truly make some changes.  I made a decision to actually do something.  I remember sitting with coach Wags and chatting with him.  At this point in time, he had become my personal mentor and we had built a very close and solid relationship. 
I recall Wags telling me over and over again that I would be a great runner. 
I was appalled. I just couldn’t fathom how a runner like me could become ‘great.’ I remember asking him why he thought I’d be great and I was really shocked at his response to my question.
Wags was totally determined and just had a look in his eyes that expressed his determination to make me the runner that he saw in me.  He was determined to make me great! It was from him that I learned that indeed, practice makes perfect. No, more like Practice builds greatness.

Summer of 1999
That year, I made a deal with coach Wags. The goal was to run everyday over the summer and spend time with him.  Wags and I decided to work extremely hard and we picked the perfect time to do it-  Summer of 1999.
Summer of 1999 was historic in South Jersey.  There was no rain for months and the state reservoirs were running really low.  People were asked to conserve water and all kinds of tactics were used to keep things on the minimum.  It was hot and it was sticky. 
The air was humid and South Jersey was absolutely dry.  Wags and I picked the summer of 1999 as our summer to make a difference. 
Wags and I ran for an hour, everyday.  We worked on endurance, strength, heart and commitment.  By the time track season rolled around, I was a completely different runner.  I was stronger and faster.  I had grown into my body and I had some power.  It was time to move!
Sophomore year saw a drastic change from the previous two years. 
I dropped my 400 time by 7 seconds, 800 time by 20 seconds and the mile by an entire minute.  I went from one of the worst runners on the team to 13th in South Jersey and top six in my conference. 
 What a change in one year. 
 I will never forget the shock my teammates went through.  I was that kid who came dead last in practice everyday only to return the next year as one of the fastest. 
 By my junior year, I was the talk of the town.  I was the 2nd best junior (according to the newspapers) and I was ranked top 5 in South Jersey.  Wags and I were excited.  Our dream is finally coming to pass and his words dating back 2 years now are finally coming to pass.  Our excitement and accomplishments led us to set new goals for the upcoming year. 

Setting new goals to beat my last performance
I remember Wags saying to me… “Ayo this year I believe if you put your mind to it, you can become one of the best runners in the state of New Jersey.  As a matter of fact I believe we can compete at the national level.”
 Wags raised the standards so high for me that I completely shut down.  There is no way I’m that good. There’s no way I can compete at a national level. I am just ranked in little old South Jersey. Not even New Jersey but the southern region of a huge state.. I began to lose focus as fear crept in.
 I started off the year not up to par.  I was a disappointment not only to myself but my coaches. I didn’t even qualify for the state championships or the conference championship.  The truth is that there was so much pressure on me that I completely shut down. I wasn’t ready to lead and I wasn’t ready to be the best. 
 I remember doing the best I could NOT to put myself in positions to win during races.  I stayed in my safe haven and rested in my comfort zone.  Even though I was one of the fastest on my team, I didn’t qualify for any post-season races. 
 However there was still hope for me.  In the New year, I made a conscious decision to take the challenge to become the best that I wanted to be. 
 The PRESSURE was on but I was more determined to be the best.  I was older and more focused.  I ran each race with my heart and a sense of urgency. 

Connecting my heart to my race
After the first race of my senior year, I remember having a long talk with my other coach, Collins.  Coach Collins sat with me and spoke of our roller coaster journey as coach and runner.  He spoke of our love-hate relationship and we both enjoyed it. 
 As we spoke that lovely day during practice, his words stuck to my heart, “Ayo all I want from you is your heart.  I don’t want you to focus on what place you come in or what you’re ranked.  I just want you to run with your heart. If you give your best, you’d be your best.”
 By the end of my senior year, I was ranked 10th in the country, 5th in the state of New Jersey and 1st in the Olympic conference. I qualified to run the 800 and 400 meter hurdles at the nationals.  All I did that senior year was run with my heart.  God blessed it. 

About Guest Writer:
Ayo Owodunni is currently an On-Air personality and Programs Director at Rainbow 94.1 FM in Lagos Nigeria. He Studied Psychology at Rider University. He is a speaker, MC and writer. He blogs at:
Follow him on Twitter: @ayotheboss

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

LEAP Africa holds its 8th Annual Youth Leadership Awards!

On November 24th, 2011, LEAP will hold its "Annual Nigerian Youth Leadership Awards", where it recognizes 5 outstanding young Nigerians who have played leadership roles in creating positive changes in their local communities in diverse areas such as Business, Environment, Law, Media, Science and Technology etc.

The theme for this year's award is: Engaged for Change!

You are invited to attend the event!

Venue: Shell Hall, MUSON Center, Onikan Lagos
Time: 4pm to 6pm
Date: November 24th, 2011

Admission is FREE!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interview with Monique Coleman, United Nations Youth Champion

Many people remember Monique Coleman for the remarkable role she played in the movie- High School Musicals (she was the brainy girl called Taylor McKenzie). Today, the 31 year- old American actress and philanthropist is serving as the United Nations Youth Champion, with the mission of projecting “dialogue and mutual understanding,” the themes of the International Year of Youth (August 2010-August 2011). She recently launched a project called “Letters of Hope,” with the aim of giving young people the opportunity in changing the world.

 Read the excerpts below:

Tell us a bit more about Letters of Hope
 Basically…we want young people to write letters- what is it they want to see in the world, what their aspirations are, what their dreams are for the world and also to share what it is they are doing about that or what it is they want to do. I really want to see something that is heart centered. I’m not giving too much guardian on how to go about it…My hope for the letters of hope is that it becomes this viral movement where people are sharing their hope for the world and our leaders take these letters and apply action to them.

From the forum themes (Citizens in action: youth in political and public life; Countering youth exclusion, vulnerability and violence; and Breaking through employment barriers.), which are you most passionate about?
I think they all work hand-in-hand. Unemployment is something that is on the forefront of everyone’s state of mind. But it is not the one I’m most passionate about, to be honest, because I feel young people have so much potential. If we could pave the path instead of following the system they way they’ve been created and recognise our potential of not only having jobs but to create jobs. There are so many jobs that can be created, jobs that can solve social problems. So I’m excited about some of the things that are happening in the job market because I think it is an opportunity to shift our perspective completely and say, “Now that there are so many people in the same situation, we can all relate to one another in a way that we couldn’t relate before.” There isn’t the same disparity between those who have and those who don’t. There are more and more people that are losing their jobs. There are more and more people that are having to say to themselves, “Am I doing what I’m passionate about in the world…if I’m not, now that I don’t have a job maybe I can take this an opportunity to follow my real passion.” And that real passion could open up a world of opportunity to more people.

Taking about following one’s passion and following one’s dream, as a celebrity did you have to give up a part of your life to become a change maker?
Oh no! Not at all. I had to use my life. A lot of people feel like you have to choose and I felt I had to choose... I was so scared of the path because I thought I’d have to give up my career in order to do it. But the truth is, I had to continue to pursue my dream in order to encourage other people to pursue theirs. But my dreams are just changed. I don’t care about the same things anymore. Being out in the world and seeing everything that I’ve seen and experienced, at the end of the day it is like I love being an artist but I’m able to put that in perspective.  I’m able to see the opportunity that I have as an artist. I desire to play more roles and I will. But I don’t look at it and feel like it defines me anymore. I think it is a very positive place to be.

There are a lot of complaints from young people that policy makers don’t listen to them. From your experience, how do you think young people can get policy makers to listen to them?
That is a great question because it is an opinion that is shared by a lot of people.  My response to that may not be the one you want to hear. But my response is, do not worry about it. Because I think through experience and through doing more work you start to realize what the process is when it comes to making a decision. And the reality is the more time we spend wondering and worrying about what someone else is thinking or doing, the less time we are spending actually in the doing. What I experienced traveling around the world is that often I will meet with students and hear all their concern about everything they wanted, what is wrong with their education etc. And they were great concerns. And then I would go and meet with the government officials and they are talking about the same thing the young people are talking about. So unless you have a solution that is so powerful, I think we have to be a little less judgmental of the policy makers and realise they are actually in the position because they want to do good. Most of the time they are there because they want to make a difference as well. They are trying to do the right thing and maybe they are inexperienced in working with young people.
So instead of being judgmental and complaining about it, show them why they should look into youth. Show them how youth can be an asset by doing the work and then presenting it to them instead of waiting for them to give you the opportunity to do the work.

Economists say Africa is the next frontier for global economy. In your recent world tour, you visited many countries, including some African countries; from your interaction with the youth in there did you perceive this?
Wow! That is a great question. You know, I think we like to coin these ideas about Africa and India as well, on who the emerging economies are. For me I’ll say yes, there is so much opportunities everywhere.
But I also think it is important to look at whether or not this opportunities is also causing disadvantages for other people that are living in the same place. And so to me it is really about having a holistic perspective as to what growth actually is. Is growth in development for a few or does it benefit all? And so I can’t really speak on behalf of whether or not on the perception I have about Africa just by being there for a month… but I would say the entire world is a vast opportunity for so much development if we are able to see past the self-serving attitude of how can I be in that company or the cover of Vogue but actually how can we help the poorest of poor to be included inside that economy. The continent or country that is able to achieve that, no matter how small or great, they are is doing an incredible job towards what I consider true development.

In some developing countries like Nepal, the corruption rate is very high, how do you think youth can contribute to the fight against corruption?
That one breaks my heart. Other things I can deal with but corruption is one that is very challenging…the one thing I can say is to try to shine the light on it as much as possible. To raise as much awareness as possible. That requires bravery. That requires putting yourself out there. In many places that is a huge risk…I wouldn’t do it alone. I would gather as many people as possible and not attach a name or a face to the movement of invading corruption…because one of the things that is attached to corruption is people disappear. So I would be mindful of your safety…
Your voice is the most powerful weapon you have, your voice, your mobile device, your access to technology is so powerful. Being that silent voice that writes a letter, that speaks up on behalf of other people is really powerful.

Some people get really frightened by the idea of Change. They feel they are okay and they don’t really want to change. How, in your opinion, can we make change more approvable and attractive? Especially for the elders, they lack sense of change.
The reason why I’m laughing is because I had the most horrible disturbing thoughts when you were saying people are afraid of change.
I was trying to put it into a context and I thought, we change our cloths right? We change our clothes pretty much every day. Imagine if you had to wear or sat in the same clothes all of the time. That will get old and it will get crunchy and not smell very good. Well, that is the same thing. Ultimately, we want to change. We want to change our clothes, we want to change our ideas, we want to change our policies and our thoughts. I think the reason why people could be afraid of change is because they are afraid they are going to lose something.
But I think if we could shift our whole way of thinking from focusing on what we are going to lose because of change and focus on what we are going to gain, what the possibilities are if we did change… I think it is a matter of taking a fear-based way of thinking and translating that into a more positive open ways of thinking.

What is your advice to youth? Those people who really get exclusion in career and workplace, and from participating in civil society?
I would say if you are awake and breathing, then you can be participating. You may not be participating at the level or in the context that you want to be, but you can participate. So I feel less time should be spent worrying and complaining about what you are not doing and more time should be spent actually doing what you can do.
You don’t have to wait for anybody. You don’t have to wait for the United Nations, you don’t have to wait for your government, you don’t have to wait for someone to tell you to do something. When you wake up in the morning, if you see a problem, there is likely a solution somewhere inside of you. If it is not, you can gather with other people and come up with a solution. I think sometimes we want to skip steps, we have these mobile devices, we have access to information all day and it feels so easy to get something done. I’m sitting in the front row and I’m participating- someone says something that is compelling and I tweet it and immediately it is all around the world.
But the reality of change is not that. The reality of actually making a difference is a process. You have to organize yourself, you have to be clear about what exactly you want… it doesn’t have to be bureaucracy … but it does have to be something that is spelt out because many of the issues that we are facing today are based on hasty decisions. Hasty decisions that were made at the time when people didn’t take their time to think things completely through and didn’t have the foresight to see what could happen.  We need to slow time and think things through.

How do you see yourself different from other people?
I see myself as the same. Nothing was given to me. Everything that I have and achieved, I have worked for.  To be honest, none of my ideas are my own. I really think the things that have happened…are divine…I think that there is a divinity that is working in our world…when I approach people or when I go through my life, I think: do I have fears? Absolutely. Do I have insecurity? Absolutely. Are there things that I think I cannot do? Absolutely. Do I have to work hard in order to be able to take steps in my life? Absolutely, every single day. So I don’t sit back and say…I was in High School musicals. Oh no! I had to let go of all of that stuff that make people feel important and recognize that I’m living on the same planet where there is bullying, where there are conflict all over the world, where people are hungry and don’t have access to drinking water. As long as I’m living in this planet we all need to get in the mud and make a difference.

Since we are sitting here together, from different race and religion, what do you think is the message of the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum?
I think this whole year and the Forum is really about dialogue. It is about breaking down these barriers of ideas and stereotypes and really getting into conversation. And then taking that conversation and translating it into action. It is not enough to sit all day and just talk about it, you have to put these words into action. It doesn’t have to be on a huge scale. You could do something so tiny and that small thing will continue to multiply and to grow and make a difference for someone.

Do you have any other comment?
I’m just so proud of all of you, for being here and for being selected. It is a wonderful opportunity, which you all know. But I just wanted to share that when I was a little bit younger, I had this issue where I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. The more problems are reported in the world, the more things I saw, the more I felt like I’m just not doing enough. I just want you to know you may face that. You may learn more and see more and become frustrated and feel like you are not just doing enough. I just want you to know that you are.  If you are doing everything that you can, if you waking up and it is on your heart. If you are being the best person that you can be every single day, if you are helping someone to cross the street, if you are sharing a positive message…you are doing enough. And it isn’t just about one person. It is about us inspiring other people to do the same thing. If we all did our own share of the job, it will all get done.

We would like to thank you Monique, for your time.
Thank you all!

Interview conducted by Youth Bloggers - Doudou (DRC), Hend (Egypt), Jennifer (Nigeria), Kounila (Cambodia) and Rajneesh (Nepal)-  during the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris

To Join the Letter of hope movement, click:

Global Population Hits 7 Billion, Youth in Nigeria to Capitalize on New Opportunities (news via Global Press Institute)

As the world’s population hit 7 billion last month, the United Nations Population Fund held a forum for youth in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Youth converged with representatives from the government and local and international nongovernmental organizations to brainstorm about how to develop policies to transform the emerging challenges of the increasing population into opportunities. - Global Press Institute

ABUJA, NIGERIA – David Habba, 24, is a student at Benue State University, where he is currently studying sociology. Habba says his vision for his future is to practice what he is studying.

“I want to speak for others,” he says. “I see myself as a social engineer, proffering solutions to social issues.”

A member of various youth groups focused on political education, Habba is also passionate about increasing political consciousness among young people so they can demand their rights from the government. But combining activism and education does not come easy for him.

“It is not very easy, but being able to manage my time gives me that ability to be able to combine the two,” he says.

Benue state, where Habba lives and studies, is popularly referred to as the food basket of the nation. The state is located in the Middle Belt region in central Nigeria.
Youth in Benue state in the past didn’t have a strong inclination for classroom education, he says. Most people became farmers.

“We are rated among the educationally backward state, but all that is changing now,” he says.

He says that the trend is changing because young people are becoming more politically conscious and uniting to proffer solutions to their common sufferings.
As a part of this trend, Habba was among the 50 youth who participated in the 7 Billion Campaign Youth Forum that took place in Abuja from Oct. 31 – the day the world’s population reached 7 billion – to Nov. 1.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, recently launched 7 Billion Actions, an initiative aimed at creating awareness about different opportunities and challenges that will emerge with this population increase. The advocacy effort strives to inspire citizens, government, nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, corporate sectors and others to be proactive in contributing positively to the world.

UNFPA collaborated on the forum with governmental platforms, such as the National Youth Council of Nigeria, and local and international NGOs, such as Education as a Vaccine Against AIDS Nigeria and Save the Children UK. The forum brought together emerging youth leaders in Nigeria to brainstorm about the challenges and opportunities that they face as young people in a world of 7 billion people and to share these ideas with policymakers.

Habba says youth participation is crucial to finding the opportunities in these challenges.

“I live at community level and intervene at community level,” Habba says. “Very importantly, I think in a world of 7 billion, more than the opportunities, the challenges abound – especially for young people. If there would be any gainful achievement for young people, they must be at the center and forefront of the engagement.”

Habba says that one concern is that with an increasing population, employment will be more competitive. He says he’s also worried about food, as farming profits haven’t risen because of the increased cost of agricultural materials.
“I’m also very concern about food because I come from a food basket state,” he says. “For us in Nigeria, food prices have tripled in less than five years. Government funding for investment in agriculture sector have not yielded needed result.”
He says education is another concern.

“I’m concern about the kind of education people will have to face because with increase population, there needs to be a corresponding increase in investment,” he says. “Even at smaller population, we have not seen our government do this. So who gives us the assurance that at a higher population our government will be able to do this?”

Competitive employment, food scarcity and poor education are some of the challenges Habba foresees. But he is also optimistic.

“I hope and believe that young people are well-able and will be put in a position to respond effectively and change a lot for the better,” he says.

Habba says he is increasing his efforts to tackle social challenges. After the 7 Billion Youth Forum, he plans to organize a program for farmers in Benue to discuss how prepared they are to produce food for an increasing population.

“I’m going to be doing what I have always been doing but with a more strategic focus,” he says.

The 7 Billion Youth Forum aimed to insert young people’s voice into developing policies to transform the challenges emerging with the population increase into opportunities. Many say improving services and facilities is key to development. 

Women say gender equality in accessing these services and facilities is also crucial. 
Various youth say education will enable people to help themselves. Others recommended a more grassroots approach to include marginalized communities in these initiatives. Policymakers participating in the forum insisted on a restructuring of government in order to increase accountability and to more effectively address problems.

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and is the sixth most populous country in the world, according to UNFPA. With a growth rate of 2.53 percent, Nigeria’s population currently exceeds 166 million, with projections of it increasing to nearly 390 million in 2050 and 730 million in 2100.

The theme of the 7 Billion Youth Forum was “Nigeria Demographics: Opportunities and Challenges.” Participants discussed education, health, the environment and climate change, unemployment, and information and communication technology in an increasing population.

Tope Fashola, program coordinator for advocacy, policy and campaigns for Education as a Vaccine Against AIDS, a local NGO that aims to help young people access sexual and reproductive health information and services, says that the forum aimed to address how to manage such a large population.

“Especially because Nigeria population is a youthful one,” he says. “We are saying that, how can we begin to think of policies that can protect and encourage the buildup of young people in our nation? They say youth are the leaders of tomorrow, but we need to start planning from today, and we believe it starts from the policy angle.”

Ajani Olawale James, president of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, a platform created by the Ministry of Youth to engage youth in policy formation, says the growth in population will have positive and negative effects on Nigerian youth like him.

“I think it is a big challenge [that] at the same time provides more opportunities,” he says. “In a country whereby we have a lot of young people, it should be an opportunity if we are ready to explore.”

He says youth are eager to get involved.

“Nigerian youth is always ready because every Nigerian youth want to be a responsible citizen,” He says. “We have been fed over the years, and we want to start feeding people. That sense of responsibility is always on the Nigerian youth.”

Hadija Aminu, the campaign adviser for Save the Children UK, an international children’s charity based in the United Kingdom, says that poverty is one factor that has contributed to the population increase.

“The population reduces where there is development,” she says. “People feel more confident to have smaller families. But what you see in some communities in Nigeria is that the poorer you are, the more children you have because you tend to not know which among the children would be among the one that will support you and sustain you. So you have so many of them and hope that one of them will provide for you.”
Aminu says that quality basic education and free health care will naturally lead to smaller families in Nigeria.

“So what we can do in Nigeria is to improve all other facilities and services,” she says. “It will directly reduce our population.”

Managing population growth is different from controlling population growth, says Tochie Odele, one of the organizers of the event.

“We don’t want to tell people to control population,” she says. “We want to be able to manage population.”

Women say they hope that the population growth will provide more opportunities for them.

“Young women should realize they have a role and must get up to have their voices to be heard in a world of 7 billion,” she says. “Young women can serve as community mobilizers, role models, etc., synthesize other young women on the importance of education and not feel limited by the lack of access.”

Nkiru Igbokwe, an UNFPA national program analyst, says that an increase in population is not necessarily negative if leaders are sensitive to gender equality.
“It could be positive if we direct our human resources the right way and if we plan to use the resources in a way that it does not discriminate against any sex,” she says.
She says that women need equal access to resources.

“The fact that we are 7 billion in the world ­means that we pay particular attention to devising ways to increasing women[’s] access to resources, especially productive resources such as land, labor, credit, so that it will enable them [to] create and have sustainable livelihood,” she says.

She also urges parliamentarians to implement strategies to ensure young girls have access to reproductive health services and information in order to reduce teenage pregnancy.

“Strategies that will ensure young girls get access to education and come out with strong degree that will enable them access higher employment,” she says. “Strategies to ensure human resources and financial resources are leverage[d] in a way that is gender-sensitive and does not discriminate help us have a productive population.”

Damilola Ade, an active member of the World Bank Youth Forum in Nigeria, a youth forum set up by World Bank Nigeria to engage young people in community development, also emphasizes education. She says that she and her peers have been visiting rural communities on the outskirts of Abuja to explore community service ideas that they can implement in underserved communities. She says she is appalled by the standard of education in rural areas, which the population increase would further strain.

“In terms of education, the challenge is access and funding,” she says. “I know in Nigeria, we give less than 20 percent of our budget to education.”
Ade says that countries must allocate more of their federal budgets to education if they want to build the capacity of their youth.

“We should be looking forward a minimum of 30 percent,” she says.
Ade says that school infrastructure and facilities are also not up to standard. But she says she is not waiting for the government to solve all the problems.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about [the] education process – going into rural areas to teach kids,” she says. “What I want to do more is going back to grassroots, even if it’s as little as a chalkboard I can donate. I will like to do more of that.”

Fashola says that policies that ensure education, as well as protection and health services, to all young people are key. He says this will ensure that Nigerian youth are not dependent on stipends from the government, but rather they will have the knowledge, capacity and resources to be self-sufficient, which will spur future development of the country.

Ade says that participating in the 7 Billion Youth Forum has enlightened her more on the issues facing the education sector in Nigeria.

“A friend told me about the event,” she says. “I have been hearing a lot about 7 billion and got inquisitive. I went online but did not get as much information as I got here.”

But she says that she would have preferred a more grassroots approach to tackling issues affecting Nigeria.

“I will like to see more grassroots participation,” she says.

As one of the lead partners, UNFPA is not oblivious to the criticism associated with conferences and forums.

“The question has always been talking with no action,” Igbokwe says. “I think talk is important. We have to start talking here. We depend on participants to talk the message to those at rural areas.”

Aminu agrees with Ade on the need for more grassroots outreach initiatives.
“I met a family in one of the grassroots communities,” she says. “We were discussing family planning and family health issues. She had about 12 children, and she told me if I had come earlier, she wouldn’t have had the baby she was holding because she didn’t want to have any more children but she didn’t know what she could do.”

She says that a more grassroots approach is necessary because many people lack access to the conversation.

“Because they cannot communicate with the rest of the world, they don’t know what is obtainable,” she says. “So yes, we have a lot to do in terms of taking these awareness the poorest and the most marginalized communities.”

Aminu says these communities are most in need.

“They are the ones that need the services the most,” Aminu says. “They face the challenges the most. Thus, they are the ones that need the opportunities the most.”
Ajani says that the next step after the forum is for the government to make policies. But he says that policymakers must engage youth in this process.

“We want to talk to parliamentarians to make laws that are youth-friendly,” he says.
At the end of the forum, the participants came up with an action paper. They plan to present the paper to the parliamentarians to serve as a guide for them to make youth-friendly policies to tackle the emerging challenges.

“There is going to be a real action,” says Saheed Akinade-Fijabi, one of the parliamentarians who attended the forum.

He blames corruption in Nigeria’s system for delays in enforcing policies. To change this trend, he encourages Nigerians to be proactive in keeping the government accountable.

“We should keep an eye on them,” says Akinade-Fijabi, a new member of the House Committee on Youth. “When a law is passed, we should make sure it is enforced.”
Another parliamentarian invited to the forum, Eziuche Chinwe Ubani, the chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, agrees.

“People in office are suppose to be more accountable,” Ubani says. “But for that to happen, there needs to be a constitutional framework that allows people ask questions and get answers.”

He says questions lead to accountability.

“These kinds of governance structure where people are not permitted to ask questions or when they ask are ignored does not make people in power accountable,” he says. “So it is for all of us to stand up to it and find a way that we have a governance process that delivers on development.”

Ubani says Nigeria’s governance system must be revamped to make leaders more accountable and more effective at solving problems.

“First of all, I think we need to change the template of governance,” he says. “The governance structure, not government, is not tailored to solve any problem the way it is. The structure we have needs to change. There needs to be constitutional amendment in a peaceful way to be able to create a government that delivers. And people must be held accountable.”

Ubani cautions Nigeria not to relax as the population increases.

“If the population is increasing, other facilities and resources also have to increase,” he says. “Apart from the resources that are finite, the other ones are for individuals to be able to expand.”

He says this expansion is crucial to avoid competition.

“When many people are competing for a small resource, there is bound to be a problem,” he says. “Even for spaces, if two people are suppose to live in a room and all of a sudden there are eight people sleeping in a room, people will be cramped. There will be no space to stand.”

Akinade-Fijabi says that Nigerian parliamentarians are working to change the system.
“We have some intellect who are ready to serve the people and not there for money,” he says.

He says that parliamentarians have already begun to address employment barriers that prevent competent and skilled youth from applying for jobs solely based on their age.

“We have passed the motion about the age barriers,” Akinade-Fijabi says.
Joycee Awojoodu, one of the youth participants, says youth must continue to pass their concerns along to the government.

“Getting in contact with a legislator, even if it’s just a local government chairman, is one step in getting our issues heard,” she says. “It is one step in the right direction.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

“While in tertiary school, have a “portfolio” for skills, pick up as many skills as you can…”

Culled from
It is obvious that the generations before us are not providing any real assurances for our future, it is up to us. A piece of advice I got from a mentor which I wish to share is that, while in tertiary school, have a “portfolio” for skills, pick up as many skills as you can because when you graduate, it will be that portfolio that will differentiate you from the millions that have graduate certificates like you." Somto

Fab-Ukozor Somto Sharon, recently won of the ITU young innovator’s contest. She was in Geneva, Switzerland with other young innovators from across the world where she presented her MS2C idea and emerged winner of the prestigious contest.
Sommie as she is popularly called is a young vivacious and intuitive young lady who is committed to exploring new ways the ICT can be used as an advocacy tool for youth development and empowerment. She has been a keen volunteer at Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) FUTO Campus where she served both as assistant technical director and project head for “Making C.E.O Project”.
In this interview with Grace Ihejiamaizu, Sommie shares her passion and idea to change the world as well as her experience with ITU 2011.
 Excerpts of the Interview:
How are you today Sommie?
I am doing great, thank you.
How was your experience at the ITU Conference? How did you get to know about the contest?
My experience was both exciting and memorable. It was a stimulating programme with rich networking opportunities. I enjoyed meeting and making friends with other 29 Young Innovators and learning from their ideas and exchanging stories with people from different backgrounds, orientation and race. The facilitators and mentors were awesome, the whole exercise from story-boarding, to forming personas and limiting our powerpoint slides to specified maximum number and words. It was exciting and informative.
Your MS2C project won and was selected for funding. What is MS2C and how would you use the grant?
MS2C (Mobile Skills to Cash) is essentially an Application platform that connects young Nigerians willing to provide services or products to Companies or Individuals who need those services, as well NGOs and Government bodies focused on skill acquisition, extension services or SME funding. The young folks can interact via sms or smart phone clients.
What inspired you to develop the MS2C Project?
I found out that every year our Nigerian Universities graduate over a hundred thousand students without provision for them in the labour market and most of these people have skills but do not know how to use it in the present economic state of the country, so they rather engage in social vices or migrate to big cities causing over-population. So I was inspired to develop this project, to link these youths, undergraduates inclusive and empower them. As you know I belong to this generation, I am a graduating student from the FUTO where I studied Elect/Elect Engineering, and majored in Communication Engineering.
What are some of the technologies you used to develop the MS2C Project?
 The main application is being developed in Java (J2ME,J2EE).
 As history has shown us, for a technological development to be truly successful, it must have a good business potential; can you briefly describe the business model behind the MS2C technology?
Initially I was mainly focusing on solving a need, but part of what I learnt during the ITU Conference is the emphasis on the business side – “the numbers” as the Venture Capitalists would say. Yes there is a business model that will ensure the project’s sustainability. We ensured that it’s a Win-win for all the stakeholders, most of the cost will be borne by the companies who would need the services, adverts will also provide some funding, but we will try to keep the cost very low for the target beneficiaries – youths like me.
How will MS2C create a positive impact in Nigeria?
Over 500,000 young graduates will be thrown into the largely inadequate Nigerian job market, many will join about 25m others without jobs. If this effort is able to provide opportunities to a 100 youths, that in my humble opinion will make a difference. And if my story inspires a few others to take similar initiatives, then it can only get better. If the idle young men and women are positively engaged in their states of residence, we will have less people who resort to vices and who knows, we may reduce rural urban migration.
Do you have plans to have the MS2C application for platforms like android, apple and blackberry?
Yes of course, the SMS-based is the first stage for dumb phones which are incidentally the majority, but consequently client instances will be deployed for the major smart phone and tablet devices.
As an emerging young Software programmer, what should we expect from you in the not too distant future?
(Breaths out) expect more innovation. I should be doing a Masters, I will continue to hone my skills and seek to get better in other to be able to positively affect as many lives as I can.
What advice would you give to young people?
It is obvious that the generations before us are not providing any real assurances for our future, it is up to us. A piece of advice I got from a mentor which I wish to share is that, while in tertiary school, have a “portfolio” for skills, pick up as many skills as you can because when you graduate, it will be that portfolio that will differentiate you from the millions that have graduate certificates like you.
Thank You Sommie for your time and all the best.
Thank you for having me.
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