Innovation And Youth – Let’s Shine the Light*

Sitting in the last row at the Network Standard Stakeholders Seminar held in Lagos a few days ago, Nkem Uwaje, a young IT expert couldn’t help thinking that everything was summed up in three words: “Do something relevant.” And those words keep ringing in her ears! At the seminar, a speaker said, “When you are about to go to university, your parents give you 5 choices, but none of those options include the pursuit of a degree in IT.”

‘Gbenga Sesan has spent the past few months reminding himself of the need to ensure that not many youth go through the disheartening experience he had when he was denied access to a computer about 17 years ago. Having braced to odd to learn himself, he now appreciates the opportunity to connect other youth with local and global IT opportunities: for capacity building, learning/networking events, or competitions.

Nkem Uwaje and ‘Gbenga Sesan share this passion and are now raising awareness for the World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA) among young Nigerians – and Africans. The task, of course, would mean targeting those individuals that went against all odds and chose to embrace IT. But even for them – including those who had to risk shunning parental advice – it has been rough.

You choose IT, go to a university where innovation is a word long lost, learn ancient programming languages, graduate with a first class, but still feel that HiiT, NIIT or Aptech courses are needed before you can emerge on the surface of the corporate playground. Who wouldn’t get disillusioned by that? Add the fact that most employers believe that you are half-baked!

But the good news is that if you are one of the few that are still reading this: that believe in innovation, want to make a difference, are concerned that Nigerian IT companies outsource their development work to India, Russia and Ghana, want to see change, want to help bridge the digital divide; then you should register for the WSYA!

There is, at present, a lack of visibility of Nigerian youth-led projects on the global innovation stage and you can be the one to change that. In other countries, final year students use their projects to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace, and present them on an international platform.

Why can’t we do the same? Must we cut-and-paste all through our thesis? Why shouldn’t we do something relevant? Why shouldn’t we try to help in our own way to bridge the digital divide – and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

It seems there are hundreds of questions, yet no answers. This calls for action, it calls for change! They say time brings change, but how much longer do we want to wait?

How much longer do we want to live in poverty and hunger? How much longer do we want health and education to be a dead weight pulling our country and our continent down? How long will we wait to witness gender equality or environmental sustainability? Time will change a lot, but not without the appropriate action!

Innovation, inspiration and technology are key factors in ensuring that Nigerian youth become skilled enough to compete favourably with their peers globally. These same factors can help us reach the MDGs!

Young people are the proof of sustainability of any venture; they are the future of our country, our continent and our world. Youth are full of innovation and inspiration and are technology-driven.

They need to make their voices heard, bring their ideas to life and realize that they CAN make a CHANGE! That they CAN bring Nigeria (and indeed Africa) a step closer to realizing the MDGs by leading innovative projects and registering then for the WSYA for the opportunity to present them to the world.

Nkem and ‘Gbenga, both Nigerians, know how far technology can take a young person who dares to embrace opportunities. Do the same today, register your project for the World Summit Youth Awards and shine the light of innovation on Nigeria. It’s already January 2009, just 59 days before entries close for the WSYA, so let this be one of your to-be-fulfilled New Year resolutions. For more information about the World Summit Youth Award, visit

* This article appeared in the February 11 edition of Vanguard Newspapers

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Change is in the air

One thing that is sure about change is that it often happens when you least expect — when many could have either given up or slowed down.

Having had the most beautiful 32 days of my life ever (see for details), I spent quite some time thinking through loads of stuff yesterday. Armed with a clearer vision of change in Nigeria and sharper mind to put to task, I watched as the Nigerian minister of Information read what must have been a speech to shed more light on the ongoing rebranding initiative. Dora (as she’s popularly called) is not new to the task of rebranding and my earlier misgivings about how she might focus more on one aspect of her work than the other has taken a back seat.

She sounded quite sure of what she was saying, and her examples were drawn from experiences that each Nigerian could relate with. I hope her boss is as excited as she is so we can at least get somewhere with a noble effort this time around. Few days ago, I had written to the minister and a few others in the ministry on the need to build on ongoing work so that the task of weaving a New Nigeria will be citizen-focused because no amount of money spent on a CNN advert (or road show) can equate the unguarded statement of a citizen while with others.

It’s no secret that I admire the works of friends, colleagues and mentors who drive change in Nigeria and while today is not a day to write the complete list (which could entirely be my personal perception), I sent word to the ministry about people they probably already knew: Adeolu Akinyemi (New Nigeria Club), Fela Durotoye (Gemstone 2025), Funmi Iyanda (Change-A-Life Foundation) and Niyi Adesanya (Alliance of Change Empowerment Speakers). I also think the rebranding process should benefit from the tireless efforts of the brain behind the 419 Positive project, Rosemary Ajayi.

Change is in the air! This is one of such moments when you can side with transition for good, or watch as others drive the process. Well, maybe you can console yourself with the fact that everyone would benefit from the eventual celebration of change. Lessons from Obama’s America reveal that even those who think attempts at change compare to fairy tales end up benefiting from the visible outcomes. I’m glad that on March 14, young Nigerians will gather to discuss the possibility of recreating the “Obama success” in Nigeria. But long before then, Funmi Iyanda’s “Change-A-Life” event this weekend says a huge lot about change.

As I write this, good news from Nigeria is about to ring out once again; this time at the Engineers Without Borders (UK) Research Conference at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, where PIN’s work around the use of ICTs for development will be discussed. My wife would also be discussing her work on Renewable Energy Policy for developing economies! While many think all hope may be lost, others keep at the task to teaching the world how we do the magic of change in Nigeria. I’ve said this many times: when some people begin to publish their best-selling accounts of how they influence change in Nigeria, some others will do the buying — and remind fellow readers about how the author was their buddy on campus.

Change is in the air. Breathe it, grab it, influence it!

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Volunteer Overseas as an Atlas Corps Fellow!

Atlas Service Corps seeks nonprofit leaders from around the world to apply for their 2009-2010 fellowship positions in Washington, DC and Bogota, Colombia. All expenses are paid in this prestigious, fellowship program, including a living stipend, health insurance, visa, travel, training, and a $2,500 end of service award. Applicants must have 3 or more years of experience in the nonprofit sector, a college degree, fluency in English (and Spanish if applying to volunteer in Colombia), and a commitment to returning to their home country after one year. Candidates from outside the U.S. are placed at outstanding host organizations in Washington, DC including Ashoka, Asian American LEAD, CentroNía, Grameen Foundation, and Population Action International. Candidates from the U.S. are placed at organizations in Bogota like Give to Colombia and Oxfam GB.

In addition to volunteering full time at their host organizations, Fellows are enrolled in a management development training program and join a growing network of nonprofit leaders from around the world. For more details about eligibility requirements and the application process, please visit: and watch a short video about the application process here: . The deadline to apply is April 1, 2009.

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