She’s young. Very young. We hired her as a cleaner when it became clear that the new office needed someone to look after it through the day, especially as there was now a lot of human traffic through the Ajegunle Innovation Centre – parents seeking opportunities for their kids, students who come in daily for 7 weeks to learn new things that could turn their lives around, young people who just want to check out what was so important that their colleagues went through the rigour of interviews. Tinuke didn’t come across as one with a lot of confidence. Actually, she lacked confidence and you could see through it. But she was just a victim of the lack of opportunity that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria is working hard to at least make a dent in – and continue to chip away at the alarming numbers. When we hired her, she didn’t bother to tell us that she had gone through training at an ICT Centre, and that she actually did teach. Yes, she didn’t bother trying to pick up a job with that skill and grabbed the opportunity she could get.
I’ve seen a lot of that. People don’t bother looking for matching opportunities because 54% of the other young people out there are unemployed, and they will accept a much lower pay to edge others out of the competition for the few spots that open up. At one point, a graduate attended the interview for our Ajegunle.org program but hid what you would think was his competitive advantage. He knew it was a program for folks who, among other things, have not had a chance at tertiary education and didn’t want his degree to disqualify him from a program that could offer a 3-month (or longer) internship that might just be his entry to the world of work that had eluded him for over 3 years after he was told by his Vice Chancellor that he had been found worthy, in character and in learning, to join the labour force. He didn’t get a job, like many others, so he lowered the bar to start from anywhere. Chances are that the security guard you were rude to last week holds a BSc but ate the humble pie as he keeps searching for that better opportunity. I don’t think this was Tinuke’s deliberate approach, but she is also a lot more powerful than the position she accepted.
As she cleaned the training room, she showed interest in more than just keeping it neat. After asking her about her plans for tertiary education, I’d think to myself: she should join the next set of students so she can pick up skills that could set her up for much more. Little did I know that she would one day walk into the class to train the students she was cleaning up after. Tinuke is no longer just the cleaner who had to keep every stain off, she is now the tall lady who puts students through on those computers she still cleans. Of course, she won’t be there for much longer as she has now taken the bold step of showing interest in an opening to do what she had been doing on the side – assisting our program lead with making the Ajegunle.org experience much better. Just before the staff evaluation exercise at our recently concluded staff retreat, other members of the team confirmed the need for her to step up, “come out of her shell” and show much more confidence. I took time to tell her in person, when she sat alone with me to give honest feedback that could help us at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria in our desire to be a much more desirable place to work.
Tinuke is work in progress, as I am. As you are too? Well, I thought it was just me. And Tinuke. LOL. I won’t be surprised when she goes on to become much more than she was ever given a chance to be, and I am extremely glad that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria is able to add value to the students that walk through our doors – and the young men and women who work very (read that as VERY) hard to make sure that our program beneficiaries get a chance to improve their lives. Our vision is summarized by ICTs + Youth = Socio-Economic Opportunities and it is the work that people like Tinuke and the other team members do that allows us to hit the nail on the head. But this isn’t just about a young woman who is climbing higher on the ladder of opportunity, it’s also about what she has taught me. Tinuke has reminded me again that it’s okay to start really small and grow, and to never allow the smallness of the space you currently occupy take away the sight of that big vision. Thank you, Tinuke, and all the best with the rest of your career journey.