I can’t keep this to myself anymore! I must start by thanking a young man who walked up to me after his BSc (as quite a number of people do) and said, “I’d like to work with you.” As is usual with me, the first response was, “Go and think about what you really want to do with your life and if it tallies with what I already do — or plan to do — then we can discuss. I don’t want anyone living my dreams, everyone must find and live theirs!” He returned again and again, and I’m not kidding when I say that my Nigerian Youth Leadership Award is dedicated to this epitome of passionate efficiency, Ugo Nwosu! (This is where we do the clapping and shouting…:)) Ugo was with me when the Ajegunle.org idea only existed on that air sickness bag, because I ran out of battery power and had to get it out before the scheduled flight arrival in Lagos (from the Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship program in South Africa). Fast forward… the project started, and then I met Peter Stephenson. As head of the Trade & Investment unit of the UK Deputy High Commission, I was a bit worried when he said he’d be willing to visit the project after only a few minutes of sharing the idea with him. Visit, he did. And the Work Experience program of the Ajegunle.org project is what we have to show for his visit and redemption of many other promises!
The vision of Ajegunle.org is: â€œ[a] new Ajegunle, transformed through the application of Information Communications Technology and Entrepreneurship opportunities; creating role models that will drive socio-economic development in the underserved community.â€ While the overall objective of the project is to create better livelihoods through ICT opportunities, the projectâ€™s specific objectives include capacity building for 25 trainees every quarter. These youth are equipped with ICT and entrepreneurship skills which they pass on to other youth, along with the opportunity to start their own businesses. Three of our trainees have earned the opportunity to intern with the Trade and Investment division of the UK Deputy High Commission in Lagos while another three will soon resume at Afrinvest West Africa. Other organizations, in Nigeria, that will now support the internship scheme include Arik Air, DHL, John Holt, London Metropolitan University, Lornamead Africa, Standard Chartered Bank, Starcomms and Virgin Atlantic. The internship scheme was designed because of the need for balanced and exposed Ajegunle.org graduates who will understand the world of work while also learning new ones on the job.
Having spent the greater part of their childhood in an environment that seems to suggest their inability to gain access to opportunities, it is important that they meet and network within real work spaces. The internship is a win-win scenario for Ajegunle.org graduates and host organizations because while the latter guides the interns through workplace communication, teamwork and management processes, the interns provide valuable man-hours. In addition, it affords these organizations an opportunity to practice meaningful and high-impact Corporate Social Responsibility. The objectives of the Ajegunle.org internship scheme include the need to expose Ajegunle.org graduates to the real workplace; provide networking and mentorship opportunities for them; and assist them to discover their full potentials by placing them in positions that inspire career growth and activate a strong passion for success. Between October 2007 and now, the project has benefited from three internship slots for Ajegunle.org graduates at the UKTI. The internsâ€™ experiences (drawn from their Internship Reports) are summarized below:
(a) Matthew Ibiwoye: Even with a Bachelors degree in Sociology, he still deemed it fit to join the pioneer set of the project. History will remember Matthew as the first intern of the Ajegunle.org project, and he did not disappoint any of the project partners. While at the UKTI, he provided the whole team with administrative support as well as help with the organization of Trade Missions. Matthew also provided local intelligence on new business prospects for UK companies. When asked about his lessons from the internship, he is quick to refer to his improved networking and corporate communication skills!
(b) Emmanuel Njoku: Our second intern at the UKTI provided administrative support for the team and supported Trade Mission efforts. He is particularly happy that he was able to sharpen his passion for the media by developing management skills. He also appreciates the fact that he now understands global business processes, and heâ€™s quick to add, â€œI learn a lot from the team at the UKTI!â€
(c) Ijeh Nwanyiego: Our longest-serving intern at the UKTI has been dubbed the mascot of the UKTI team and this was earned through hard work and dedication. She also shares a trait that all three interns have demonstrated â€“ punctuality. She has sharpened her networking skills and proudly talks about the amount of exposure she has gained during her stay at the UKTI.
The Ajegunle.org project continues to evolve into the sustainable life-changing model we had in mind while designing the project, and we are excited about the momentum that this internship idea has generated. Soft skills, work ethics, business exposure, team work and communication are some of the direct benefits that our graduates derive from the work experience opportunities. As we continue to discuss with other institutions across Nigeria that believe that replicating this model will help address the needs of underserved youth, we remain committed to the delivery of a sustainable intervention strategy that will change the face of underserved communities in Nigeria, one community at a time. Unemployment is a major issue in Nigeria, with a recent report highlighting that only 10% of students from tertiary institutions get decent jobs after graduation. A 2007 study conducted by the National Directorate for Employment showed that 74% of registered unemployed persons fall within the age bracket of 15 to 34 years. Underserved communities, such as Ajegunle, account for majority of these unemployed youth â€“ most of who are involved in criminal activities and various vices such as cyber crime. Ajegunle.org presents an opportunity for Nigeria to address this huge social gap while also demonstrating a simple easy-to-replicate model that can shift the momentum towards positive peer pressure in each community where the project is implemented. Ajegunle.org also provides visibility for these young people who are now living productive lives, showcasing them as role models among their peers.
I look forward to the meetings with our new partners as we firm up the logistics of their support, and also look forward to the discussion with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) next week. Is the Ajegunle.org model about to come to a town near you? If you’re in (or are interested in) Itoku in Ogun State, FESTAC and Ondo State, then get ready. May I borrow Barack Obama’s now-popular phrase? We are fired up and ready to go! When we sat at breakfast with the CEOs of our new partner organizations (Nigeria’s authentic CSR-friendly companies 😉 and the British Deputy High Commissioner at Peter’s place on St. Valentine’s Day, those words kept playing in my mind, “We can’t keep complaining about what’s not right, we must do something to fix what we can!” I’m glad that things have come this far with this model, and I look forward to the days when we will celebrate the lives that have been transformed through an idea that could have gone the way of other potentially great ideas…