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 www.youthaward.org.

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