HOW Foundation has set the pace for empowering young people to be the leaders of tomorrow. Young school children who attended the maiden edition of the ‘Be the Best Seminar’ of the Foundation in Lagos recently, were motivated to take on their future responsibilities, reports Peter Uzoho

Often times, young ones are tagged ‘leaders of tomorrow’. This in itself, heaps enormous responsibility and expectation on them even when little or no practical effort is made towards empowering them and getting them ready for their upcoming challenges.

Ironically, in Nigeria where successive leaders had come to serve to satisfy their selfish interest without adding any value to the life of the acclaimed leaders of tomorrow, the same people will expect the young to grow and automatically become the agents that will turn things around. There had not been such avenue for the ‘tomorrow’s leaders’ to be empowered early enough to carry the burdens transferred on them.

Such platform where tomorrow’s leaders would be given the needed leadership ethics, values, culture and right moral standing had been lacking and has resulted to incivility, unpatriotism, corruption, defiance to rules, selfishness and looting of the national wealth, by the leaders. The trend has not only impoverished the nation, but has led to the breeding of huge population of incapacitated adults that are nowhere close to realising their potential.

Amidst the ugly trend, there are those who have been most concerned, who not only empathise, but ready to invest in tomorrow’s leaders, in order for them to have the needed capacity to face their future leadership tasks. One of such is Dr. Herbert Wigwe, current Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank Plc, who through his HOW Foundation established in January, 2016, and anchored on three cardinal areas of malaria eradication, prostate cancer awareness and prevention, and empowering the youth for leadership, has seen the need to go beyond seeing young ones as tomorrow’s leaders to empowering them early through different programmes.

To hit the ground running, on October 8, 2016, HOW Foundation organised the maiden edition of its ‘Be the Best’ seminar series. The seminar saw a number of secondary school children converge at the Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, where they were inspired to be the best in their life endeavours.

You could see excitement blended with earnestness right on their faces as they keenly listened to a UK-based Nigerian motivational speaker, Mr. Joshua Ajitena, who used varying presentation strategies and tactics to drive home his message. They have never been challenged that way all their life. They could not believe their eyes that they were the ones being inspired and galvanised in such a grand style to take on their future responsibilities. Indeed, they have been mentored, they have been given the right mindset and the required drive to be truly tomorrow’s leaders. The right information and idea has been passed onto them which no doubt would be a strong springboard to unlock their inbuilt potential, skills and innovativeness that would lead to the transformation of their lives and impact the nation.

Addressing journalists at the event, the Chief Executive Officer, HOW Foundation, Ms. Antonia Ally stated that motivation was actually one of the things that young people needed to help them have a positive view on the future, noting that a follow up activity would be taken to know if the children that participated exchanged information with their friends.

“After today’s event we’ll try to go back to the schools; talk to the children to know if they shared information about the things they learnt in the course of the seminar with their friends; know what their experience is like-whether it’s positive or otherwise. Hopefully, this is something we would like to do on a national scale. We hope to make it come up like a plan that we can have it a couple of times a year, depending on the age group of the children and how large the schools are as well”.

Stressing on the importance of motivation on the life of young people, she said: “Similar experience I had during my first motivational seminar that I went for when I was in the university.

I just saw life completely different. I started seeing my education as a tool to move forward in life and to be able to move my community forward as well. So I’m hoping that today the kids can realise that whatever they’re studying in the university they’re not just studying it for themselves alone, they’re studying it to move this society forward. And they shouldn’t really depend on the older people to move the country forward; it’s also their responsibility to move the country forward. I think a lot of our leaders today probably didn’t think that they could make any impact on the environment they’re in when they were growing up. So the important thing is to make motivation a culture.

Ally stated that the Foundation hoped to achieve and promote excellence, adding “Wherever we’re able to spot excellence and whatever tool and resources that we have we have to promote it because that’s what we believe in and we’re focusing on that.”

Giving more insight into the seminar, the Founder, Wigwe noted: “Today’s event was just the starting point to try and help and mentor young children and support them to be the very best they can be in whatever they choose to do. You know one of the problems we have in our system is the fact that we have children who are coming up, who are not being well mentored, whose values are not intact and all of that. So we think that one of the ways we could give back to the society is to start this; to reach out to as many children as possible; mentor them, build up their value system and mentor them to be the very best they can be.

“There will be several seminars. There will be seminar that will help them in terms of building their career. It’s about the development of children; it’s about teaching them about values of hard work, values of ethics and helping them determine how to shape their future, letting them know that they can be the best that they want to be.”

Wigwe who pointed out that contrary to the believe that government alone is responsible for the empowering and helping of children, noted that it is the responsibility of all adults and not just the government to mentor young children, adding that “things have changed in our country, and except we go down to the basics of building capacity and all of these. One of the things you will find out that HOW Foundation is doing in a later stage is even supporting them in universities. Perhaps also owning its own university; building children; creating education background because they truly hold the future of our country.”

On his assessment of the day’s seminar, he said: “I think it’s a good start. What I can let you know is that in three or four years time you will see it all over the place-everybody will know about it in Nigeria. Several children will benefit. We would be marking ourselves against impacts-how many children have we been able to influence? Where are those children? What schools are they going to? When are they graduating? We would have people who will basically sit on the case of these children, follow them through- for those who are showing very strong promise.”

Also speaking on the sideline of the event, the resource person, Ajitena noted: “The concept behind today is to inspire the next generation. I’ve been teaching them the importance of believing in themselves in what they do, and how they can be the best in their education, in the community around them, to their parents and to their life in general. I’ve taught them to be better individuals in what they do and simply just enjoy being themselves. I believe that when we teach our young people; give them the right tool and they right mindset to be the best in what they do, their future will be bright.”

Commenting on what inspired him to be in the business of speaking to and motivating young people, he explained: “I love young people and being that when I was young I was one of those kids that were off the rail. But I didn’t have the same leadership so after growing up and going through quite a few things you start to realise that if only I had what I’m giving them now, I would have gone farther. The fact that I wanted to be a role model- something positive is enough for me. A lot of our young people are looking at celebrities especially the Americans as their role models.

I want them to have people that they have access to; people that look like them; people that sound like them; that talk like them, that they can listen to them and say to themselves that if this person can do it so can I. I have a passion for young people and I believe they’re the leaders of tomorrow. I believe in inspiring and adding to them so that’s one of the things that pushes me to empower the next generation.”

Speaking on his assessment of the Nigerian youths, Ajitena noted that they were very passionate but lacked the resources needed to grow. “They have the idea and the creativity. In fact, I think Nigeria is about entering into a phase of extreme creativity. People are coming out; people are discovering more, and people are aspiring to discover their own creative edge which is a beautiful thing. However, what they lack is the platform on which they can express it. A platform where they can show up their creativity, and I believe that’s exactly what the HOW Foundation stands for- giving these young people a chance, a voice, a platform where they can be as creative as they want. I believe Nigerian youths in the next few years are going to be a stronger power, a stronger force, in Africa and the world.”

On his expectation from the children after the seminar, he added “I expect young people to be on fire. I expect a change and a difference in their attitude towards their education, towards their parents, towards life, and to be more optimistic, more challenged and more inspired. I expect every youth to just be yourself; be comfortable in your own skin; don’t try to be like anyone else; don’t run someone else’s race. Know what is good for you; know your own strength. Accept your weakness but don’t settle for weaknesses.”

Some of the students, who were inspired and challenged by the seminar, bared their minds. For Kingsley Odenigbo, a 12-year-old JSS 2 student of St Gregory College, Ikoyi: “Today’s event was fantastic. I was inspired by the speaker, Mr. Joshua. During his presentation, he talked about how Bill Gates who was a school drop-out from Harvard became the world’s richest man. He also talked about Walt Disney who was said to have lacked skills and ideas but now almost everyone watches Disney Channel. Having attended this seminar today, I intend to put more focus in my studies to be the best in whatever I do in my academics, social and physical life, and I’m hoping that God will help me excel.”

On his part, Zubair Mohammad, 15, an SS3 student of Kings College, Lagos: “I’m quite amazed and impressed with what I’ve seen and learnt so far, and I’m very happy. I hope to gain more knowledge and inspiration from subsequent sessions. Indeed, I’ve been so challenged. I was most touched when the speaker said that success is not based by desire. This seminar has opened my eyes and has made me wake up to the reality of life. Going forward I intend to be a leader in all fields I venture into, and I would like to inspire others based on what I’ve learnt today. I intend to share the knowledge to others because it’s important that I do so. I want to be a model to the younger ones and to the upcoming children.

“From the little research I did, I’ve found out that the reason why the current generation will always tell the subsequent generation that they are the future is because it’s evident that they haven’t done so well. So it’s up to us to do well so that subsequent generation will only have to do just little and not for us to keep passing all our burdens and expectations to the upcoming generation.

Appreciating the Foundation, Mohammad said: “I’d like to say a very big thank you to HOW Foundation for giving us such an empowering seminar. Up till now I’m still trying to recover from the surprise-the whole setting so far has been extremely fantastic. So I give kudos to the organisers, kudos to the sponsors and kudos to everybody who have suffered tirelessly day and night trying to put this thing together. I pray that God Almighty will reward them greatly and continue to increase them in abundance.”