In a recent interview, youth development expert and Founder, Graduatepro, Naomi Lucas, talks about the new media, and an innovation which has the potential to transform the lives of youth across Africa and beyond. Abimbola Akosile brings the excerpts:
You recently launched an initiative titled, ‘I’m A Graduate. Now What? The Audio Experience, as a way of helping youth in Nigeria and across the globe to address critical socio-economic issues affecting them. How will you describe the journey so far?
I can think of a few words to describe the journey so far – eye-opening, interesting, daunting and surprisingly rewarding. We began production in 2015 after years of writing, focus group sessions, expert review of the content and extensive research to select the final cast and crew. Creating the kind of product we have created required a lot of tinkering – from designing sound for the skits in the audiobook, to the theme song, to the 35 original songs used as soundtracks for the chapters, to creating illustrations and album art for each of the 56 narrators who took part in the project, to designing the videos and marketing collaterals; it was an extremely tasking process due to the sheer scale of the project and the very limited resources we had at our disposal.
What are the components of The Audio Experience and what is it set to achieve, especially considering Nigeria’s revered role in sub-Saharan Africa?
I had a few theories for why product like I’m A Graduate Now What? is an absolute necessity. First, I believe critical thinking is largely a dormant ability in young people due to an educational system that discourages and sometimes even punishes curiosity and interrogation. Second, I believe young people have more capacity than we give them credit for and they must be empowered to make their own decisions. Third, I believe teaching methods need to reflect the realities of learning in the 21st century as learning styles have evolved dramatically. Most important is the fact that Nigeria needs to set the pace and take responsibility for tackling youth unemployment in Africa as we make the largest contribution to the pool of un/under-employed youths on the continent. Bearing all of these factors in mind, my intention was to create a product that was exhaustive and potent enough to tackle the key issues young people grapple with, and presenting it in a format that was accessible, portable and required minimal physical infrastructure such as bookshops. Equally important was the need to ensure the content resonated with our target users, plugged into the current realities of their everyday lives and leveraged opportunities such as mobile technology and the internet. Once we were able to think through the imperatives I just highlighted, we went to work. The outcome is a fusion of original music, storytelling, drama and narration thoughtfully woven into what we now call I’m A Graduate, Now What? We intend to replicate this project across key African countries working with the governments of those countries and stakeholders in the private sector. Our goal is to first, spotlight the unemployment crisis by leveraging the media, internet and mobile technology and by harnessing the collective influence of our cast; and then tackle it by attacking the problem along every step of the value-chain, working with programme partners based in the locations where we deploy.
How can young and aspiring Nigerian entrepreneurs especially those who are not graduates take advantage of this audio experience to launch their business goals?
I call ‘I’m A Graduate Now What?‘ a ‘Why-to’ book. It focuses on the fundamentals, the things that don’t change. It focuses primarily on why as opposed to how. It is designed to help young people find clarity, discover self and create a roadmap for their future. While the title may sound exclusive to a category of young people, it is a book every young person should listen to. I’m A Graduate Now What? focuses on the cause(s) and not symptoms, of all issues affecting young people by tackling the problem of identity, purpose, strengths, passion, clarity about the past, present and the future, and empowering the listener to take control of their life and personal and professional development. It is only after they have done this that we should talk about what track they should focus on or what they are best suited for.
Youth unemployment rate in Nigeria reached an all time high moving from 19.20 per cent in 2014 to 25.20 per cent in 2016. How will this audiobook address this issue?
I have alluded to some of the issues that have created the hydra-headed monster we are battling today. To fix the problem, it is important to understand it. The current design of our educational system cannot produce the kind of manpower we need to tackle our present/future challenges as a country. A system that discourages intellectual discourse and participation and encourages passive observation and regurgitation of what has been taught will suffer the consequence of a lack of engagement in the classroom. We understand this, so we’ve designed I’m A Graduate Now What? to deal with the issue at different levels. It helps the young person reactivate his/her critical thinking abilities. It not only does this, it tackles the most pressing questions young people ask: Who am I? Why am I here? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? How do I deal with my past? How to I improve my confidence? How do I plan my career? What kind of work am I best suited for? How do I find meaningful work? How do I remain competitive in such a fast-changing world? How do I manage societal pressure? What must I do to stay ahead? A key point to note is that ‘I’m A Graduate Now What?‘ puts responsibility for personal and professional transformation firmly at the feet of the listener, not parents, religious institutions or the government. It provides every step of the way, practical steps the listener can take to become actively engaged and productive citizens. We know however, that the internet and mobile technology has its limitations, so we’ve created the Career Design Workshop, a peer-driven, experiential programme that uses I’m A Graduate Now What? The Audio Experience to help young people plan their future. Targeted at the most critical cluster(s) of users we want to reach – undergraduates, corps members and job seekers, the Career Design Workshop will be rolled out in 21 cities across Nigeria from February 2018.
Research and other reports have confirmed the inevitable impact of video and how this has engendered improved learning results. Is this factored into the audiobook?
I’m A Graduate Now What? was actually an audio-visual production. While we recorded the audio, we had a video crew recording the process as well. We also took time out to ask narrators some key questions, “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?”, “What advice do you have for someone starting out?” Using content from their responses, we have created 51 videos that serve as supplementary content for I’m A Graduate Now What?. With the kind support of Ford Foundation, we are about to roll out a pilot 2-week boot camp in Akwanga, Nasarawa state using the entire I’m A Graduate Now What? audio-visual content. I can’t wait to witness participants’ interaction with the content and the overall impact of the boot camp on their lives afterwards.
How will you describe your collaboration with all the teams that helped in the production of this project and what is the estimated cost of the finished audiobook?
Like I said during the launch of I’m A Graduate Now What? it will be difficult for me to take credit for such a feat. It is a collaboration featuring a cast of 56 Nigerian influencers and celebrities and a crew of close to 30 people. No narrator was paid for what they did. The Voice Director – Remi Olutimayin, Video Director – Onye Ubanatu, Audio Producer – Ezenwa Ogbonna aka Bigfoot West, were secured at heavily discounted rates, which was their own way of contributing to the overall success of the project. Most of the voice actors were volunteers and several other people donated in-kind to support the project. I must say that I have been taken aback by the eagerness of people to support the work we are doing and their willingness to do even more than they initially signed up for. It has taught me a valuable lesson and made me more sensitive to the needs of those around me. While I cannot give you the exact amount it has cost us to produce the content, I can give tell you it has cost us millions of naira and we are still spending.
To what extent did your background in Theatre and Communications Arts and Public Relations Consultancy help in the production of the audiobook?
I can categorically say to you, that if it weren’t for my background and extensive work experience in the Integrated Communications, Creative Project Management and Youth Development, I would not have been able to pull off the production. For example, I hired several scriptwriters to interpret my idea for the project. I got frustrated with the process and decided to script myself. The risks were high and kept cropping up at every corner, the demands were exhaustive and the financial outlay was enough to paralyse the average person. Add to this the fact that we were working with a shoestring budget, it really did seem impossible when we started. Also, because it is indeed a first-of-its-kind initiative, most vendors struggled with delivering to specifications as there was no benchmark to work with. Several got frustrated and walked away. The video montage for example, went through seven alterations before we settled on a final version. Several chapters had to be recorded again; sound design for some skits had to be redone countless times before we found what worked.
How will you describe the audio quality of the book and on what platforms are the audiobook available?
Well, I would leave the audio quality for the users to judge. We have published I’m A Graduate Now What? (both the audio and video) on MTN Music Plus, Cloud9, iTunes, Apple Music, Tecno Boomplay, Deezer, Soundcloud, Tidal, Spotify, Nerveflo and Mymusic.com.ng. All you need to do is search for Naomi Lucas, Graduatepro or I’m A Graduate Now What? and you’ll find the content. You either have the option to stream and/or download it.
The new media has been described as a highly intrusive innovation that have made and marred the professional and personal lives of youths across the globe. In your opinion, is the social media a blessing or otherwise?
Social media is a tool and as with all tools, it can be used productively, and it can be abused. Depending on how you use it, it can be a blessing or a curse. I’m A Graduate Now What? for example, has gotten immense publicity and traction by leveraging social media. I can tell you for free, that to date, our media spend has been negligible. By leveraging the platforms available to us and our project collaborators, we have gained immense visibility for the project.
In an age with technology fast evolving judging by the rate at which phones are getting smarter, and the internet and devices getting faster, how will the audiobook help refocus the minds of the youth from the unavoidable and highly distracting social media?
Interesting question. I think it is important to clarify what I’m A Graduate Now What? is and what it isn’t. It’s not a tincture that fixes all ailments; it’s a solution to a specific set of problems. Having said that however, it is useful to say that, if you think about it, each era has had its distraction. There was a time it was local wrestling. There was a time it was Checkmate at 8pm or The Rich Also Cry or Sesame Street at 4pm or Telematch on NTA. There was a time it was bull wrestling. The distraction for this age is social media. Distraction has its place and as long as it doesn’t cripple the effectiveness or productivity of the one seeking it, I think we will do alright.
For youths with ear impairment, are there visual aids or illustrations that can help to drive home the intended messages?
This is a very good question. I actually thought about audio because I was also concerned about youths with special needs. While we have already produced and published the audio content, I do intend, going forward, to have sign language on all our videos. Bear in mind also, that we will have an illustrated print version of the book in the near future. So, between the videos, audio, eBook and illustrated print, we should be able to cater for our brothers and sisters with special needs.
Is the audiobook compliant with MP3 and MP4 players etc, and which players will not play it?
The interesting thing is, mobile devices already come with the apps and software needed to play audio and video content. By concentrating our distribution online, we essentially converted every mobile device to a distribution channel and multimedia player. This eliminates the need for a player of any kind. But to answer your question, the content has been designed to play on every device. There is no DRM to restrict usage in any way.
Apparently, the audiobook is designed to improve the professional lives and wellbeing of contemporary and urban youth who are constantly inundated with innovations and latest technologies in a digital era. How does this audiobook address the plights of youth in rural and remote areas without access to the internet?
Not necessarily. Under-served youth were a key consideration during our design process. The focus of our experiential programmes is the youth in peri-urban communities (like the pilot boot-camp I mentioned earlier). The videos are going on local TV stations targeted at such demographics like NTA. We also intend to broadcast the audio content on radio especially in Northern Nigeria where radio remains a viable means of engagement.
How can intending customers purchase this audiobook and for Nigerians in the Diaspora, can they use their credit cards from other countries to enable access to the audio experience?
For each of the platforms I mentioned earlier, there are two options – stream the audio and or/video and/or download it. Some platforms are audio only, some platforms are audio and video. You can pay with a credit or debit card or airtime (for telco platforms) after which you may be subscribed to the platform or given access to stream and/or download the content.
Since the purchase of the audiobook is mainly done online, how can intending customers obtain receipts and after purchase, can they burn the audiobook on flash drives and save to the computers or play it in the car?
Depending on the platform, they should get an electronic notification that they have either paid for the content or successfully subscribed to the platform. For platforms where downloads are allowed, they may download the content to the app and listen to it offline, in which case they may not be able to transfer; or they may be able to download directly to their devices, in which case they may be able to transfer to other devices.