Empowering Youths through Community Innovation Challenge

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The Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria has backed three youth and community-driven projects with strong human capacity development, writes Yinka Olatunbosun

In Lagos, the members of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria (MWFAAN) recently made a decision to select finalists in the contest called “My Community Innovation Challenge.’’ The challenge targets members of the association who have project ideas that could build human capacity in leadership, skill acquisition and entrepreneurs.

My Community Innovation Challenge is a project under the ‘The Cross-Cohort Collaboration Initiative (CCCI)’ created by MWFAAN. The project which provides grants for lucky winners recognise the role of innovation in creating changes at community, state and national level.

In this pilot edition, a grant of N1.5m is awarded to two fellows in different cohorts who have agreed to work jointly to design innovative solutions for their community. To be eligible for the Innovation Challenge, the contestants had to present projects in the areas of women empowerment, improving access to education; STEM; peace building; entrepreneurship development. In the end, three winners were selected. Ijeoma Idika-Chima and Dr. Bright Chimezie Irem won the challenge with Ebonyi Youth Development Project. The first runners-up are Funmi Ilori and Olatunde Ajoke Omoware with the project titled “STEAM in the Library.’’ Whilst Nkem Okocha and Peter Ayeni jointly held the third place with the project titled, “She Sabi.’’

Austin Emeanua from the United States Consulate General, Lagos and Coordinator, Mandela Washington Fellowship applauded the projects, describing them as impactful and solution-oriented. He urged the winners to make good use of the opportunity while reiterating the commitment of the United States of America at supporting more capacity development and community-driven initiatives.

In her acceptance speech, Dr. Bright Chimezie Irem, the co-winner of the first prize revealed that the whole idea of the project is to ensure that education is not confined to the four walls of the classroom. She explained that the Ebonyi Youth Development BootCamp is a leadership and entrepreneurship programme that will attract youth leaders in Ebonyi from different sectors such as Agriculture, Education, Women Empowerment and Energy.

Scheduled to run for three months, the project is designed to directly impact 40 youths and indirectly, 400 youths. To kick off, there would be one-week on-site training and two weeks of virtual training for all participants. The aim is to bridge the gap between the urban and rural youth by providing access to accurate information, capacity building opportunities, career development programme to start their ideas and scale their already existing ideas. The trainees in the programme would be linked with virtual mentors who are Mandela Washington Fellows. At the end of the programme, they would receive seed funding and internship. There are plans to replicate this programme in other states.

The 2nd Place co-winners also described their mobile library project ‘STEAM in the library’ as one that targets children. The project, designed to teach children between eight and 13 within a community, offers the basic skills in science, technology, engineering and art. The selected children will get both digital literacy and entrepreneurship skills which are yet to become indispensable components in the schools’ curriculum. The entrepreneurial skills training is to expose them to SDG goals.

More than ever before, the pandemic has necessitated digital knowledge as many children relied on the use of their parents’ phones, laptops and other devices for online classes during the lockdown. While recounting her personal experience as a social worker in a community, Ajoke Omoware recalled a scenario in a community where only family member has a phone and the children in those families had to take turns in using the phone for their classes. Thus, the ‘steam in the library’ provides learning tools to foster 21st century skills.

Okocha, the co-winner of the 3rd prize in the challenge runs an organisation called Mama Moni Empowerment Foundation. For the past eight years, the organisation has been upscaling low-income women and girls from different communities all over Nigeria. Over 7000 women and girls have been beneficiaries of this programme. The organisation provides them with skills to make them become financially independent.

These skills include catering, local farming, financial literacy and digital skills. In collaboration with Union Bank, Okocha created a skill-acquisition centre in Amuwo Odofin for the women in the community. The idea of creating a platform to reach women who were unable to come on-site during the lockdown became inevitable as the girls kept reaching out from different parts of the country requesting for training.

This gave birth to the SheSabi platform, inclusive of a Whatsapp group and an app where these young girls can learn all the skills that are taught on-site for free. The content created is localised and available in the three main Nigerian languages. With requests from other African countries like Ghana and Tanzania, Okocha and her co-winner, Ayeni hope that when the platform is launched, the outreach will be beyond Nigerian shores.