Yesterday it was a big day for me. I managed to organize and chair the first Kabissa Roundtable in an African country (Nigeria), featuring a very young organisation – YouThink Nigeria. The name stands for You (what do you want to change), Youth (how to involve the youth), Think (think about it) and Ink (write it out in the form of a proposal/recommendation).
The event took place at the Lagos Secretariat of Youthink Nigeria. The participation was not as high as I would have wished for (around 11 attendees), but despite that, I could declare it a very successful event. I ought not to mention that the venue being pretty small, we had to limit the promotion of the event for fear of not being able to accommodate too many participants at the venue. Therefore I am sure that given all the Nigerian passionate youth, by providing a bigger room, this kind of events can be a huge success in Lagos.
Olumide, the founder of the organisation, spoke about how everything started and he mentioned that, currently, the group brings together 13 people with different background - professionals, students, business managers - who develop and implement community development projects. The rationale of creating this Group was that youth is the most affected by the problems that Africa is facing. And the solution to stop it is “to come together to think together”, to see what can be done in order to help current and next generations. This phrase alone has the force to give back the responsibility to each and every of us, to make us feel powerful in deciding the path of our lives and of our communites.
From the event we have learned that YouThink Nigeria was created in September 2012 and it started with 2 members. In January 2013 they reached 13 members, they attended 6 Think Tank meetings (where they are thinking of the problems the youth is facing and also inking the proposals/solutions for them), they have more than 400 followers on Facebook and they won one award from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) at the 60th anniversary in South-Africa (November 2012), for an essay on “How your country can reduce the incidences of women who die in childbirth”. This has won the second prize, out of a million essays that were sent for selection, it was also published and it can later be sent as a recommendation to the Local Government.
Debo, another member of YouThink Nigeria, gave more details about other projects they are currently working on. First, he spoke about “Footballing and alternative skills”, reminding to the audience how important football is for Nigerian people (and I would add for all African people) and that many are involved in this sport, also professionally, as a way to earn their lives. Therefore, if something bad happens, like an injury, many find themselves in the situation of not being able to provide for themselves and their families if they are not guided towards finding other skills, in order to offer themselves an alternative career plan. Second, Debo spoke about gangsterism, which is becoming very popular for (sometimes) political reasons. Those involved in this phenomenon are doing it because they want to earn some quick money and unfortunately they perceive this as the only means. YouThink Nigeria is currently developing a project that will help rehabilitate them by looking together for alternative means of livelihood for them. And for a third project, Debo captured even more our attention with his passionate way of speaking (I must confess, he is a very good public speaker, you can listen for him for hours, he speaks as if he is telling you a big secret. When you look at the time, you did not even notice how one hour has passed. This can be a challenge when one has to be the time keeper for his speech). The project he spent his last speaking minutes on is called “Career plan for school children”. This one is about offering career guidance to young people, when they are still in school. The context that gave life to this proposal is the following: many students in the last year of high school end up not enrolling in higher institutions (Universities and colleges) because they miss guidance in their career steps and choices, many adults with degrees are not able to find jobs and the only written document which could offer some career guidance is 25 years old. Therefore the plan is to reach out to 20 schools in Lagos Mainland, to select some students based on a questionnaire they will deliver at the beginning, as a first step of implementation, and then to put in place regular YouThink career seminars. At the end of the first term, there would be an assessment to check whether the participants know more (comparison against the first questionnaire) about the steps to be undertaken if they want a certain profession or if they know their alternative, their “Plan B”, in case that fails (i.e. the vocational training centers put in place by government). Debo did not avoid speaking about the potential challenges either. They are aware that young people get distracted and in order to keep them focused, among the incentives to be put in place, he enumerated offering to the ones who are well progressing, holiday internships or to pay the jam for them when it comes to enrollment. The jam is the fee that everyone needs to pay upon registration to University and which is 5.000 Naira as far as I have been told.
The Africa Roundtable event is aimed at creating the necessary networking for information sharing and peer learning. I would say that this one did very well on this front for the following reasons. First, Tobias, the founder and Executive Director of Kabissa, once again showed what a resourceful person he is, by speaking about the Awesome Foundation and the Co-Creation Hub. Afterwards, Amodu, from Mainland Youth Movement (also a member of Kabissa), brought to our attention the fact that since 2008, the Mainlad Library was closed (due to building problems) and since then, they had trouble finding a solution for re-opening it or another library. Linking this to the encouragement to education, he rightly pointed out to the reality – “how can we improve education if we don’t even have a library?” I would say that one of the successes of the RoundTable is that YouThink Nigeria will probably take this topic to be discussed in one of their Think Tank meetings and make it one of their proposals to be implemented perhaps together with a partnering organization.
Now, on a more personal note, I would like to make some more remarks. I have been mentioned the difficulty for young people to “find a quiet place to think together” and I have witnessed the difficulty to find a venue for our Kabissa event – a place that would be big enough to host around 20-30 participants, that would have internet connection, good illumination etc. In the light of all this I can say chapeau (French expression), because they managed to set up regular Group meetings and provided logistics for a Roundtable to be broadcasted around the world via Skype, despite all the challenges. And it made me think about all the nice Malls in Europe, the parks with free wi-fi, not to mention the wonderful libraries where besides the individual study places, we are provided with quiet rooms (suitable for 10-15 persons) where we can debate and learn together without disturbing the others. But I have also learned that a good video can be made with a Samsung S, which was ‘glued’ to a window lattice with regular tape, I have learned that one can forget about the heat caused by an electricity cut (which stops the ventilator) when debating about inspiring topics and creative ideas and I have also learned being patient (for the ones who know me, I am very impatient when I want to achieve something) – one cannot fight with the electricity cuts, the internet not working for reasons that exceed the computer settings and so on.
In conclusion, it is easier to achieve results when everything is put in place for us – from government policies to good logistics like venue and Internet. And in no way do I want to take back the merits of all the wonderful people working on projects in this favourable/friendly framework. But it is even more difficult to do so when everything is “against” you. Therefore, when one manages to achieve results despite all this, it means that person had a lot of courage, motivation, inspiration and passion to do everything to make the impossible possible. I am happy I met this kind of people here in Lagos and I am proud to have been part of their community.