Studies reveal that young people in Nigeria aged 15-24 account for over 60% of unemployed youth. In addition, secondary education is the highest educational level attained by almost 60% of unemployed youth, suggesting that there are significant barriers to access to higher levels of education. Education is a key driver in facilitating growth and development. Unfortunately, there is an inequality of educational opportunities for people in underserved communities for leadership, social and economic development, which ultimately contributes to gaps in knowledge and soft skills.
One of the reasons, NGOs, Nonprofits, CSOs are set up is to improve the lives of people along with their thematic areas for the growth and development of communities across the country. For LEAP Africa, one of our interventions to secure youth development is the iLEAD Fellowship which bridges soft skills gaps among secondary school students in Akwa Ibom State in partnership with the Ford Foundation. The Fellowship has been designed to provide youth in select public secondary schools in the state with the leadership, life and employability skills to achieve personal success and transition into higher education or paid employment. In the third quarter of 2018, 15 new cohorts were inducted into the fellowship for 2018/2019. Essentially, they are equipped to guide students of these secondary schools in the iLEAD Fellowship through the ideation and implementation process of a community “Change Project”.
As we began the year 2019, our team went on a monitoring and support visit to our iLEAD schools: Akka Ofot Secondary School, Etoi Community Secondary School, Four Towns Secondary School, Mary-Harney Girl Secondary School, and Government Secondary School to assess the level of impact of the community change projects carried out by our students for five communities. During the visit, we asked students to describe their leadership journey since they joined the fellowship, their descriptions vividly mirror and reinforce our bias that leaders are not born but are made.
Matthew is a senior secondary (SS) 2 student at Akka Ofot Secondary School, Akwa Ibom state. He described his leadership journey with the analogy of a naïve infant. He writes – “before I joined LEAP Africa, I was like a baby confused in life, yet still a potential success. I was like a growing baby; I was made to undergo certain training that would make life a walkover for me”. Like a child who has grown into self-actualization, Matthew yet again describes his present leadership position as that of a grown child, who is now fully self-aware, he writes – “presently, I am a child that has been informed and transformed both socially, educationally and emotionally and gasping for more”.
Parallel to Jeremiah’s experience, Favour fantastically summarizes her leadership journey after joining the fellowship in comparison with the growth process of a chicken from laid eggs – hatched eggs – chicks – a full grown chicken. At the “laid egg” stage, Favour says she perceives herself as a failure who will never have a bright future. At the “hatched egg” stage, she describes how she starts to hatch out of negative thought of about herself and points that she has found a reason to believe in herself – “chick stage”. The “full grown chicken stage” is the most inspiring. At this stage, she is now self-aware and confident to pursue her academic and life goals.
Similar to Jeremiah’s life, Timothy likens his own leadership journey to a small fish swimming in a local stream due to low self-esteem. “When I did not join the iLEAD programme, I did not have self-confidence and I was not bold enough to stand before the crowd, so I was swimming like a small fish in a local stream. When I joined the (iLEAD) programme, I was taught self-identity and confidence, so with that, I started developing bit-by-bit and then leaving the local stream to swim in the sea”. For Timothy, the modules on self-identity and self-confidence form a major turning point in his leadership journey. In describing his present leadership status, Timothy states that he now has the confidence to address the public, and doing this, he has gained the respect of people and has a new level of influence. He describes this outcome saying “…my life changed from swimming in the sea to swimming in a big ocean as one of the biggest fishes”.
We are enthusiastic about the progress made with this programme; first in advancing youth agency, building an ecosystem of change agents and facilitating a shift of mindset, attitudes, and abilities of the students. The intrinsic notion here is that leadership and life skills are capable of shaping mindset, behavior, attitude and culture in such a manner that transforms lives. Jeremiah, Favour, and Timothy are just a minute fraction of the over 55% of young people enrolled in a secondary school in Nigeria who are still in the dark regarding their leadership and potentials, waiting for answers.