Who Runs The World: 10 Young Nigerian Women to Watch (Part 1)
To be a young woman in Nigeria today is at times exciting, exhilarating, frustrating, but always promising. For the group of 10 young women featured here, aged between 20 and 30, the word, “trailblazer” aptly embodies who they are. These young and gifted female talent are breaking barriers and paving an empowering future for the next generation. Ladies, I salute you!
At 27, Ify Aniebo is the scientist, whose goal is to make science cool for young African women. Her professional dream is to find a cure for malaria and her interest in the disease began when she suffered bouts of malaria as a child and in her early teens. To this end, she has undertaken field research on malaria in Thailandand later this year, will embark on an HIV/AID research in Swaziland.
In 2010, Aniebo was crowned Scientist of the Year and Young Person of the Year at The Future Awards, one of Nigeria’s premier awards, which recognises the contribution of young people making a difference in the country. An Exxon Mobil and Wellcome Trust Scholar, Aniebo is currently studying for an MSC in Global Health Science at Oxford University. She is the founder and editor of African Health magazine, an all-important online resource that aims to redefine the health of the average African. A firm believer in the power of education, she says it has given her the independence and freedom that cannot be attained elsewhere. “I find that knowledge is powerful. The right information is a determinant of success,” she says. It is Aniebo’s view that young African women will add tremendously to the growth of the continent in years to come. Her message to her contemporaries is to “work hard work because persistence pays off. Never give up on your dream no matter the circumstance you find yourself in.”
The Agricultural Revolutionist
Tola Sunmonu, 24, wants to put food security on Nigeria’s national agenda and her objective is to start an agricultural revolution that will result in Nigeria being able to feed its citizens and have surplus to export. She is the founder of Harambe, Nigeria, a not-for-profit organisation whose vision is to change the way Nigerian youths engage with agriculture. Asked why young people should get involved in farming? Sunmonu said: “This narrow image of the sector as just farmers is part of the problem that discourages young people from applying their other much needed skills”. Her hope is to help rebuildNigeria’s agricultural sector as one of the smartest strategies towards rebuilding the economy. “Our role is to provide the necessary information to get young people thinking about agriculture as a lucrative career”. A point one could argue some of our African leaders have failed to make. Hence, we have a generation seeking the 9-to-5 route, when the chance of entrepreneurship stares them in the face but is wrapped in a different package. One of Harambe’s core programmes to achieve this goal is the Harambe Incubator for Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (HISARD). It provides selected students with the opportunity to start local agribusinesses and currently operates at the Obafeme Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Born in Nigeria, Sunmonu is a graduate of Stanford University, California, with a degree in Economics. She was a Goldman Sachs Global Leader nominee in 2009 and an Ashoka Fellow nominee in 2010. But do not be fooled by her years, she is aware of the challenges that come with being young and a woman working in a sector that is predominantly male dominated where decision making is concerned. “Some men try to take advantage of me because they assume I’m naive. I have lost respect for a lot of men since I started this NGO. As a woman you must have your principles and not let them go for anyone. Once you do this you start developing a good reputation and men take you seriously because they know their advances will be shoved back in their faces.”
“Young Africans are quickly becoming voracious adopters of new technologies particularly across mobile and social media. Google, Apple and Microsoft have come to shape people’s lives across continents and create billion dollar companies, the hope is that Africa will witness the rise of its home grown global technology success stories in the next decade. These will help create jobs and provide opportunities for expression and empowerment for the continent’s young populace.” Jidenma can confidently say this because she is part of a generation making it happen. At 24, she is a program coordinator at Google and works on the company’s initiative aimed at increasing technology and internet usage in universities acrossAfrica. She is also the founder of Celebrating Progress Africa (CPA), a blog dedicated to celebrating Africa’s business and technology success stories. Jidenma was previously Africa Editor of The Next Web, an international technology news website based in the Netherlands. Recently named as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum, Jidenma holds a Masters Degree in Applied Economics and Management fromCornell University,New York. She is passionate about using technology to solve societal problems.
Yetunde Odugbesan describes herself as a “humanitarian,” who wants to promote human welfare and social reform that will empower the youth”. She was recently chosen as one of the 30 Most Intriguing Africans in New York, by Applause Africa Magazine. Odugbesan, 24, is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Jersey, with a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs. She is currently pursuing her PHD in Global Affairs and her doctoral research focuses on political corruption and its effects on governmental trust and performance in local and state government. She is the founder of Yetunde Global Consulting LLC, a management consulting firm which specialises in leadership development and training, organisational management and global business strategies. A firm believe in the power of paying it forward, Odugbesan is the creator of Putting Your Best Self Forward, an online forum that provides personal and professional advice. Armed with the goal of maximising the potential of her generation, she recently founded and is the executive director of Young Woman’s Guide, an organisation that provides women empowerment and mentorship opportunities. Young Woman’s Guide aims to support women and girls through educational and personal development. “Young women all over the world need to know that there are people, both men and women who are rooting for their advancement, development and success,” she says. “My goal is to ensure that at least one woman is sponsored each year, especially young women from Nigeria.Nigeriais where I come from and I know we have the best, brightest and most innovative minds. I want to make sure that young women are exposed to the right opportunities and have the right support to live out their dream and contribute positively to the development ofNigeriaand the progression of the global community.”
Her Twitter handle reads, ‘Miss Wanana’ but don’t get carried away. This is one serious lady with a playful side. A journalist, radio presenter and producer, writer and poet, and a gender and healthcare advocate, Wana Udobong has the ability to take on a wide range of subjects and breathe life into them. Born in Nigeria, Udobong studied Journalism at University for the Creative Arts, Surrey, England, where she bagged herself a First class. She went on to work as a freelance producer for BBC World Service. After 10 years of living in England, the home bug caught up with Udobong and she relocated to Nigeriain 2009. She currently works at 92.3 Inspiration FM, Lagos, as a presenter and producer and anchors a number of programmes, including a human interest/listener participatory programme called Sharing Life’s Issues.
Udobong is a member of Alliances for Africa(a women and human rights organisation), the Nigerian Feminist Forum and has worked extensively on the issue of violence against women. It is her hope that Nigeria and Africawill get to a point where gender equality is based on vision and leadership as opposed to merely educating young girls. “I believe gender equity is one of the solutions to a sustainable economy, and the sustainability of our future communities,” She says. Udobang is the creator of the 1k4Cancer initiative, a fundraising platform with the aim of raising funds to assist impoverished cancer patients with their treatment. She is also a campaigner for the equal rights of disabled people due to the stigmatisation that still exists. Earlier this year, Udobang was chosen as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum and attended the 2012 annual meeting in Davos. She runs the literary arts and culture site, Guerrilla Basement and a content provision company called Guerrilla Basement Productions. Udobang is a busy bee to say the least!
To be completed tomorrow…
Ify Aniebo: Atunbi
Tola Sunmonu: Tola
Wana Udobong: Ty Bello
Yetunde Odugbesan: Rookie Photography
Nmachi Jidenma: Nmachi
This article was first published in the New African Woman, edition 13, as part of a Special Focus Series on Nigeria