• Tuesday, December 05, 2023
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“ I wanted to bring marginalized voices to the table” Wale Ajiboye, Change.org Country Director

“ I wanted to bring marginalized voices to the table” Wale Ajiboye, Change.org Country Director

Wale Ajiboye is a social entrepreneur with over 17 years of experience in organizational design, not-for-profit management, enterprise development, impact investment, and innovation. Wale is currently with Change.org, where he sits as the Country Director for Nigeria. Prior to that, he worked with Acumen, where he headed the leadership program across West Africa.
He is passionate about entrepreneurship and has immersed himself in helping entrepreneurs discover their creative genius, innovate and think globally. A creative facilitator, skilled in guiding learners through targeted engagement and breakthrough learning opportunities, Wale is a certified trainer and consultant with several development organizations. These include the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Oxfam Nigeria, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). In addition, he is a faculty member at the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University where he provides expert advice to growing businesses.
He has worked on a number of seminal enterprise development projects such as The World Bank’s Women X, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Scholarship, Chivas Regal’s The Venture Fund, and HP’s LIFE project in Nigeria. His contribution to the latter helped his organization receive the Global Citizen Award 2013 in New York, USA.
As a Global Fellow with Acumen, he worked with D Light on its solar initiatives in Nigeria, where he demonstrated his commitment to helping to democratize energy access and create an equitable world. He also serves on the Management Board of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Nigeria (GEN Nigeria).

In this interview, with editor Lehle Balde, he talks about what it takes to create impact, justice, Nigeria, and everything else in between.

1. You went from being a director at Acumen to country director of Change.org, what was that transition like for you?

The transition was natural for me because Change.org is about voices. By voices, I mean ordinary individuals empowered through our platform to create the change they want to see in the world. At Acumen, I spent 3 years building a new generation of role models, who are changing the way the world tackles issues of injustice and poverty. As an Acumen global fellow, I spent a significant time learning new ways to reimagine our world under the leadership of Jacqueline Novogratz – the founder of Acumen. When I started thinking of the transition to another role, Change.org felt like the right place. It was mission aligned and the culture was a match. I wanted to bring marginalized voices to the table, and Change.org is committed to creating space for ordinary people to address issues that affect them and their communities.

We’re excited about the growing number of petitions on Change.org Nigeria, and the impact to date across a range of issue areas – and we are just getting started.

2. Why is it important for an organization like Change.org to have a presence In Nigeria?

Nigeria’s population is 17% of the total size of Africa and it has over 83M living in poverty, which represents the highest number of marginalized people globally. Despite this, the country has remained relevant to the world. Our start-ups, music, arts, and our strong digital movement have brought the world’s attention to the country. The ENDSars movement reminded the world that our youth can create the impact they wish to see.

Today, I see many individuals on our platform advocating for their rights and winning – I have seen communities in Surulere signing petitions asking the DISCOs to restore power to their homes, and I have seen young voices like Janet, invited to speak with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to share her petition about the safety of young children. Ordinary people are driving extraordinary change with their petitions.

Read also: IWD: Google announces $1m fund to support women entrepreneurs

3. What change do you hope to achieve here in Nigeria and what are your priorities as the country director?

Our vision is a world where no one is powerless, and creating change is part of everyday life.

As the Country Director, my role is to develop the strategy, build a team of incredible individuals to lend campaigning expertise to petition starters, build strong partnerships to amplify our work and create access for Nigerians to leverage the Change.org platform to drive digital advocacy. Through this, we are demonstrating that anyone, anywhere, can create the change they want to see.

We are also growing the team locally, in December, Bukola joined the organization to provide campaign support in Nigeria – she is an award-winning journalist from CNN

Bukola will lead our team of campaigners to drive campaigning efforts and will work on our programmatic activities such as She Creates Change and We Create Change.

4. Technology has democratized the art of campaigning and made it accessible for all. What would you say has been the result in Nigeria?

The Internet has made it easier than ever before to raise awareness and mobilize support for a cause and we are seeing the impact. I joined in August and 6 months after we have achieved incredible feats – we have over 2,000 petitions, almost 800,000 signatures, achieved 9 significant victories and amplified our petition starters in over 40 media platforms including Businessday, Punch, Arise TV, Channels, SkyNews. In addition, we are building a strong team to support our petition starters.

5. You campaigned to release a Female Soldier held in Jail over a marriage proposal In Nigeria. Can you tell us about this?

Let me say a big thank you to the petition starter and our signers. They brought Sofiat home. To think despite the progress we have made in gender equity we will see such a thing is sad. Sofiat accepted a proposal from her love and she was punished for accepting a marriage proposal in Army Uniform. Let me first say, I have huge respect for the military – they are our first line of defense – I went to Command Day Secondary Ikeja Cantonment, where I learnt the value of rules and regulations. However, rules should have a human face, Sofiat could have been called for a discussion to understand the context of the trending story rather she was criticized and dignity almost stripped off her. The signatures of ordinary Nigerians brought the attention of the country and as well as the Chief of Army Staff. We are glad the military respected the people’s wishes and released her.

6. What has been your experience dealing with authorities and decision-makers in Nigeria?

They can hear us – we just need to speak up. We haven’t seen them speak publicly about us and the petitions but they reach out in private to our petition starters. This is a good start. They are engaging and we hope to see them respond openly.

Decision makers at the highest levels of government and business are engaging with their constituents and consumers through Change.org around the world. We look forward to an increasing number of Nigerian decision makers using our platform to connect with their communities and working towards solutions.

7. Can you speak to some of the campaigns that you have worked on since starting as the country director?

We are currently supporting a petition starter who started the to #ReformIELTSpolicy campaign, seeking a more equitable testing process for English speaking countries in Africa. Students and families are paying over $250 for an exam that expires every two years – do people forget how to speak in English in two years? It’s a double jeopardy for us – many Africans are losing their local dialect because we speak English and we are still being asked to pay for what we speak as our first language. It is unfair and we have to stop this! We are also supporting campaigns around climate change such as the Soot situation in Port Harcourt – we hope Burna Boy will join the campaign as he has been very vocal on the issue. Ecotopia and Alhanislam have formed a coalition to elevate campaigns that highlight environmental issues and their effect on Nigerian communities.

8. What does justice mean to you?

Justice is when anyone anywhere irrespective of creed, religion, gender, colour and status can get fair treatment on any issue. It implies a world where there is equity and access for all. It is evident when we see bullies punished, governments held accountable, women given more corporate and political roles, and where no voice is silenced.

9. Leading up to the elections in 2023 what do you expect to be focusing on?

We are nonpartisan, so we have no political affiliation. However, our role is to provide a platform for ordinary Nigerians to drive issues they care about. Many of these issues will converge on the manifesto of political leaders, and the hope is that people will use these tools to start many conversations. Our platform is a great resource for those seeking election/re-election to get a sense of what their constituents want and how to best serve them. For citizens, this is a critical time to elevate their concerns – we recently declared a victory for the petition, asking for President Buhari’s signature to the electoral act amendment bill.

The platform offers a great opportunity for Nigerians to change the course of our elections.

10. What is the media’s role in amplifying your campaigns?

The media is perhaps one of our biggest allies – they understand our reason for these petitions, and they know they are partly responsible for building the social consciousness of the people. With their platform, we have seen our campaigns amplified, but we need more support. They need to do more for our petition starters by calling on decision-makers to respond to these petitions on our platform as it provides an opportunity to engage with the people.

Secondly, Change.org is a source for the media to understand the issues resonating with the Nigerian public and they will find many inspirational stories of courage.

11. How can the everyday Nigerian get involved?

More than 480 million people are taking action daily by starting or signing a petition on our platform in 196 countries. With this, we have seen over 80,000 victories which Time magazine called a “spectacular demonstration of the way ordinary folks can now mobilize extraordinary support for their causes.”.
Nigerians are part of these campaigns and these victories which brings hope that we can use digital advocacy to work towards a better Nigeria. People can easily connect with us and collaborate to bring new possibilities to our country.

12. What is your message to Nigerians for 2022?

We are a strong nation and blessed with genius minds across this country. A lot of innovations and creativity are around us – we are seeing bright spots. They may be tiny sparks but they are lighting a path for others to follow. Change.org is the world’s largest nonprofit-owned tech platform for social change, and we are committed to becoming the platform for every Nigerian to speak truth to power and drive daily issues they care about. We are building a movement that can make a difference.