In 2022, Ikenna Nwafor was awarded as a winner of the Rise Global Challenge—a program that finds promising young people and provides them with opportunities that allow them to work to serve others over their lifetimes.
Recently, Nwafor attended the 2023 Rise Residential Summit in England – which provides an opportunity to learn and network with some of the most innovative minds across diverse industries.
The summit featured a series of presentations by various winners, workshops, games, and dinners as well as lectures by industry leaders on interesting topics such as artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship, climate, and sustainability.
In recounting his experiences for BusinessDay, Nwafor describes the insightful conversations and connections that will contribute to his ongoing work to improve Nigeria for all.
“Across London and Oxford, the 2023 Rise Residential Summit greatly expanded my worldview, and gave me an added sense of purpose,” he said.
“It was not a typical networking event – it was a gathering of promising young minds, a hub of innovative ideas, and a platform that brought together service-driven individuals from various industries in different parts of the world.”
Fostering connections beyond networking
The summit offered the 100 Rise global winners opportunities to make and foster connections across different industries and backgrounds.
Nwafor describes meeting his fellow winners in person for the first time as an awesome experience. “I connected with a diverse group of young people who have worked in a vast array of sectors, including renewable energy, health, cyber security, law, motivational speaking, and more.”
“I have been able to establish a global support network that I can rely on for advice when faced with challenges related to my cyber security project, my NGO, or even my new start-up ideas.”
Nwafor continues, “I had the pleasure of meeting some passionate and enthusiastic leaders – John Shiels, the CEO of Manchester United Foundation, and Matt Clifford, the co-founder of Entrepreneurship First, a company overseeing around a hundred start-ups collectively valued at $10 billion.”
“Engaging with these impressive people gave me insights about their real-life experiences, the dos and don’ts of investing, the art of the start-up pitch, how to navigate my career, and tips on becoming a leader.”
The insightful sessions
Nwafor describes the session ‘How to Be a Founder,’ led by Matthew Clifford as an incredibly enlightening session that shared insights into the realities associated with founders.
“As someone who aspires to be a founder of both a non-profit and a profitable organisation with social impact, the discussion held particular significance,” said Nwafor.
“Additionally, there were VR (virtual reality) and XR (extended reality) sessions, where I had my first VR experience! This exposure urged my teammates to brainstorm ways to integrate VR into our project.
“We decided on a concept technology that could assist elderly and sick people who are immobile. Other potential applications include utilising VR to help these patrons digitally connect with people from around the globe without leaving the comfort of their rooms.”
He added there were other discussions on climate change and ocean conservation of interest. “A speaker from Sydney, Australia shared insights into caring for the oceans, which resonated with me due to my proximity to the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos.”
According to him, as an individual who comes from a place where people don’t care much about the ocean beyond fishing and relaxation, the summit helped broaden his knowledge of the importance of ocean conservation.
Igniting change through lightning talks
During the summit, the young social entrepreneur presented a lightning talk—a short presentation on ‘Creating the Next Generation of Global Leaders.’
He stated that the talk was deeply personal, reflecting his journey shaped by community and personal experiences—as well as his society, struggles, and the love and care he received from family.
“I spoke of my inspiration to give back to the community, leading to the creation of ‘Boundless Horizons’, an NGO I co-founded focused on providing quality education to underprivileged children and fostering the next generation of leaders.”
According to him, Boundless Horizons offers workshops on computer literacy, public speaking, AI programming, and graphic design to equip students with essential 21st-century skills to break the cycle of poverty by empowering young people through education and encouraging them to pursue their aspirations.
“The efforts have already reached around 300 kids in Lagos,” he said. “But the goal is to expand the impact further and reach 100,000 youths in Lagos and Africa within 10 years. I’m driven by one of my favourite sayings – If your goals don’t scare you, perhaps they are not big enough. All of these will be achievable through consistency and unwavering commitment.”
Charting the future: Rise African Union (RAU) and beyond
The young leader also described his experience with the Rise African Union—an organisation that consists of every Rise Global Winner from Africa—for which he holds a leadership role.
He stated that he and other African Rise fellows had the opportunity to organise and sponsor Union Days, where they engaged in activities and discussions to strengthen their bonds.
“We all actively participated in educational and cultural experiences, like museum visits and dinners with facilitators,” he said.
“As one of the leaders of the RAU, I am proud to say the engagement rates significantly increased after the first meeting. While normally having around five participants, the meeting brought together about 15 people.”
For the incoming RAU members, he and other leaders from the Union are planning to host a webinar to guide Rise applicants, finalists, and Winners through the process of applying to top universities around the world.
“The goal is to provide valuable insights and advice for those who aspire to gain admission to prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge,” he said.
“In addition to the webinar, we’re planning to organise more sessions and panel discussions that would benefit Rise Winners, finalists, and applicants.”
Future sessions are set to feature influential individuals and change-makers who can share experiences, insights, and advice to inspire and educate members of the RAU community who are committed to pushing forward and making a global impact.
“Overall, the 2023 Rise Residential Summit paved connections, inspiration, and actionable insights for me. It strengthened my resolve to make a greater impact through the various projects I’m working on.
“With the guidance of my new mentors and a global network of peers, I’m confident that my aspirations are supported by a community that truly believes in investing in those rising to solve the world’s most pressing issues,” said Nwafor.