At a time Nigerians are “Japaing” to different countries in search of greener pastures, Ure Utah, founder, Bridge Synergy a strategy, government relations, and communication firm left her cozy home and office in New York, United States of America (USA), to pursue her passion in Nigeria. In this interview with John Osadolor in Abuja, she speaks of her plans, work, and projects in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Talk us through what you do at Bridge Synergy.
I’ve always asked myself: How can I catalyze change in Nigeria? Guided by the inspired proverb, “No matter how far a stream flows, it can never forget its source,” I have been actively involved in building and forging strategic partnerships, integrating media solutions, and cultivating relationships with key political leaders and institutions. And what they have in common is that all these entities are dedicated to progressing the United Nations’ SDGs in Nigeria.
The journey may be long, but the destination is worth it. At Bridge Synergy, my constant goal is to elevate Nigeria’s profile on the international stage. Step by step, I’m expanding an ecosystem where creativity isn’t just encouraged—it’s celebrated, where collaboration unites us, and sustainable development isn’t an aspiration but our guiding principle.
As Africa’s youngest and most populous nation, Nigeria’s immense potential is evident in its vast resources and dynamic human capital. Our prospects for growth are undeniable, especially in alignment with the UN SDG framework. Leveraging my background with institutions like JP Morgan, Google, and YouTube, I’ve successfully led partnerships with key global organizations like the UN, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Eventually, these collaborations facilitated impactful change and informed exchange worldwide, equipping me with valuable insights into international diplomacy and multi-stakeholder engagement.
Today, sustained by these dynamics, I focus on building strategic alliances to drive Nigeria’s progress, with a core mission of advancing the UN’s 17 SDGs.
You have worked with ECOWAS, UNDP, IOM, and the Gates Foundation, among others, share your experience with us.
On a professional and personal level, my affiliations with various prestigious organizations have provided me with deep insights and been extremely rewarding. As a Board Member and Executive Director of Client Relations at Prudential Guards Limited, one of the oldest and most established security firms in Nigeria that was founded by my father, I’ve cultivated a vast network across governments, embassies, and international bodies.
Aware of these privileges, this inheritance is not one I take casually; it carries the weight of responsibility and a commitment to manage these relationships to make significant contributions.
Building upon this foundation through Bridge Synergy, I’ve fortified relationships focusing on social impact, encompassing strategic planning, project management, and community engagement. We deepen these connections, fostering transformative partnerships for societal progress. A good example of this is expanding the current footprint Prudential Guards has with IOM with over 400 dedicated security personnel across the country. After speaking with IOM’s Chief of Mission, Laurent de Boeck, on various projects ranging from environmental sustainability to youth empowerment, we discovered ways I can support their mission with these projects as well.
For my partnership with the Gates Foundation, I have the responsibility of overseeing an earned media strategy, I have been tasked with enhancing the visibility of two notable occurrences this year: the Goalkeepers event during the UN General Assembly in NYC and the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Dakar. By using a systematic approach to strategizing and implementing their initiatives, my goal is to enhance the visibility and reputation of these occasions, thereby advancing the Foundation’s commendable endeavors in critical domains such as healthcare, education, and the mitigation of poverty. Rich in its depth and diversity, this legacy is something I respect deeply.
Every event, whether about management or media strategy, solidifies my commitment to transformative organizations and offers a platform to channel my expertise toward meaningful change. My mission goes beyond meeting objectives; I strive to surpass them, thus contributing to a broader, impactful mission.
Do you only focus on international operations?
Not at all. Though Bridge Synergy is a relatively recent venture, my background includes significant stints at tech giants like Google and YouTube. My move from New York, where I resided, to this location is a testament to my commitment. Building genuine relationships and understanding the local dynamics are crucial to crafting effective consulting strategies and forging partnerships aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
My close association with the UN has enriched my understanding of various frameworks successful in emerging markets, particularly in countries like Nigeria. This expertise motivates my aspiration to collaborate with local agencies and government officials passionate about such developmental projects. I recently had the privilege of interacting with a member of the House of Representatives who is deeply involved in sustainable development, owning a recycling enterprise and championing SDGs for his community. Collaborating with individuals like him offers the opportunity to align global frameworks with local needs, ensuring the success of these projects.
Engaging with these institutions is a learning process. It demands respect for their established protocols, especially when interacting with states’ leaders, top-tier CEOs, and organization heads. I’ve observed that many of the newer Nigerian politicians are relatively younger, in their 40s, and they bring a fresh perspective, favoring innovation over traditional methods. Given that 70% of Nigerians are under the age of 30, this forward-thinking approach is in line with the nation’s demographics and changing sensibilities.
I’ve been fortunate in this endeavor, largely due to my father’s association with Prudential Guards. This connection provides a valuable inroad with several government officials and local organizations. It allows me to leverage existing relationships and further solidify them. Prudential Guards boasts a workforce of over 12,000 security personnel spread across Nigeria, and with collaborations like the one with IOM, it’s evident that we have a significant presence nationally. Many of our existing clients share a congruent vision and mission, which facilitates a synergy in our endeavors.
How long have you been in Nigeria?
I first arrived in Nigeria in April and spent two months, dividing my time between Lagos and Abuja to decide on a preferred location. I briefly returned to New York in May to wrap things up at my apartment and formally relocated to Nigeria in June. While I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future, I will be heading back for the UN General Assembly due to my association with the Gates Foundation and their involvement in the Goalkeeper’s events. This trip will also afford me the chance to connect in-person with partners at the UN, the US government, and the US Chamber of Commerce. A strong suit of mine is establishing valuable connections and ensuring mutual benefits for both parties involved. Many of my stakeholders in the US are keen on opportunities in Nigeria, and my enterprise, ‘Bridge Synergy,’ aptly symbolizes bridging these potential gaps. Given the prevalent concerns about corruption and authenticity in Nigeria, stakeholders trust my judgment in presenting them with legitimate projects or partnerships.
USAID, the World Bank, and UNDP are significant entities that invest in Nigeria, especially in initiatives revolving around the SDGs. Engaging with them ensures that we identify the right partners and projects, be it with politicians or NGOs. Once a project is in motion, it’s essential to craft a compelling communication strategy, highlighting its positive impact. In recent years, narratives about Nigeria have often skewed negatively, so it’s imperative to spotlight the many positive initiatives underway. Stories of empowerment, education, healthcare, and entrepreneurship exemplify the many individuals working diligently to uplift Nigeria.
How challenging has it been to represent Nigeria on the international stage?
Navigating the task of positioning Nigeria internationally has been an intriguing journey. One significant hurdle has been clarifying the nature of my work. While in Western contexts, roles in strategy, lobbying, and communications – akin to what I did at Google – are more recognized, the local landscape in Nigeria leans towards tangible outcomes with direct monetary values.
Crafting not only Nigeria’s story but also my personal narrative has been crucial. Identifying the right collaborators who share my vision and passion for advancing the SDGs has been a task. Nigeria, with its fast-paced dynamics, offers numerous opportunities; however, aligning with individuals genuinely committed to sustainable development has required discernment, especially considering the ubiquity of such partners in Western contexts.
The recent administrative changes added another layer of complexity. There was a period of uncertainty regarding the nation’s leadership and its agendas. However, with clarity emerging on various ministries and their focal projects, integrating the SDG framework into their initiatives is becoming more feasible.
My primary strategy has been liaising with established institutions like ECOWAS and IOM, which already have foundational work on these objectives. As the political landscape gets clearer, the next steps involve drafting proposals, fostering partnerships, and seeking support from global entities like the UN and the World Bank to boost Nigerian projects.
The process hasn’t been instantaneous. It’s involved extensive dialogues, presentations, and engagements. But I must acknowledge that having the foundation set by my father here has been a boon. It’s provided a significant advantage in navigating the intricacies of Nigeria’s professional landscape. A recent interaction with the NIDCOM secretary highlighted the challenges many Nigerians face, especially those returning from abroad, in integrating and networking here. In Nigeria, personal connections play an indispensable role in facilitating meaningful introductions and collaborations, rather than mere online searches.
So, in essence, it’s been about leveraging these connections to identify the right stakeholders who resonate with my vision and are keen to join forces for mutual progress.