Lack of quality education, eroding societal value systems and absence of access to capacity building opportunities are some of the challenges bedevilling youth development in Nigeria. On a mission to address these challenges, using The Bridge Leadership Foundation (TBLF) platform, LIYEL IMOKE, former governor of Cross River State in this interview with KELECHI EWUZIE, shares insight on how the foundation has leveraged Career Day programmes in the last 10 years to raise a community of inspired, equipped and influential young leaders in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpt:
What is the biggest challenge facing youth leadership in Nigeria and to what extent can you say the TBLF has contributed in solving them? don’t believe we can identify a single biggest challenge facing youth leadership. There are several, ranging from quality of education to societal value systems and even access to capacity building opportunities.
I have never believed that there are successful lawyers or doctors or governors or presidents. I think there are successful people. Lawyer, governor, president or minister, those are just titles. You don’t need a title to lead.
What we do at the Bridge Foundation, especially at Career Day, is groom successful people. You have successful people and thought leaders talking to young people about character building, talking to them about personal growth, talking to them about integrity.
What is important for us at the Bridge Foundation is to breed successful people who by the time they get a title are leaders already. Many people that are leading today do not have a title but they are leaders in their schools, they are leaders in their homes, they are leaders in their communities.
To my mind, the only way to address the challenges Nigeria and the Continent are confronted with, is to groom successful people from a very young age. The earlier our young people are exposed to leadership and entrepreneurial training, the higher the probability of successful outcomes.
How does TBLF structure its career day programmes to ensure it can mobilise both the private, public sectors in the fight against perennial poor leadership across all levels?
The Career Day addresses the core essence of human life, speaking to the need for everyone to find a system that puts them ahead in whatever endeavour of life they find themselves. It also plays a critical role of helping shape the mindset, values, can-do attitude and nationalistic contribution required of every aspiring leader. This is something that resonates with any sector public, private and others.
When it comes to grooming quality leaders, Nigerians increasingly list corruption, godfatherism as obstacles. How can these pressures be resolved?
When it comes to grooming quality leaders in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, it’s important for the people that are being groomed to understand their WHY. The reason why they want to go into leadership or become leaders.
The reason why they want to lead their communities because if you understand your why you will not be disrupted by corruption and godfatherism.
Partnership with private sector is very critical to achieve the vision of TBLF. How do you see the role of well-meaning individuals in the quest to enthrone qualified and capable leadership at the Federal and Subnational levels in Nigeria?
The Foundation has and is partnering with private sector players who share our vision of grooming the next generation of leaders. Qualified and capable leadership anywhere in the world, can only be enthroned when we share and work together to achieve a common vision.
What inspired you to start TBLF?
I had the privilege of getting into politics at a relatively young age with a commitment to serve, because of my background. This afforded me the opportunity of meeting with many young people, particularly in rural communities, most of them full of energy and hope.
Most of them wanted jobs while some wanted to be politicians. The majority of them had attended some educational institution, but clearly had no leadership or entrepreneurial skills.
If Nigeria and indeed Africa is ever to become globally competitive, we must deliberately groom a generation of young leaders with the right skill sets. The vision is to raise a community of inspired, equipped and influential young leaders who lead themselves and others.
We are building generations of young people educated to become compassionate, entrepreneurial and engaged citizens who are empowered to take responsibility for leading their own lives and making a difference in the world.
Can you tell us about the TBLF programmes in Nigeria and the works it has done in the last 10 years?
At the Foundation, our programmes include Leadership and Community Development (LCD) Programme, Teacher Support Programme (TSP), Transformational Mentoring Programme (TMP), Pacesetters Mentoring Programme (PMP), and Grooming Enterprise Leaders (GEL) which focuses on Employability, Entrepreneurship and Social Change.
Also, we hold 2 major events every year: The Career Day and The Bridge Awards. Cumulatively, we have impacted over 53,510 persons through these programmes directly.
161 students received scholarships, 110 students were mentored and 898 public secondary school teachers trained. 704 youths have been trained on work readiness skills, 4,950 students equipped with leadership skills and 38,630 youths inspired to lead successful personal, career and leadership outcomes. Over 213 communities have been reached.
Over 57 student-led change projects have so far been initiated by students to the benefit of other students, their schools and communities. Over 451 volunteers and mentors have supported our projects.
For you to come this far, you must have had some ups and downs in the journey. Was there any point in time when you felt like quitting? Any regrets being where you find yourself?
When we started The Bridge Leadership Foundation, I did have a great vision for it. But as you know, with any great vision comes great obstacles, but obstacles are just part of the journey.
They say every Crown has a cross and when you understand that obstacles are part of the journey, you find opportunities in the obstacles.
Wayne Dyer said “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. When you look at an obstacle and examine it as an opportunity, you always have the energy to push through the obstacle.
One would have thought that Covid-19 was an obstacle that would have stopped us from having the Career Day this year, but we chose to see the opportunity rather than the obstacle. We opted to have a fully virtual Career Day event and by so doing, reached audiences beyond Nigeria. We not only had viewership form all over the world, we all had our largest attendance to date.
We also had viewership from a much wider age bracket than is usually the case at our physical event. Our online streaming data showed over five percent of our audience as being between the ages of 60 and 65. Our data shows that as a Foundation, we reached further than we previously had and that is because we looked at an obstacle which was Covid-19, which kept us home, and we thought how can we turn this into an opportunity.
The Nigerian economy has been greatly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Is this in any way impacting operations of the Foundation and what measures have been put in place to overcome these?
The pandemic has certainly impacted on the Foundation just as it is impacting every aspect of the global economy. For example, all the programs we implement in schools have been affected momentarily because schools are temporary on lock down. Because of the social distancing and physical distancing measures, some of our on-field training has been put on hold by our partners and so on, but, it has also presented an opportunity to redesign, rethink, retool, and consider how to offer more value with less logistical concern.
As I mentioned earlier, our last Career Day was held virtually for the first time since 2011 and we still reached more people, offered same value (if not more) with less resources. We were up for the challenge and we are more than prepared.
Increasingly, technology is narrowing the space for professional practices across all sectors with its disruptive impact. How true is this? How prepared are foundations like TBLF for this new normal going forward?
TBLF has adjusted and is repositioning its programs and activities, taking full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, for instance, The Career Day. We were up for the challenge and we are more than prepared. It is really about our adaptability.
It is really about our adaptability. Adaptability is a leadership quality. Just like there’s intelligence quotient, there’s also emotional intelligence an there’s adaptability intelligence. Leaders need to be able to adapt. Yes, we are ready for the new normal.
From your perspective as a former governor of Cross River State, what critical steps would you recommend to make Nigeria better?
We now live in a global village. It’s no longer just about Nigeria because what’s happening in America affects what’s happening in Nigeria and what’s happening in South Africa affects what’s happening in Nigeria. So, it’s a time for us to groom the next generation because tomorrow belongs to the next generation. We groom them by exposing them to thought leaders, exposing them to world leaders, so that they think better, they dream bigger.
The good thing about thinking is that once you start thinking, you think bigger. If you don’t think at all you will remain where you are. I recommend we expose the young generation to the rest of the world because the rest of the world is now a global village.
What are your projections for TBLF in the next decade?
It is our plan that with the right programs, initiatives, partnerships and collaborations, we would have directly impacted over 500,000 youths by 2030 and in so doing, positively impacted Nigeria and Africa.