True to our desire to understand the ways young people can prepare themselves to seize global opportunities especially within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mosaic of Opportunities team had an engaging conversation with our guest, Hammed Kayode Alabi.
Hammed is a Social Entrepreneur, SDGs Youth Champion and Educator with 12 years of experience in active citizenship and volunteering. He is currently the Fellow-in-Residence and Regional Manager for Peace First, a global non-profit in the United States. He is the founder of Kayode Alabi Leadership and Career Initiative, a youth-led NGO that ensures secondary school students in underserved communities develop life skills needed for the workforce and future of works through Education for sustainable development (ESD), mentorship and advocacy. The initiative had engaged over 60 volunteers and reached over 2500 underserved students through several Education for Sustainable Development, Leadership, Career, and Global Citizenship Seminars.
Below is a transcript of the conversation.
Dickson: Hello and welcome to our first discussion session. My name is Dickson Agbaji and alongside me is my colleague, Ridwan Olasupo. Today, we are joined by Hammed Alabi, a young Nigerian writer and social entrepreneur to talk us through the topic of the day. You are welcome Hammed. So, can you tell us a bit about what you do at Peace First and your organization, Kayode Alabi Leadership and Career Initiative?
Hammed: Thank you for inviting me to this discussion session. I am a social entrepreneur and I’m passionate about youths and development especially in the sphere of education for young people living in rural and underserved communities. I believe that children and youths in rural communities are the solutions to our problems, especially when they receive the right training to be creative and grow to meet their full potentials. What we do at Peace First is to support young people to initiate social innovative projects, provide mentorship support, connect them to resources and fund their projects with cash up to $250. We empower them with the skills to change their families, transform their communities and to compete with their peers in the job market or even better, to create jobs through their sustainable projects.
Dickson: It is quite interesting to hear about your work to inspire others to hone their talents and create and lead innovative projects to drive social change. This leads me to my next question: To access existing global opportunities, what should young people do?
Hammed: Youths must realise that their competition for opportunities isn’t always local but global. The first thing to do is to understand the context within which an opportunity exists. So, they must know about the opportunity – its purposes, requirements, and scope to determine whether it is regional or global. But they must do a few things which would set them apart from their competition. The first is to build cultural competencies, i.e., show that they can work with people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and religious and sexual orientations, among others.
The second is to show their resourcefulness and willingness. Today, in the development space people thrive on donor funds and development aids. But at times, these funds may not be forthcoming. This calls to mind the question of project sustainability. So, by describing a real situation when they generated resources from within their local communities to push their projects, young leaders add to their credibility and are better suited to secure funds from organizations.
Thirdly, they must continue developing and demonstrate their skills by learning the global best practices in the areas they specialize in whether in climate change, education, research, conflict management or human rights, among others. Lastly, they must pursue ways to gain recognition for their work by attending conferences and social innovation events where they can share their ideas. This helps them build their networks for future engagements.
Ridwan: You mentioned an issue we find interesting – the area of personal development. So, since nothing good ever comes easy, what kind of sacrifices should young people prepare themselves to undertake when preparing themselves for global opportunities?
Hammed: The best thing young people can do for themselves is to prepare for opportunities even before they are ready. They just have to start from where they are with the resources they have because no one is ever truly ready; we only keep pushing ourselves with an open mind to unforeseen changes and continue honing our skills as we move along. I say this because time is of the essence; timelines exist for different opportunities. There are some opportunities restricted to people above 25, 30, and even 35 years old. So, it’s not just about the opportunities but young people must determine the course they want to advance within their communities. This course must identify a problem and work to solve it in any small measure it can. After initiating this, they must pursue ways to develop themselves and their organization by applying for grants, fellowships, and all. Rejections from those applications should not be considered as a sign that they are not good enough. However, they must learn what works for others, fit the lessons into their context and consider ways to improve their application materials.
Ridwan: Okay, that’s a great one. On the premise of volunteering, how do you think helps young people advance their career prospects?
Hammed: Volunteering is very prestigious now. You find people embark on ongoing projects as volunteers to gain some sort of experience they need to ace opportunities in the future. It creates job opportunities for people and helps them create networks for future engagements. But the problem I see now is that many people volunteer not because they are passionate about it but because they just want to be seen doing something or to update their social media status. Young people must understand that volunteering involves identifying a problem, searching for an organisation that works within that space and then work with them to solve the identified problem. So, you do not need to establish an organisation before you can tackle a social problem, you can start small by volunteering for a group. This creates credibility for you as a young person that you have worked within that space and that you have passion for that area. I would like to say this here, “you volunteer with the heart, not with the eyes.” Once young people understand this, it makes assessing opportunities easier because the earned credibility does three things: it demonstrates passion, experience and an ability to demonstrate your work to solve problems.
Dickson: Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone but personnel delivering essential services have been asked to work from home. Also, schools globally schools are closed and learning moved online except in places with, perhaps, limited resources to do so. So, how should young people hone their skills to be better prepared for opportunities even as the virus causes a massive disruption?
Hammed: The first thing is to take online courses. Several organizations are offering their courses for free within this period. These organizations include LinkedIn, Coursera, EdX, Udemy, Dataquest, and so on. Instead of spending so much time watching movies and on social media, it is ideal they select any course (related to what they do or a new skill they intend to develop) and complete it. This means being strategic to build necessary competencies and skills. Another thing they can do is to initiate ideas based on the competencies and skills they have. For instance, I have a friend who recently launched a fundraising initiative to provide conditional cash transfer to women in underserved communities in Makoko. Also, my team and I developed life skills resources in audio versions to help individuals learn about global citizenship and trends. Organizations within this COVID-19 period want to transition and would look for people with the experience to get things done. So, it is not just about the courses but about how individuals put what they have learned to use. Why I say this is because when young people apply for opportunities and get to the interview stage, the questions usually asked are not necessarily related to the online courses but to test their experience and capacity. Which is why some of the interview questions come in the form of hypothetical scenarios.
Ridwan: Thank you very much for appearing on our discussion session today. We hope to have you here again sometime in the future.
Hammed: Thank you for having me.