According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated one in three of women globally, have experienced physical or sexual violence in their life time.  As at 2015, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimated maternal mortality ratio to be 814 deaths per 100, 000 live births in Nigeria. These, among many facts usually served as news headlines to me and nothing more. I never saw how facts that mirror Africa’s problems could be massive opportunities to create, until I stumbled on the Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship 2019! Tighten your seat belts as I take you through my journey from the point of stumbling, to meeting many of the greatest minds from across Nigeria and facilitators from across the globe.

It was a warm afternoon when boredom chased my hands to swipe through WhatsApp statuses of my contacts; one of which was about an application to the Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship. Immediately, I opened the link and was happy to see that only a Curriculum Vitae was being requested for. To my utmost surprise, I received a response in less than forty-eight hours, this time with a one-week deadline to complete six essays. At this point, it was either this stress I was about to go through was worth it, or it was my last bus stop! Consequently, I researched on the past year, read up on the fellows and their achievements and I was flabbergasted. I could not believe that such great fully-funded opportunities were available in Nigeria. Indubitably, I decided to give it my best shot – well, the decision came into fruition twenty-four hours to the deadline when I opened my laptop to construct my essays. Pressure sang a beautiful melody into my ears (as a deadline lover that I am) and I successfully built captivating words around the essay topics given. Finally, I received some good news of being among the top sixty applicants selected. Just when I thought it was over, I was asked to upload a 2-minute public video. “Kill me already”, I screamed to myself. I am no social media lover, but I strove to put that video out as I could not bear the thought of throwing my efforts of writing those essays in the bin and missing out a fabulous opportunity. Since I had started the journey, it was best I finished. Of a truth, there is no free lunch. I have learnt that any individual or organization that expends resources on others, want to ensure that no resource goes down the drain but are rather placed in committed and passionate hands. Hence, I have chosen not to be discouraged when applications seem overwhelming. Rather, I head on and prove my worth.

I am obliged to posit that the Young Innovation Leaders fellowship boot camp was not the banal kind where I could get lost in the crowd. Of all the forty-three participants selected, all were known by Dr Obichi Obiajunwa – the brain behind this phenomenal fellowship – after scaling through the rigorous 3-stage application process. Prior to the bootcamp, all participants were immersed in courses on innovation management and had to ace the tests that were set on them, otherwise, participants would go no further in the program. I vividly remember how my fingers shook vigorously as I typed the last few sentences close to the submission deadline of a 3-hour test. More importantly however, is the invaluable knowledge I gained in a fortnight which in 4 years of tertiary education, I had never been exposed to. I grew to love design thinking and I learned concepts such as blue ocean strategy and the business model canvas. Those courses have pushed me to be nothing less than innovative! We were also divided into different teams to tackle problems prevalent in Africa prior to the boot camp. The long-awaited boot camp was underway and having read the beautiful and overwhelming achievements and strides of other participants, I was humbled! All I wanted to come to the boot camp to do was to admire and network with everyone; so much awesomeness to take in.

Finally, we all arrived the boot camp location which was in one of the choicest hotels in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. Coming from a 3-hour journey under the hot tropical sun, the chilled air that greeted me when my room was shown to me, blessed my being! I was happy to call that place home in subsequent days that followed, more so with a beautiful and poised South African roommate. I called there a home not because of the physical structure of the hotel, but because of the warmth of friendliness that graced the meet-and-greet session we had by the pool side and seemed eternally present. We were all super glad to finally meet one another after several online conversations. All the facilitators were introduced and as sessions in the bootcamp came about, mentors were revealed. I had never dreamt of meeting great minds so soon. Great personalities like Stephanie Linus; an award-winning actress, Mr Michael Nwoseh; Head of Youth segment, Retail Banking Division at First City Monument Bank Limited, Mr Adonri Osareti; United Nations Population Fund Assistant Country Director among others, graced the first day of the bootcamp. It was so inspiring seeing how these individuals are driving change in their personal spaces. I bubbled with so much interest in every session handled by the main facilitator, Mr Eyal Halamish, as his voice reverberated wisdom and knowledge across the room and into our minds. His pragmatic pedagogical methods appealed to everyone as he took us through the theoretical foundations necessary to attain success in our capstone projects. Participants presented so confidently on fascinating innovation concepts and it was very insightful. I strongly believe that in a few years, maybe even months, several of us would be pitching continental solutions to governments, displacing stereotypes and birthing transformations all over the globe. Watch out!

As the end of the boot camp drew near, no farewell speeches were directed at us, save an arsenal of instructions that would be useful in subsequent months; which would be dedicated to building viable solutions to the capstone projects. We all nurture the hope that in a few months, we would re-converge with solutions that would eternally change the face of Africa into one several have always dreamt of. Today, we have a dream and the Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship has provided an invaluable opportunity to walk into its reality. The journey continues, and this bootcamp was only the take-off.

Without hesitations, I pour out immense gratitude to Dr Obichi Obiajunwa and the entire Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship team, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for supporting this amazing initiative and bringing it to fruition. The Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship is an intensive four-month program that effectively trains young professionals in innovation management in a very pragmatic style. My best advice to you my friend, is that you embrace this opportunity; an opportunity whose impact has no end.

By Elizabeth Odiaka