Nicholas Alifa, 2019 YIL Fellow

Here goes the chronicle: 6 months ago, I saw a link for “Young Innovation Fellowship” application on Dr. Apeh’s official page. At first, I was reluctant to apply because I don’t like investing my energy and time into any application that is not Agrifood or business-related.

But then, earlier this year, I set out to build my capacity on innovation by taking online courses. Then it hit me! This fellowship certainly is an opportunity to learn innovation from an expert.

I clicked to open the application page and it was too easy to be true; just my personal details and to submit a CV? I would have known better…it was a bait. A few weeks later, I got a mail that I had qualified for the next stage.

I anxiously clicked on the link and boom! Six articles were starring at me, seeking my attention! Six articles? This wouldn’t have been a herculean task as I am used to writing articles, but apart from the fact that the essay topics were not the familiar ones for a fellowship application (implying that I couldn’t just edit a previous essay I had written); I was also preparing for an examination that period.

At this point, I had made up my mind to give up, so I closed the link and went back to bed. Three days later, I opened my browser, the undone business was just starring at me. I glanced through it once more and tried to pull things together to form the essay. I was favored, inspiration started flowing and in about two hours or so, I finished the six articles. I quickly gave it to a friend to take a quick look for some possible errors which he did before I submitted.

Some days later, I received an e-mail that I’ve qualified for the next stage. Next stage again? By this time my exams had started. The next stage was to do a 60-seconds video. I rallied around, talked to my friend who talked to his friend that has a camera.

The video was a rushed one. I wasn’t satisfied with it, but I submitted it that way anyways. Via YouTube, I saw other candidates’ videos and I felt inferior considering my submission; I’m a critical person.

But as God would have it, I was shortlisted eventually. Then the official journey began.

The first phase of the fellowship was series of online courses. It was at this point I began to have a shift of paradigm about innovation.

I realized that innovation is not a mystery that is beyond the reach of an ordinary man. Rather, it is a process that if you are intentional about and ready to follow the steps, there’s literally no wheel you cannot reinvent through innovation.

After the online course was the one-week boot camp. In fact, that was another jaw dropping experience on its own. I can write a complete book, talking about the boot camp experience alone.

From the awesome, talented and smart young people I met; to the breathtaking training on innovation process by Eyal…I should talk about this.

Truth is, I’ve been to different trainings and I’ve seen different styles of training, but I’ve never come across the style of facilitation Eyal used. It was so interesting that he had my undivided attention from the beginning to the end of the five-day training. He’s an expert not only in innovation but also when it comes to demystifying the concept of innovation process using simple illustrations

Every moment of the one week boot camp was mind-blowing. It was a period of complete mental reset on the subject matter of innovation.

I wouldn’t fail to mention that prior to the boot camp, we were divided into different teams to work on the capstone project. Now, that’s the unique thing about the YIL fellowship. Firstly, you do not need to know “anything” about innovation, just come the way you are, only make sure that you have the mind to learn. Secondly, after teaching you the innovation process, you are to work with your team on a capstone project, where you have the opportunity to put to work what you have been taught under the mentorship of global experts.

We were given the opportunity to select 2 of the 5 capstone projects we’d like to work on. My confusion began when I realized that there was ICT4Agric as well as the Nutrition team. These two fall into my area of interest. If it is about fighting hunger, be sure to always find me there.

I had to reach out to one of the YIL fellowship team to confirm if one will be allowed to work on two projects. He quickly answered, “I doubt you can work on two, even one of the projects is enough work”. I’d realize later that, “Enough work” was actually an euphemistic expression of the stress I will go through.

I selected Nutrition as the first choice and ICT4Agric as the second. I was then taken to the ICT4Agric team alongside other amazing young people.

I was the relationship manager of the team of four. Kenneth Okonkwo was the team lead, while Iyanu and Al Almin were the technical officer and chief scientist respectively.

I can proudly say that this team was just a perfect one. Talking about skills, we were a perfect blend. Iyanu was the tech guy, just give him the idea, he will refine it and send it back to you, and you will wonder if it was actually your initial idea. Kenneth and I were more of ideas. We can come up with a million ideas, we always had something we should work on. I might be an idea person, but I’m certainly not an active person. But Kenneth is both (idea and action). He’d push everybody until the job was done. He’s indeed an awesome team leader. Little wonder all his team members made it to the final induction as fellows.

Al Almin was the team’s strategist. He always came up with the HOW, once the WHAT has been determined. If you need the job done and fast, then Al Almin is your guy.

After shuffling between nothing less than 5 different projects, we eventually settled on one. It’s an innovative idea that will cause a massive disruption in the food and agriculture space. It’s something you should look out for!

While we were working on our capstone project in ICT4Agric, I was asked to move to the Nutrition team and take over the leadership. This for me was another difficult time during the 5 months project. Apart from the fact that the time was short, I had several other engagements. At last, we managed to come up with yet another revolutionary solution for infant malnutrition in Nigeria.

The YIL fellowship came to an end with a pitch training and induction boot camp. At this camp, we were yet drilled on how to perfect our pitch deck and pitch our ideas to the investors and development partners.

In summary, one of the best things that happened to me in 2019, was the YIL fellowship. Apart from the fact that it has helped me go gain a deeper insight into innovation, it has also equipped me with what it takes to be a global innovation expert.

A major takeaway for me is the fact that “it must not be techy to be innovative”. Everything can be reinvented to be more efficient and better and the tool is called Innovation.

I’ve also formed relationship with a lot of wonderful and phenomenal personalities in the course of this fellowship. All YIL fellowship participants are amazing. Watch out for these guys!

I want to conclude by expressing my profound gratitude to Dr. Obichi Obiajunwa who is the brain behind the YIL Fellowship. I also want to say a big thank you to our mentor, Dr. Apeh Omede, as well as Neta Hanien, and Nnamdi Ifeagwu for working to making sure that we had this platform.

I’d like to emphatically say that, Nicholas Alifa’s story will not be complete without mentioning the Young Innovation Leaders Fellowship.

I’m proudly a YIL Fellow!