‘I’m driven by young people’s energy, creativity to bring meaningful changes’
Grace Ihejiamaizu is the founder of iKapture Networks, an afterschool center that works to educate, engage and empower young people, especially out-of-school youths. The social entrepreneur, educator and Mandela Washington Fellow also works as a lecturer at the University of Calabar and holds a Masters degree in Rural Sociology and Community Development. Ihejiamaizu founded the OpportunityDesk.org, an online platform that shares relevant opportunities for youths across the world. Ihejiamaizu has spoken and facilitated sessions at national and international conferences including the World Economic Forum, UNESCO Youth Forum, and OpenCon. Her passion and dedication to the development of youths has won her several awards including being named one of Google’s 12 brightest Young Minds in 2011 and a Global Change maker. In this interview with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her cause for affecting the lives of young people positively through works.
What has been the impact of iKapture Centre for Development on young people since its inception?
I am incredibly proud of the work the iKapture team has done in the last six years. We have reached more than 5,000 young people in Nigeria through our in-school and after-school programmes. Our beneficiaries have gone on to establish their own businesses and create social impact initiatives that are changing the game and amplifying the impact of our work. In 2015, a group of five young girls from our Centre developed a mobile app to solve improper waste disposal and emerged Technovation World Pitch champions in the Senior category. Their victory has inspired more students who joined the program and performed excellently. For two consecutive years (2017 and 2018), two of our students and alumni were named Global Teen Leaders by Three Dot Dash (the first Nigerians to win the award). They represented the country at the Summit in New York. Others have received both local and international recognitions for their work and we expect even more successes in the future. I started this organisation to provide young people with quality education and opportunities to transition from education to employment or entrepreneurship. I can satisfactorily say the organisation is fulfilling its mission.
Are there challenges you have faced running the Centre?
Running a centre in an environment that is not very responsive to development programmes that can be very challenging. In the last six years of our existence, we’ve continued our work, deploying various strategies to market our services and recruit participants for programs. A lot has changed over time and the people seem to be less resistant and more receptive to development programs.
You are passionate about youths and young people, what is your drive?
The last decade of my life has been dedicated to youth work and the one thing I have found is that young people are the drivers of change. They have the capacity to create positive changes in their communities that could ultimately transform our nation. Every day I get the chance to speak with young people, whether it’s in the University environment or at our afterschool center for development. I see through their eyes, the passion and hunger for change. I am driven by young people’s energy and creativity which when properly channeled, can bring meaningful changes.
Your online hub, Opportunity Desk, what kind of message do you make available to young people through that medium?
OpportunityDesk.org is the one-stop place for information on global opportunities. It is an open access platform that makes available information on relevant learning and growth opportunities for youth around the world including conferences, grants, jobs, professional fellowships, research fellowships and grants, training, internships and scholarships. Since its inception, OpportunityDesk.org has reached millions of youths from over 190 countries across the globe.
Tell us something that has influenced your life and career positively today?
My journey into the world of social entrepreneurship really began when I joined Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a global campus-based organisation, now known as Enactus. I worked with a fantastic team and served as its project director, leading the team at University of Calabar to implement several projects that were presented at the National Competition. For me, SIFE was the springboard. It opened up an opportunity to participate in a fully-funded exchange program on Social Entrepreneurship in the United States. These experiences shaped my life as an undergraduate student and helped to jump-start my career in social entrepreneurship. After graduation from the university, I worked as a full-time volunteer for two years with American Corner Calabar.
What key issues does your book, Go Global with Opportunities, address?
The book responds to the growing need for young people to step up their game and position themselves to go from local to global influencers and champions. The book is a practical guide for anyone who is hungry for growth and wants to make real impact in a fast-changing, tech-driven world. It answers burning questions around how to professionally apply for opportunities in a way that enhances your chances of selection, and how to prepare your mind and personal brand in order to best position for international opportunities. It is not the type of book where you get hyped up without concrete reference to practical steps you can start applying immediately.
You have earned and bagged several awards, how has this influenced your work with young people?
It is very humbling and encouraging to be recognised and appreciated for your work. The awards have over time given validation for the work I do and provided the much needed motivation to keep working. It’s also a huge inspiration for many young people, because they can look at my life and say, “if she could get that and if she could accomplish that, then it’s possible for me, too.
You wear several hats, how do you balance them all to make them work?
I depend on God’s Grace to make everything work. The beauty of it all is that everything I do is in line with my passion and interests, so it’s hardly difficult to juggle everything. Having a business structure and an efficient team, as well as delegate and trusting others has been very helpful in ensuring that things work well in my absence.
As mentor and young people influencer, what key issues do you see around youths, especially the girl child?
The world is fast-changed and there are certain critical skills that many young people, especially girls do not possess. If the dearth of critical 21st century skills is addressed, young people would be better positioned for employment and prepared to become entrepreneurial leaders.
What is your key message to young people?
Dear young people, we owe our world a duty to leave it better than we met it. Irrespective of what country you are, or what you do or where you are starting out from, there is an aspect of your work that can impact the world for good. It all begins with you. Don’t let the fear of failing or being rejected stop you from trying. As you begin your change-making journey, remember to stay focused, passionate and consistent. Let integrity and honesty be your compass. Your time to shine would come.
What is your philosophy of life?
Leadership begins with you and must engage others. You can’t give what you don’t have. So to lead others, you must first lead yourself. Take responsibility now and let your actions inspire others positively.