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‘My passion is to empower young Nigerians with skills’

By Tina Abeku
08 January 2022   |   2:40 am
Jasmine Cannon-Ikurusi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sapphire Community Group, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in the United Kingdom with branches in Nigeria and Kenya.

Cannon-Ikurusi

Jasmine Cannon-Ikurusi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sapphire Community Group, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in the United Kingdom with branches in Nigeria and Kenya. In this interview with TINA ABEKU, she gives insight into her work, foray into politics in the UK and the importance of building young people with life support skills and empowering them for positive community change and development.

Tell us about yourself and what you do in the Sapphire Community Group?
I am Jasmine. We started off in London in 2015 and just entered Nigeria last year. The mission of the sapphire group is to empower the next generation of young people of ages 10 to 30 years, building their capacity by training them and giving them skills. Basically, what we do at the centre is everything about Information Technology (IT), mass training on beauty, hair, construction, catering and media, among others, that will enable them to be people they desire to be. All our classes are free.

What is the inspiration behind it?
During my journey in London, I saw what young people need to grow but which they were not getting or actualising. When I returned to Nigeria, I was overwhelmed by what I saw because the need here was massive. Here, you see many people that have the passion but lack the capacity or funding that will enable them to become who they want to be. I come to Nigeria often. I got married here and my dad is here too. When I travel to the villages and I see people, I always see this massive need to give the young ones skills and to empower them. The government is not doing all that they need to do, so it takes us people with our little resources, coming together to add value to these people so that they can make a change in society. My passion for helping people is why I started the Sapphire Community Group. I saw a need and I could not sit back and do nothing. With whatever I have, I have to do something. I have to start today and not tomorrow. I can’t procrastinate because the change is needed now.

How do you draw participants for the training?
It has been a massive overflow because every month, we do an outreach event. We go to villages, we go to towns on special holidays, we speak to the people and they have been coming. It is such an overflow that we don’t have to do anymore outreach because our office is always full now. The word of mouth has spread.

How many people have you trained so far?
Our capacity, for now, is about 100 people in a day and we have been running for six months so that gives you the brevity about how many young people we have trained. We additionally do massive training event every month supporting between 500 and 100 women and young people.

Do you specify the type of training you offer for each day?
Yes. We have a timetable where we draw a programme about the different schedules and lines for the classes that they need to come for according to their choice.

How do you finance this project?
Now, it is all on my own finances. Income from my businesses in London is what I am using to fund the NGO. Right now, we don’t have any sponsors or partners in Nigeria.

Are you looking for any?
Yes. We are reaching out daily because we want to keep growing. We are knocking on doors and seeing who will partner with us on this vision.

From your website, I could see that you took your campaign out of the UK and Nigeria. Where else do you want to reach?
That’s right. We are also in Kenya and India where we are supporting as many young people as we can. I also want to go into South Africa and Ghana because there is a massive need for what we are doing around the world. We will just do what we can. Three times a year, we go to three different countries to support those in need.

How do you intend to manage all these?
I do this full time. And when you know you are operating for a purpose, it doesn’t feel like a handful. I have a massive team. Every country now has a team. Kenya, Nigeria and London all have teams. I’m not able to do it alone but we have a great force of volunteers. I barely have paid staff so most of them are volunteers and they are working with me to be able to successfully create this change.

What is your staff strength in Nigeria and London being the headquarters?
Yes, London is our headquarters and we actually have seven sites in the UK city. It is our biggest and we have in each site alone, about 30 paid staff and then we have volunteers. In Nigeria, we are in Abuja and Lagos. In Abuja, we have a team of 16 paid staff and the rest are all volunteers. Lagos has five paid staff.

What is your educational background?
My background is in Business Management. After my MBA, I realised my heart was not in finance and money when I went to work. My heart is in the community, so I went to do project management to learn about the non-profit ventures. I am also doing a Ph.D in this subject area because of the need and the drive to see that everything in my society is okay. It propels me to do what I am doing today, but my business and my management experience help me to manage the project well. I am a businessperson, I love finance, I love accounting so I still do that on the backend. Income from those projects I handle as project manager for companies, also fund all of the things I am doing. I have clients that I deliver projects management services to, and it funds what we do here as well.

What is your vision with these, where do you see yourself gong to?
I am also a politician in the UK, that is the other side. But I want to marry politics and the community because to create the change we need to see, we need to be in a political system, that is where the change needs to occur whether we like it or not. I ran an NGO for five years before I realised I couldn’t make a change without going into the political system where the changes, the policies are happening. So I want to marry the two. I want people with true vision, politicians who have the heart for the community, to empower them. That is my vision and that is my heart. I want to build up the next generation of leaders in every country. I know it sounds massive, but we are going country by country and Africa is my biggest heart, the UK and America. These are some of the continents, and in Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana must grow and expand.

Are you a UK citizen that you wish to vie for a position there?
Yes. I am. I work with a conservative party, I did run a campaign but I didn’t win. I am running again next year, which is our next election as an MP (Member of Parliament). I did one as a councillor, I work with a conservative party and the House of Commons. That is my plan.

How do you monitor the progress of your NGO?
I know here they weren’t big on it, but I have trained my team. We have registers and we have reports. As people come in, they have to do an attendance, we have bases, we have impact reports because I am a big believer that when you do a project, you need to review it, you need to see what went well and what didn’t go so well. You look into what areas do the trainees come from, what area they resonate with, their house capacity, family history and others. I take a lot of data so that I can understand the backlog of these young people that we are supporting.

Is there a selection process before the training?
No, everybody comes and then we have a waiting list because I feel bad limiting or rejecting people. My heart likes to take everybody which is something we are working on, if not, we will have overcrowding issues.