Igho Kelly: Changing Lives One At A Time
A good example of the popular saying “Nigeria to the world” is an activist, leader and podcaster, Igho Kelly. From a young age, Igho has been on a path to making the world a better place by using his exemplary skills to reshape the educational system for children in Nigeria.
In a chat with Guardian Life, he discusses his academic initiative, podcast, and gaining multiple international recognition.
Despite staying in the diaspora, you have been giving back to your home country through education. What is the backstory?
Well, I grew up in a house where I saw my mum and dad give back to our community by helping less privileged children with the little we had. I was so proud of them as I saw the joy in the faces of these children, especially the primary school children my mum taught back then. So I learned first-hand from them, and the first outreach I embarked on was in 2006, and it’s been ongoing. Moving to the US, I have been fortunate to be in a position to do even more now, focusing on quality education, which to me is the right of every child.
What is the most fulfilling experience you have had since you started giving back?
Honestly, for me, it’s the joy and happiness on the faces of the children and those that take care of them. That I can help pay for the primary 6 common entrance exams for several students who cannot afford it, and providing educational materials for hundreds of children is fulfilling enough.
A lot of people have to grapple with loneliness when they leave the country. How would you say your podcast, IgowithIgho has helped?
I never imagined pre-Covid that I’d start a podcast. I just got back from a speaking trip to Alabama when the lockdown started. I could no longer travel and that was tough because I travel a lot for speaking engagements. During the lockdown, I decided to record my story of how I came to America and the reception was amazing. I decided to create a platform for others to share their story as well, and we are still ongoing with Season 3 now. The podcast did help me find my purpose and helped to reach a larger audience with a message that they probably have never heard of.
You are a man of many awards and leadership. What values have set you apart?
I would say it’s the values I grew up with and was lucky to learn from my parents that have set me apart. Values of humility, kindness, honesty, integrity, loyalty, loving everyone equally no matter who they are, what the colour of their skin is, or where they come from.
Breaking barriers is not a new thing you do. What would say drives you to keep pushing and having an impact in the global scene?
Among my siblings, they can validate that I have always been different. I grew up believing that I will be able to make a difference in people’s lives and put a smile on the faces of people like my parents did. My driving force even till this day is to make my late mum proud. She passed on 11 years ago, but her kind words of “there is no stopping you my son” has kept me going and I cannot stop now. My favorite hashtag is #wedontstop.
The street to school initiative has helped fuel the dreams of many children. Are there any plans for the programme?
Absolutely yes, we are planning two more this year, for the summer and fall. My goal is to seek the support of well-meaning people to donate and companies to partner with us and make it even bigger than last time.
Quality education remains a battling issue in Nigeria. Do you have any suggestions on how the government can help implement policies and actions to better the lives of children?
I believe the government has the solution already in The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of 2004. The goal of the act is to provide “free, universal and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child aged 6-15 years.” All the government needs to do is to ENFORCE the ACT. The UBE is arguably the most comprehensive and well-thought-out document, but what is lacking is political will.
Having served under many leadership roles, do you have anyone, in particular, you look up to? How have they influenced your actions?
I have been fortunate to meet so many people that I have looked up to and have guided me personally to where I am today, and I am forever grateful. I would say I look up to and admire President Obama’s leadership style. I read his books, and listen to his speeches, but his positive approach to life and his belief in our generation breaking the glass ceilings that have held the world for too long is indeed inspiring.
When you are not out having an impact on the world, describe a normal day for Igho Kelly?
Basically work, study and anime. I love animes; they are a stress reliever for me. I love to walk on trails and go hiking.
You have referenced your mum as an inspiration for the initiative to help young children. Can you shed more light on her in making you the man you are today?
My mum was indeed my best friend. She was a primary 6 school teacher in Sapele. She was a loving, kind-hearted and soft-spoken person. She constantly taught me the importance of integrity and kindness and those virtues have stuck with me to this day. I saw first-hand how much she loved and took care of her students like her own children. After passing on 11 years ago I saw her students shed tears like they had lost their own mum, that’s how much she meant to them. My initiative is in honour of her legacy and I hope to make her proud every day.