Connecting communities to give young people in Nigeria a voice

Kirsty Scott

7 December 2022

This is an article from the CSC Development Theme: Access, inclusion and opportunity

During my studies I got really immersed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When I was done with the Master’s, I asked a couple of my contacts back home, ‘Are you familiar with the SDGs? Do you know about the goals?’ And the responses were appalling. How do we achieve the goals when we don’t even know what the goals are in the first place?

Deborah Adesina

Following her MA in Media and International Development, Commonwealth Alumnus Deborah Adesina returned to Nigeria and organised a three-day, multi-stakeholder event called Globe Up Africa. The event was designed to raise awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and support local communities and young people in the semi-urban Delta State to understand and contribute to achieving the Global Goals at a local level.

Deborah founded her organisation, Globe Up Africa, to share her knowledge and experiences of studying and living in the UK, and to start important discussions about the Global Goals and how to apply them at a local level.

“I realised that for many young people in my communities, the vast number of them, might never have the opportunity to travel outside of that community to explore other cultures for themselves. And that’s something that I had been blessed to receive as a Commonwealth Scholar. I wanted to transfer the learning, to transfer the skills, to kickstart a conversation such that even though they were not going out [of the community], I could bring my experience back and distribute it.”

Partnering with local organisations

To deliver the event and reach her target youth audience, Deborah forged a partnership with Radical World Changers (RWC) – a local faith-based youth organisation she worked with before taking up her Commonwealth Scholarship. RWC is the longest running youth community in Agbor Delta State, providing multiple platforms for young people to build capacity, and express themselves through music, theatre and the arts. RWC supported the event and utilised their contacts to engage local schools and the young people engaged in their community to take part in the event.

“In a way I could say I was the brain and the Radical World Changers community were the hands. They were really excited to get in touch and do all of the background work for the Globe Up campaign.”

The partnership was mutually beneficial, as Deborah was able to reach her target audience and the event raised awareness of RWC and their work, whilst also helping them to recruit new volunteers and members.

It was important that young people felt included and represented in the event and subsequent activities. Youth in Nigeria face significant challenges, including access to quality education and high rates of unemployment, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these issues. With disrupted formal education and limited employment opportunities, many young people have turned to crime and other illegal activities to earn a living.

Following the event, RWC and Deborah therefore continue collaborating on designing relevant and appropriate activities to engage different youth age groups and communicate messages that would resonate with their experiences and situations.

Designing youth-centred activities

Part of the Globe Up campaign activities was a secondary school level outreach programme, designed to raise awareness of SDG 13 and climate change among school children in the local government area.

To do this, Deborah didn’t rely on simply disseminating factual information about the SDGs but conducted an interactive workshop which encouraged and challenged the school children to think about the SDGs in relation to their own lives and question the applicability of the SDGs for their communities. A highlight of the day was engaging the children in lively discussions on the SDGs and raising awareness of the goals through practical examples.

“At the start, over 95% of the students had never heard of the SDGs. They had never heard the word SDG before. They had no idea of what the goals were. We were able to bring awareness through the workshop. We said, ‘These are the goals. But what do you think? Does this apply to this community? Should the goals be expanded?”

This interactive approach to learning continued through an inaugural Spell for Climate competition, a climate-themed spelling bee. 60 school children representing 20 secondary schools took part in the spelling bee. The competition provided a fun and way to engaging way to teach school children about climate change through related words and terminology – ‘Green vocabulary’ – and understanding their meaning.

To address anti-social and illegal behaviour amongst older youth, Deborah and fellow organisers also delivered an anti-crime awareness march and workshop. The march was intended to call attention to the way in which crime syndicate networks recruit young boys – so-called ‘Yahoo-Boys’ – to undertake internet fraud and cybercrime.

The march was followed by a community town hall meeting format, in which organisers, 25 local youths, and other members of the community engaged in an open discussion on the impact of youth unemployment on young people and the community, and ways this could be addressed at the local level. The open format of the discussion raised awareness and enabled organisers to find out more about the impact of this issue on the community and the concerns felt by parents.

A young man receiving their Youth Award prizeAnother crucial activity in the Globe Up campaign was the Youth Impact Awards which recognised and celebrated the achievements of youths in the community. Publicly recognising their efforts to explore alternatives to crime in spite of harsh times sent a strong positive message and awards were presented in three categories: Business and Entrepreneurship, Community Development and Partnership.



Engaging policymakers 

As well as working with RWC, Deborah also used the event as an opportunity to engage with education stakeholders at both the local and government level. Although this was a requirement of working with the secondary schools, Deborah intended to gain more from the interaction and use the opportunity to strengthen relationships with policymakers.

“The youth commissioner was really receptive and enthusiastic. He would have come to join us, but our town Agbor is quite a distance [from Asaba, the state capital]. He promised to send a representative to come talk to the youths, to have dialogues. I found that collaborating with political authorities was very important.”

After receiving this positive endorsement, the event organisers were able to meaningfully engage with education and youth ministries during the event and showcase the importance of youth development to the government officials who were present at the event.

As part of her stakeholder engagement strategy, Deborah also reached out to religious and faith leaders. This gave further legitimacy to the event and helped the organisers to reach greater youth numbers. She was keen, however, to ensure that invited stakeholders had the opportunity to contribute to the discussions and be a part of the dialogue.

“A key part of this stakeholder engagement also involved asking them what they considered was an important issue or how they felt this might be tackled more appropriately, because they are resident in community. Yes, I had been in the community prior to my Scholarship, but I didn’t want to go with that air of superiority that ‘I’ve got a Master’s now, this is what I think is the problem, this is how we’re going to tackle it.’ No.

“I wanted it to be a dialogue which is something I picked up in one of my international development classes, that you do development ‘with’ and not ‘for’. You consider the communities you work with as co-participants, not beneficiaries.”

A role model for education

Following the event, Deborah is continuing to sustain the relationships she forged and hopes to deliver similar events and activities in future.Deborah Adesina promoting Commonwealth Scholarships

She is also aware that sharing her own experiences as a Commonwealth Scholar have given hope to the young people she knew before and those she met during the three-day event. Deborah hopes that this has positioned her as an example and role model in the community of the positive impact and opportunities offered by education. Deborah describes how her experiences counteract the ‘school na scam’ attitude, exemplified by many who feel disillusioned about education and qualifications give the scarcity of jobs available at the end of their studies.

“There’s this saying that ‘they told us education is the key, but somebody has changed the padlock so the key no longer works’. But having my story now as a reference point in the community, people now say, but who knows? You can be different. You can be the next Debby Wonders. Your story can be different.”

Reflecting on the rise of Globe Up Africa

Although she only completed her Commonwealth Scholarship in the last year, Globe Up Africa, has provided an immediate opportunity to put her studies into practice.

“One of the key takeaways for me was working with the communities who you intend to benefit. Working with them as partners, co-partners in development. Not disregarding the place of local knowledge. And that was such a big deal. With Globe Up Africa, I saw many of my lessons in class find application in life, and it all began to make sense for me. The project thus nuanced many of the learnings I had.”

Whilst she acknowledges the success of the event and the ways in which she and RWC were able to gain support from a range of stakeholders, Deborah has learned a lot from the things that didn’t go quite to plan, for example relying on the help of volunteers and stakeholders, many of whom did not deliver support as agreed.

She is now focused on officially registering Globe Up  Africa, with the hope to raise funds and scale up operations to deliver similar activities across Nigeria in areas where support is not already in place.

“We definitely will continue with capacity development in young people and continue interfacing with societies. We’re not really interested in the big cities where you have lots of development agencies already working. We don’t want to replicate efforts there. We want to focus on areas that are largely unreached.”

Deborah Adesina is a 2021 Commonwealth Shared Scholar from Nigeria. She completed a MA Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia.