Grace Ihejiamaizu, 21, is a Sociologist, Social Entrepreneur and founder of RYPE Initiative, an afterschool youth development project that is helping young people gain real skills to become leaders and entrepreneurs. She is one of the three Global Changemakers who were selected to represent Nigeria at the British Council ‘Euro-Africa Youth Summit (EAYS) 2012’ in Brussels, Belgium from 22nd-27th June 2012. Read her ‘story’ of how she got selected, the highlights of the event, incredible experiences and lessons she has learnt and want to inspire you with.
In her own words…
Selection process and Journey to Brussels
Reminiscing, I recall when I first heard about Global Changemakers. It was making news on the social media and the call for application was over and over again shared across various networks. At first glance at opportunities like this, I would say to myself, ‘this is another opportunity of luck!’’ but this time I said, ‘this one might just be in time for me!’’ With this motivation, I was determined to do what is required to apply for the program. I was looking for another opportunity to learn, share ideas, interact and network with other young and passionate community activists and social entrepreneurs.
It took a little while until my email got bursted with a ‘Congratulations Grace’ message from Matt at British Council Brussels. But that was not it! I was made to understand that it was just semi-slection round and if I could pull through with the interview, I could just get in. I was not discouraged. I was gladdened and excited! Well, finally I passed the interview and sure, I got in.
My journey to Brussels for the Euro-Africa Youth Summit began. I knew what I wanted to achieve with this summit (or I would not have applied in the first place), I formed my goals, hopes and expectations and penned them down in my little post-sticker card and in my heart.
Arriving at Brussels with my fellow Global Changemaker, Somto Fab-Ukozor, we could not help but acknowlege the welcoming atmosphere at the city center of Belgium. With the theme of the Summit being, ‘The world is changing’, there could not have been a better phrase to decribe the world in which we live in, where the only thing that has remained constant is change. Change indeed is something we ought to embrace especially as young people. The onus lies on us to create the things we want to see, to develop skills that would help us remain relevant in a rapidly changing world (a global village) with seemingly overwhelming challenges.
Realising that these challenges are still solvable, the EAYS summit made us understand that as young people of Africa and Europe, we can not afford to lay back, fold our arms and make the same mistakes the older generation had made. We can not even afford to do the same things using the same old methods that did not work. We need to creatively and proactively re-think, re-design and re-invent to produce the kind of future we want to see. We are young, active and strong. It is indeed our time! Let’s make the world a better place through Social Entrepreneurship.
The interactions over coffee and lunch breaks gave me the opportunity to speak to the other 59 Global Changemakers from the European and African origins. This gave me the opportunity to view the world differently. It was like wearing the lenses of over 40 country representatives to see and understand the world. The summit provided the platform to be part of a Global Community, to learn, network, share ideas and best practices. All stereotyped opinions about African and Europeans cultures in our minds were completely erased during and after the summit. The usefulness of such a cross-cultural learning experience can not be over-emphasized.
The summit was a complete energizer for me. The ice-breakers, and the combination of various spices (team work activities, networking sessions, sketches, individual and team presentations, interactive talks, Q & A sessions, tours around Brussels, Peer Mentoring group discussions) made the learning experience indelible and truly unforgettable. It was great learning from Arnoud Raskin, founder of Mobile School and Streetwize and Mrs. Osayi Oruene, ED at Fate Foundation and many others.
The highpoint for me was the MarketPlace skills session that took place on June 25, 2012. This was the most exciting learning method used at the 5-day summit. Imagine going to the market to buy tickets for a 45 minute slot per skill. We basically went shopping, buying tickets for 5 different skills we wanted to have or wanted to improve upon. The Market stalls to buy tickets from included: Time Management, Managing a Team, Leadership, Monitoring and Evaluation, Fundraising, Technology and Social Entrereneurship, Media and Presentation skills. The stalls were in different rooms and were facilitated by some individuals with expertise in their areas of work. It was the most insightful and productive time for Global Changemakers as we all sharpened our skills.
Another major highlight was the European Union (EU) Day which held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) building next to the EU Parliament. I had the opportunity to meet with some Ambassadors, EESC members and Entrepreneurs including EESC Vice President herself, Anna Maria Darmanin, Jose-Fernando Costa Pereira, who is the head of Unit of Pan-African Affairs, European External Action Service, Diane Mbarushimana, a designer and social entrepreneur as well as Madi Sharma, Global Entrepreneur and member, Employers’ Group of the EESC. The entrepreneurs told their inspiring stories and charged us to focus not just on making profit but making an impact.
Post-EAYS plans are to build on my current project, RYPE Initiative, speak to and inspire many young people as well as contribute effectively towards nation building. If you are a young person and you have just read this, I am charging you with this wake up call. You cannot let your dreams and purpose on earth die. If you have not discovered them yet, you have got to do so and begin to work. Take that step, take that risk, take that challenge and be productive. Your generation needs you and the change we dream about which only YOU can help create.
Special thanks go to the British Council Brussels and the entire Global Changemakers team for an incredible GCM experience.