Lilian Ajayi, a young Nigerian professor, teaches Marketing and Global Affairs at the New York University, United States of America and is a regular speaker at the United Nations on youth issues. She was one of the speakers invited by the Presidency to speak on the occasion of the Diaspora Day.
Ajayi, who is very passionate about issues relating to women and youths, is also the President of the New York-based Global Connections for Women Foundation, which mobilises support for women and some impoverished communities around the globe.
In this interview, Ajayi speaks on some issues of interest to Nigeria and Africa, and what they are currently doing in Nigeria.
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
May we just ask what brought to Nigeria this time?
I thank you for making out time to speak with me today. I have had the opportunity to come here this time around as part of the Diaspora day event at the Presidential Villa which was actually at the state house.I was one of the speakers invited to speak at the crucial event in Nigeria’s seat of power. That is why I am here
What do you really do in the US?
I am a Professor at NYU. I teach Marketing and global affairs. I am also the head of a non-profit organisation known as Global Connections for Women Foundation, which mobilises support for women empowerment. In terms of just giving you a little of my background, I am a Harvard graduate, I am an MBA candidate in finance marketing, I worked for the UN; Nigerian Mission to the UN as a social economic adviser which is more of a policy negotiator. I have worked under the tutelage of the current Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Lolo.
What does your NGO, Global Connections for Women Foundation do?
I started GC4W after working for the UN for years. I realised that I needed to do to help others in need. I also wanted to start something that would enable me to shape the world and relate to women and youths. So, GC4W was set up basically in line with the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which is all about sustainable development.
Our focus at the time was on the third goal, which is to empower women and eradicate gender inequalities and since then we have created a few programmes that have been helping women in Nigeria and a few countries in the world. In Nigeria we are doing two things. We are building a school for disabled girls. We are raising funds for the project, which is located at Karmajiji which means disabled city and that city has a population of a 100,000. Majority of the inhabitants is physically-challenged and really need help in many ways and we are doing just that to add value to their lives.
Last year I came with some officials of the Women Affairs Ministry and some other groups to donate some school supplies to the community and I still realised we should do more for the students and teachers in the community and provide additional classrooms for them.
We will soon announce a new initiative aimed at empowering women during our event coming up in Atlanta. We have a partnership with the University of Ireland, Trinity College in Dublin.
They have a programme called Nourish which gives support to women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. That programme teachers the women how to buy food locally and cheaply to fight the spread of the ailment. What I have agreed to do it to set up a microfinance programme to help these women to start small business and help themselves.
We all know that health is wealth; so we will definitely assist them in ensuring that they have all the things that they need in order to fight the disease and also to provide for their families and children.
Our goal is to launch it at the end of the year and we are going to launch it in Uganda and in Nigeria we will be working in partnership with Honourable Halima Hassan who my mentor. She works with a lot of women who are in rehabilitation centres for abusing alcohol and all the things like that and my plan is after they have gone through that training and they have decided to clean their lives and change their life’s direction we are going to provide them with loans so that they can start a business and be able to provide for their families and community. I want to return back to the original mission of GC4W which is to connect, educate, and empower women and youth in all communities around the world.
We are helping women and youth realise what they can do for themselves and we believe that by empowering them we also give them the opportunity to come back and help their community and we know that women naturally want to help their community.
Where are you getting funding from for these programmes?
Funding has been something that has been challenging. We do a lot of fund-raising events to be able to generate the funds to advance the cause of the women and youths.
Is the U.S government aware of this foundation?
Yes, it is the U.S Government that licensed GC4W and our that approval enables us to carry on with our activities in many part of the world.
Are you relating with any agency of the government on joint support for the organisation?
At the moment, we have a partnership with the UN. I have been invited to speak on a number of panels of the UN. I was invited by the President of the General Assembly to talk about the impact of Climate Change on Rural Women in Africa. I have a partnership with UN women and I am also going to bring them in on this entrepreneurship programme.
So far what can you point out since the coming in to being of the foundation, what can you point out as your achievement?
Great question! One of the things that we focus on is to educate and empower women and the youth. In New York, we did a programme which brought in 30 girls from inner cities to train them on how to succeed in business and we also did another one in South African called STEM, which focused on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. The participants came from South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe and we taught them the rudiments of sciences, engineering by exposing them to scientists and engineers during the programme.
I was invited to speak to a group of about 500 PhD students at Trinity College in Ireland, a lot of what I do as the founder of GC4W is to empower the youths and to get them to become change agents themselves. My goal is to duplicate myself just like my mother Chief Temitope Ajayi who is duplicating herself by empowering me to do more in the community.
I am empowering the youth to do more for their communities, not just for their immediate community but also for their environment, for the global economy. So I spoke at the University of Dublin Trinity College and last year the President of Ireland spoke at the same venue and I was asked to do the keynote address which I was excited about and what I talked about was of course my organisation’s supports women and youths.
GC4W is also trying to help Nigerian business owners with exporting their goods and services to other parts of the world. I teach at NYC and like I said my speciality is in marketing, global affairs so anything that has to do with trading and things like that. So I have presented a proposal to the Nigerian Export Promotion Council for a one-week non- oil export trade and we believe this would greatly help our people in Nigeria. It would an important trade concert where Nigerian exporters would be educated on how to package their goods to meet the standards required in the U.S and other parts of the world, thereby expanding their business bases.
This particular program is under the leadership of Mr Segun Awolowo, whose organisation we are working together to bring about the training programme for the non-oil exporters. At the end of the training they will certified to be able to secure Custom licensing, FDA approval and AGOA number from this training.
When you come to Nigeria and see these young people, what do you tell them?
For young people in Nigeria my advice to them is to always seize the opportunity they have with two hands. They should learnt to create jobs rather than depending on people or government to do that for them.
One of the things I teach my NYU students is how to solve problems. Nigerian youths should look at their communities and the country and see what problems they can solve and by so doing create opportunities for themselves. So, my message to young people is become problem- solvers. If they think like that, Nigeria will become a centre of innovation rather than a dumping ground for all sorts of things and a place with jobless youths.
What advice do you have for the president?
I actually have two advice for our current president the first is I want to congratulate him for turning the focus on the youths because as you know we are the future and the future is actually now and not a few years from now. The first advice is that we need to create an inclusion programme where the youths are also part of the policy makers in Nigeria. Youths have a lot to learn from the senior government officials in the country and as such opportunities should be created by the President for them to be part and parcel of the new government. By so doing they will be able to contribute their quota to nation-building.
Buhari should set up a youth task force to understudy the older ones in government. A representative of the youths should be sent to each of the MDAs.
The world we are in is socially-integrated, internationally integrated and actually cheaper to integrate socially because we have the influence of social media.
When are you coming back?
I am already back to Nigeria. I am always here and I am very proud of my country and I am willing to do anything within my powers to advance the cause of this great nation, which made me to become a global citizen