By Kennedy Mbele
Oke Bayode-Thomas, 24, just bagged the highest award a young person can receive for social action and humanitarian efforts – The Diana Award for Young Heroes. The award was instituted in memory of the late Princess Diana of Wales and given out by the charity of the same name and has the support of her both sons, The Duke of Cambridge and The Duke of Sussex. Oke speaks on what the award means to him.
Who is Oke Bayode-Thomas?
I am a Nigerian trained computed tomography specialist medical radiographer. I am also a member of the European Society of Radiology and currently the Administrative Director and Co-founder of The Invasion Group, a nonprofit organization which focuses on harnessing the strength of young minds for change and also the co-founder of Mentors in Nigeria Initiative, a community of mentors who support young people to make empowered decisions and believe in their potential.
Growing up in an under-served community, I experienced the profound impact of mentoring myself and want other young people to have this opportunity too.
My organizations have over one hundred committed volunteer mentors who provide support to young people. Many mentees are resistant at first but soon see the potential. 50 of the young people who have been mentored through the programs have gone on to become mentors themselves.
I am a strategic thinking professional with more than three years’ experience in the non-profit space. Highly skilled at relationship building with clients and across organizations and teams, I also work with community-based organizations and government health institutions to advance health education and promote awareness, and for which I have been nominated for several awards, publications in prestigious newspapers and subsequent A-grade national TV interviews.
I am a role model and strong influencer for hundreds of young people across Nigeria. I took a medical degree from the University of Lagos. I am a young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) fellow and a finalist in the regional finals of the Hult Prize business competition Abuja, 2018.
I am also a certified design thinker having undergone training with the USAID and the Lufthansa group. My latest award is the 2020 The Diana Award for World Outstanding Young Heroes created and endorsed by the two sons of late princess Diana, the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex.
What are the objectives of your NGOs and how do you fund your programs?
To create an ecosystem of vibrant youths with a changed mindset, equipped to be ethical leaders and motivated to deliver and scale positive impact through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Environmental and Social Economic; harness the strength of youths to effect a change in their immediate environment by inspiring, empowering and equipping a new breed of leaders through the acquisition of skills for personal, organizational and community transformation; grow to be an organization with global standards and best practices providing empowerment initiatives and global services, with core interest in education for a sustainable future, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the Model United Nations.
We have a program that aims at matching youths with caring adult mentors who are trained to focus on positive reinforcement, trust-building, and the achievement of goals, by engaging youths in a manner to enhance self-development.
As a young man, you were set out to make a difference? What drives you to do all these because you talk and act more than your peers?
I have always had this drive to be an outstanding individual in every sphere and area I find myself. Being a medical student, I was exposed to a lot of opportunities that I could leverage to pursue excellence at all cost which was what made me to start my first project with friends who shared similar values.
The project was named THE INVASION GROUP. Later on, while achieving great milestones, we thought young people between the ages of 13 and18 are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives and are faced with the challenge of making life-defining decisions. Due to lack of direction, many young persons have made bad decisions which have resulted in negative outcomes such as high school dropout, substance abuse, or participation in risky behaviours.
Through repeated failures in the classroom and the development of destructive habits, at-risk young people (13-18) have lost faith in the possibilities that await them if they are successful in putting their lives together. I then co-founded Mentors in Nigeria Initiative with the sole aim of creating a community of mentors saddled with the responsibility of promoting a positive mindset in young people and helping them make better life-defining decisions.
So I would say my drive and passion was to be an influence on people which I have been doing with all diligence for the past four years now. It was not easy combining it with my studies, as a medical student, but the Lord has always been my strength.
How did you feel when you were informed about this award?
I was amazed because I never saw it coming, but I was excited because it came in timely when I launched my Conversation series on the social media themed: Your one step to Transformation with Oke Bayode which made me so excited.
Apart from this award, which other awards do you have?
I have bagged several awards and nominations right from my primary school days. I had a series of awards for the projects I did while at the University of Lagos, but this is the best award I have received so far.
Who is your role model?
I have been privileged to have a lot of mentors who I look up to and who have shaped my life in diverse ways. I have a spiritual figure in the person of Rev. Alexander Faranpojo. But Babayomi and Funmilayo Oke, my parents, were my first mentors who made me believe that I can be anything I want to be if I put my mind to it.
My role model is Dupe Akinsiun, Head, Leadership & Culture Center of Expertise at Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, Nigeria.
What’s your big picture of your NGO in 5 years?
A conglomerate! I envision a safe space where we would have produced youths who will become great people of influence and who will also go on to create a prototype of themselves, filling the world with people who can reach their potentials. I want to see these NGOs as resource hub for others in that space.
What do you have to say to your admirers and team?
I have the best team in the whole world; all of these achievements would never have come without their efforts. I am speaking about my co-founders, Olusegun Marvellous and Ogunbela Ridwan.
These are great men of influence in their respective fields. They made our projects easy and we were able to put our strengths together to achieve these milestones.
To my admirers, keep out of crime and always jump out of the train of ills, choose your friends, and don’t be open to anybody as a friend. A friend that can’t add value to your life is not worth being around you.
Most importantly, fear God and keep doing what you’re doing and do it best. Lastly, don’t settle for anything, always have a choice.
What are your high and low moments?
Receiving the Diana Awards is my highest moment. Another high point in my life was when we did the biggest campus-led campaign in Lagos tagged R.A.C.I.N.G – Race against cancer in Nigeria.
We gained a lot of traction from various influencers, television stations transmitted it and it was published in many newspapers. We had over 1, 500 students present at the campaign which took place at the Johnson Jakande Tinubu park.
Others are results seen through our mentorship program, seeing youths discovering their potentials and undergoing training on how to monetize their dreams is fulfilling. My low moments were times when we were bound with the constraint of funding.
At these times, we had to outsource funds from family members because we were so young and seemed inexperienced to organizations.
Hence, we received little or no form of funding for our projects but amidst all that, our projects were always a success because we were more driven by passion than money.