Wealth Generation Unlimited, GEN-U, was officially launched by Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja recently. In this interview with Vanguard, two principal officers central to its conception, Mr Peter Hawkins – Country representative for UNICEF Nigeria and Dr. Nadi Albino – Senior Adviser, Partnerships, Generation Unlimited HQ (New York), delved deeper into the thinking, causal factors powering the programme as well as expectations to transform the lives of about 20 million Nigerian youth between now and 2030.
WHY Generation Unlimited and why now?
Peter: Good question. Nigeria has 65 million young people between the ages of 10 and 24. So, It’s a fantastic opportunity now to be able to support that generation going through with education, skills and then connecting them to employment employability.
The way to do that has to be at this stage to give them all the opportunities in life. One is to engage with the young people so they can identify their own problems, shape their own future and identify their solutions for that future.
Secondly, they are a generation that technology is quite easy to be able to master and to use technology to advance themselves and their communities.
The Wealth Generation Unlimited project seems to have a lot of stakeholders. How do envisage managing all these partners across the board to deliver as envisioned?
Peter: I think you are right; it’s about the partnership and it’s a platform on which that partnership can perform. And the two partners which are critical, the young people themselves on one hand and the private sector on the other hand.
The United Nations, the international community and the government, we have responsibilities to make that connection that it is really about the young people and the private sector.
How does the platform work? It works where all four come together, co-create what we want for a better turn to ideas and take things forward. Nigeria is a very big country and has a very unique governance structure.
So, at the state level, it’s how those groups of people, how the international community of the United Nations, how the private sector and the government work on issues around young people, bringing young people into defining it and then making education, skills development, and entrepreneurship a reality for them.
It also appears as though there is strong support from the Federal Government. Does this cascade to the state level and are the states already primed, infrastructure-wise and administratively, to be able to support?
Peter: Absolutely. It’s not about supporting, it’s all about engaging with it. It’s all about owning it and taking it forward. So, there are three states that we are working with closely at the moment: Edo, Lagos and Kano. That will expand to another five states in the immediate time, and then all 36 states will be involved.
I presented this at NEC about eight or nine months ago and all the governors were enthusiastic about engaging. Wealth Generation Unlimited is very strategic in its engagement. We can look at programmes like we have in Europe In Nigeria, we have 3.7 million subscribers.
We can bring that down to the state level. So, the conversation between young people, government and private sector can happen at the state level and you could look at local solutions to local opportunities for these young people.
Nadi: If I can add very quickly. I think Nigeria itself is a powerhouse. It has the biggest GDP on the African continent; but it also has the largest population of young people. Nigeria’s young people are very tasking and talented but limited by lack of opportunities. So, we like saying in GENU that talent is universal, opportunity is not.
So, what can GENU do in the partnership to ensure that those opportunities are available to young people? If you look at Fintech, Nigeria is doing exceptionally well. If you look at Agro-tech, if you look at the music and movie industry, Nigeria is just booming across; and so how do we work together with these different partners?
In what I call the five Cs: how do we ensure coherence, how do we ensure coordination, how do we ensure complementarity, how do we ensure cohesiveness and cooperation in terms of going forward in the state? The SDG, number 17, talks about partnerships.
When we talk about partnership theoretically, we haven’t said how we actually implement partnerships because it’s really a challenge when everybody works in silence and everybody is talking about what they deliver. I want the pat on my back for what I deliver up, but we are basically saying the African proverb again: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
Peter: Relating to your question, we are talking about between now and 2030 and 20 million young Nigerians which some people accuse of being under-ambitious because they wanted us to get to 40 million Nigerians.
I’m not kidding, but it was me who said let’s stick to 20 million and then we can go up. Between now and 2030, a lot is going to happen across the continent. As Nigerians skill themselves and develop capabilities with telecommunications and all the rest of it, the skills that have been developed here can be used right across the continent.
The skills developed in, for example, Kenya or Uganda can reach-back across to Nigeria and that interface will become more and more agile. When we talk about 20 million, it’s going to be dwarfed once Africa is looking at working across borders and transitions right across the continent.
So, when we say our target is 20 million, it doesn’t mean that it’s just the 20 million that will benefit because among them will be entrepreneurs who will employ the other young people.
Maybe at the end of the day when we tally those numbers, they would be more than that 20 million. But so that we can be held accountable, we give ourselves a figure that we can reach; but when we tell the narrative at the end of the day, we’ll expand the map to all those who have been directly or indirectly impacted.
It’s how we re-position outlook of Nigerians today with the investment, skills and learning so that Nigerians can expand their horizons, their vision that people reach back to Nigeria to look at some of these industries, whether it’s the tech industry (tech software), whether it’s the entertainment industry and so on but Nigeria can really dominate what’s happening right across the continent.
How are you going to measure gains, successes and feedback because I imagine a project of this magnitude, there has to be an iterative process, a learning process where you continue to review data on what you’re doing now and how you get results.
Peter: Absolutely and it’s not only that iterative process that we have to develop but there is also the ‘how do we classify and ensure the quality of it’; but let me just stop on the ambition.
Over the past year, we’ve started Generation Unlimited basically now for 18 months of operation and it’s building up. We just had a talk show and then nothing. So, we’ve been doing the work and the new report which is 3.7 million subscribers is an integral part of the whole thinking.
But over the past year or so, just under a year, the Generation Unlimited challenge fund has reached out to 450,000 young people. So, 450,000 is not just engaging like a new report but has engaged in and out around issues that this generation are concerned with.
I will also ask about your previous successes or learning experiences from your previous works because this is 2021, you have nine years and the goal is set already.
Peter: Generation Unlimited is a global concept, but the inspiration comes for me and I think for my team here comes from organisations like the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Look at them, they are dominating the market in Nigeria and also right across Africa (Trans-Africa).
They show what can be done and how young people themselves take their future. It would be easy here as indeed many young people subscribe to it, to just fill up pages and pages of certificates. That takes us nowhere and that’s just pieces of paper. It’s the drive, it’s the resilience, it’s the one thing to achieve and that’s Nigeria.
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That’s what the young people in Nigeria do. So, when you look at the Tony Elumelu Foundation and what they’ve achieved in the past ten years, it is phenomenal. It’s there, it’s achievable and they inspire us, thousands of young people and many more who could come into that chain and be carried by the tide of ambition and resilience to drive yourself forward.
And the Tony Elumelu Foundation has supported your initiatives strongly?
Nadi: I think what they are doing is phenomenal and for me what is even much more phenomenal is that in the example we shared earlier on, the numbers they have targeted if you look below those numbers and the people they have employed, it’s quite impressive.
We have one of the recipients of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurial Support, Jumoke, who started her tailoring from home. She employs over 22 people now. So, when TEF speaks, they would say we have reached X number which is Jumoke, but they are not counting the 22 people that she has employed.
That’s a multiplier effect and that’s what we are saying about GENU: that we believe that the multiplier effect is what takes us to the numbers beyond the 20 million that Peter is speaking about.
For me, what’s interesting about Nigeria is that there are many aspiring philanthropists who also want to do good. We’ve had several conversations; forget the big companies like Unilever and Microsoft that’s are based in Nigeria that we work in: we have Jobberman, we have Access Bank, etc, that is working with UNICEF and just built a massive school in Kaduna and are looking at up-skilling for young people etc.
The media such as yourself are the kind of people who can help us make a success of the story in Nigeria because you can tell the story, you can talk to the young people who have benefited, you can see how they are engaging other young people.
John Kerry said earlier this year that we only have so long to be able to achieve the SDG’s. How do you see Nigeria space in that? I know GEN-U is described as an amalgam of all the SDGs. How do you feel about our position in terms of SDGs and now, things like GENU?
Peter: First, Amina Mohammed in Nigeria penned the MDGs. It’s a very good question. The world needs to come back for the SDGs to be a reality. Now, if you just take Nigeria with the MDGs, in 2006, there was a deal that wiped out N18 billion of debt for Nigeria and attracted N13 billion worth of investments in the MDGs which is why you see today that Nigeria’s statistics (we don’t do MDGs anymore) on the services had gone up considerably over the past 15-16 years.
So, we need a repeat of that. We need like an investment programme that allows Nigeria to move from where it is today through to the SDGs. Now, with SDG three and four, even if you invest any amount of money, Nigeria will not reach the SDGs; but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to achieve at least maximizing on it.
The world needs to come back, take stocks and move forward on how we are going to achieve the SDGs by 2030. That’s not re-aligning it, that’s is the crucial issues around the youths, the future of youth engagement, around climate change and the impact of climate change on countries such as Nigeria; green economies.
How can you put sustainable facilities, how can you take Nigeria over the harm using technology into an environment where climate change, sustainable facilities and so on are part and parcel of the economy. It’s that jump that requires a lot of investments and vision. It goes back to Nigeria’s power issues.
GEN-U’s 20 million by 2030 is because of the SDGs but critical in the SDGs is “leave no one behind” and for a country like Nigeria, it’s very important. Our immunisation right is not comparable to other countries but our reach is increasing and it’s positive. So, we need to focus on those unreached and rural areas.
I think and hope GEN-U makes a real impact. Anyone can go into Lagos and find jobs for people in Lagos but how do you do it in the waterways and the farthest reaches of Kwara, Cross-River, Taraba and the other places. And that’s where I hope we would make a difference between now and 2030.