I was raised in Ibadan, Nigeria as the third of five sons to a father who worked as a university administrator and a mother who was a high school teacher. As the middle child, I do not think that I was typically considered for leadership, but I almost always found myself in positions of responsibility. I acquired the values of tenacity, humility, and commitment very early when I was selected to be class captain three years in a row in primary school and again in secondary school. This trend was sustained all through my time as an undergraduate in Nigeria and in graduate school in the United States. At every juncture, I have found myself in positions of acquired and desired leadership and these responsibilities have necessitated the urge for me to constantly think about the common good and to be a leading light for my family, my country and the world.
As a young man, I harnessed my leadership potential at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I was 18 years old when I became Editor-in-Chief of the Union of Campus Journalists, a 2,000-member network of young writers, and there I learned the importance of strategic planning, reflective listening, consensus-building and making tough decisions. During my four years as an undergraduate, I successfully led numerous group projects, served as lead speaker for the university’s debate team, participated in 16 speaking competitions, and was appointed by the Vice Chancellor to the university committee establishing the campus radio station, Diamond FM. I interned at The Guardian and again at Bi-Courtney Aviation Services (Murtala Muhammed Airport 2), wrote opinion articles for eight Nigerian dailies, taught at three secondary schools and founded a non-profit organization. Leading a team of about 120 volunteers between 2008 and 2011, I learned to demonstrate emotional intelligence, empathy and respect for the people with whom I worked, while leading them to fulfil the organization’s mission with each successive project.
At the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York, I served as President of the Coalition of Multicultural Public Affairs Students (COMPAS), and I was appointed a university senator serving on the Honorary Degrees Committee. For my capstone project, I was excited to be on the consulting team that developed the first ever strategic plan for HOPE for Ariang Foundation, and I got excited about helping to write the founder’s biography. I greatly enjoyed my time with my local Toastmasters International club, Orange Orators, earning both Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership certificates within 10 months. On some weekends, I coordinated international affairs seminars at Danforth Middle School, while traveling to deliver presentations across New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey on other weekends. Again, I learned to prioritize tasks and maintain focus in the midst of conflicting yet exciting interests.
In August 2012, I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa to take on an exciting role at African Leadership Academy. I had originally intended to spend four months contributing to the mission of an organization that excited me like no other, but eight years flew by with little notice. During that time, I enjoyed mentoring hundreds of young leaders, developing new projects, acquiring new skills, expanding my network and seeing Africa literally and figuratively. In September 2021, I was appointed as the Executive Director of the United World Colleges International – the first from the global South.
In all, I have discovered that leadership is a journey, not a destination. The skills to lead successful teams are acquired over time and through experience; by reading and by observation, and most importantly by practice. My passion for youth development stems from the realization that not many young people in the world today are making the required investments that they need to champion ideas for global development. Granted, opportunities are not ubiquitous, but they were never intended to be. Each of us must continually reinvent ourselves, raise the bar on our own expectations and learn to take creative risks. We must stay constantly innovative and cultivate the habit of asking probing questions about ourselves and our world in order to meet the challenges of our age. Young people must challenge the status quo by studying the world, questioning existing systems, educating themselves and creating more opportunities than they find. We would not always be able to single-handedly solve macro problems and change the world, but we can each change the conditions around us and make the world more liveable for the next generation, because the world needs us.
The world in which we live today is confronted with dire challenges: a weakened global economy, the enduring threat of extremism and populist politics, fractured international relations, increased nuclear proliferation, the constant tussle between global powers for military supremacy, global warming and the attendant loss of vital resources from the earth and more overwhelmingly, the confinement of over a billion people to extreme poverty. Our generation is facing dreadful challenges, but none more grievous than those which our predecessors braved. The world needs us to be on our best game. We need to face these challenges with adequate preparation; we must be alert to the twists and turns in the course of defending human rights, providing social services, championing inclusiveness, and guaranteeing equality and freedom for all. One of the world’s most renowned public servants, Winston Churchill, is often credited with this poignant statement: “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.
So here’s my charge to you, my friend: make a commitment today to equip yourself with all that you need to go out into your community, your city, and your country, to give them your best and leave them, not only as good, but incredibly better, far more empowered, more peaceful and prosperous than they ever were. Remember that things do not change over time; things only change when people take action. As you pursue the full realization of your purpose on earth, do as much as you can, but do the most what you do the best. Give future generations enough reason to remember you for good, and in every single thing you do, act as though it makes a difference, because it really does.