Interview by Kemi Lanre-Aremu
Chude Jideonwo is a co-founder of Nigeria’s most prestigious youth award, The Future Awards. In this interview he details the triumphs of the award which is in its eighth year
How would you describe eight years of the Future Awards?
To see one’s vision blossom and grow, to see dreams of building and presenting a new generation of leaders, spreading the message of hope and possibilities across the continent. To even be here for eight years when some said what we were doing was complicated and that it would be difficult to sustain. To be here by sheer dint of will and a sense of where we have to go inspires me that much is possible in Africa, by Africans.
Are you positive the award has lived up to its objectives?
Certainly. We have been profiling and building a new generation of leaders across sectors and across the nation. We have also been changing the narrative for young Nigerians and even beyond creative sectors and entertainment. We have given a platform and support to businesses, ideas and organisations over the past eight years who are determined to change Nigeria. We have helped to build networks and co-operatives that are deeply multiplying impact. As a journalist said recently, it is difficult to find a young Nigerian leader at the moment that hasn’t passed through, been inspired by, presented by or supported by TFAA. That’s more than money can ever buy.
What factors would you say contributed to building the brand?
The first is the integrity of the process. The winners and nominees are its most effective brand ambassadors, because they know how thorough and principled the process is. The second is that we understood how to work with and deploy media when we had nothing else.
What were some of the challenges you faced initially and how did you overcome them?
One challenge was in the area of funding. We got creative. We found ways of plugging areas that needed money, we structured barters and we kept our heads low. The other was being taken seriously as young people – we showed this by the quality of our work, by the strength of our conviction. Another was the award perception deficit Nigerians have – we attacked this by assembling judges with integrity and ensuring the process remained strong.
What would you say has kept the awards going all these years?
Honestly, sheer willpower and the stubborn belief in ideas that kept us going those years when there was no sponsor, no support, and plenty of scepticism. Support from people has kept us going. Also, the goodwill God has given us is incredible.
What structures have you put in place to ensure the award is not just another event on the social calendar and that its impact is felt by the youths?
The award, as you know, is just the icing on the cake. All year round, there are the National Enterprise Conferences, the town hall meetings, The Future Enterprise Support Scheme training in specific sectors and industries, the symposium for young & emerging leaders, and Aiki which we have just launched with Microsoft to drive employability and opportunities across the country.
Many people wonder if you are an entrepreneur or an activist?
This is one of the burdens I bear. But I don’t worry too much about it. Activism is important, it is honourable and it is crucial at this point in the evolutions of societies across the continent. I have been involved in activism even though at the time I wasn’t aware the involvement would be so popular and that I would be so defined. Enough is ENough Nigeria was founded at a time when there was despair across Nigeria. I felt that young people had to do something, make a statement, and ensure demands were met. I just wanted to do my bit – I didn’t know or plan it would be this huge. We did the rallies in 2010 and soon after handed it over to an independent board of which Adebola Williams and I are just members with one vote each. Primarily though, we are media entrepreneurs. We run an innovative media company that is focused on using the media to excite and empower an evolving generation of Africans. We just find that when things become so important, when our country is at stake, we have to answer the call: if not us, then who? I believe it is a friction we will face as we try and marry building that crucial business with the imperatives of our conscience and country. But it is a good friction. No one will rebuild the country or the continent but we young people.
Hosting Future Awards at Aso Rock a few weeks ago was met with a lot of criticism. Can you explain the rationale behind that decision?
The rationale behind taking the event to the Presidency is simple: when the legitimate President of a country decides to honour 100 of the brightest young people in his country to commemorate Nigeria at 100, it is a distinct honour, a distinguished endorsement of their work and a huge honour for which I am grateful. It shows how far we have come and how far we will go as an organisation and as a generation. I am grateful for President Goodluck Jonathan’s hosting and the Federal Government’s recognition, and I thank him. I am grateful for the support by the Africa Union, the support by the Rivers government which hosted the awards this year and national and international institutions that have given this dream wings to fly.
When you look back at eight years of Future Awards, what gladdens your heart the most?
The stories that have come out from it – Mosun Umoru, Tolu Sangosanya, Otto Oroondam, Ify Aniebo, Tara Fela-Durotoye. I am inspired by The Future Awards Africa. Doing this gives me such joy.
Fast forward ten years from now, where do you see The Future Awards?
Our vision is firm: we are inspired by what AIESEC has done globally, and we are taking the gospel of our proudly Nigerian brand across the continent, to build hubs of young people who will drive inspiring leadership and enterprise, which will connect and work together to rebuild the continent. Because only Africans will rebuild Africa.