In this exclusive interview, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu chats with Jennifer Ehidiamen (CP-Africa) about his recent Young Person of the Year Future Awards 2011 win! Nnaemeka was given the award for his work as an agriculture advocate through the Small Holders Foundation, an organization he founded when he was only 21 years old. The Smallholder’s Foundation provides information on contemporary agricultural techniques to rural communities in Imo State. Last year, he won the Rolex Awards for Enterprise where he was honored for his work along with five other young change makers around the world with a $50,000 cash prize. Read the interview below, get inspired and share on the social web!
CP-Africa interviews Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu
Jennifer: Congratulations on your win Nnaemeka! What factors will you say gave you an edge over the other nominees?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: First and foremost, I want to say that the other nominees are doing great things. I respect their work, their achievements and they are also inspiring other young Nigerians. I think the fact that we are young people, running an organization that works with rural poor farmers to enable them increase their agricultural yield and household income may have given us an edge. We are working in a sector – Agriculture which is unattractive to young Nigerians. There are few young Nigerians who are willing and ready to spend time in the rural areas. Places where there is no electricity or water, or even access road. But our goal is to make agriculture attractive to them.
Jennifer: If you had not won the Young Person of the year category, who would you have voted for among the other nominees?
Nnaemeka: Honestly, I don’t know who I would have voted for. The entire nominees for “Young Person of the Year” are great achievers. They have excelled in their professional endeavors. They are role models to younger Nigerians. I was truly impressed with the achievements of the nominees and I am confident that the future of Nigeria in the hands of the present generation will be bright.
Jennifer: What does being “The Young Person of the Year” mean to you?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Being “The Young Person of the Year” is a great honor and a great privilege. To me it means a “Call for Greater Action”. I will like to use the platform created by the award to engage other young people in Nigeria and promote 3 causes Entrepreneurship, Education and Girls Empowerment.
Jennifer: You left immediately for Owerri after the Future Awards event to attend to business matters. What is new with the Smallholders Foundation?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: I had to leave for Owerri because I have series of meetings to attend and represent the Smallholders Foundation at high level interactions with government officials and community organizations. The new things happening at the Smallholders Foundation, include The Small Farmers Computer Learning Center at our community radio station. The computer learning center will offer free computer classes to farmers and their children in computer appreciation, word processing, spreadsheet and use of the internet to source for information. We are using our World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards 2010 grant to fund this project.
In addition, we launched a “Call for Mini-Grants Application from Secondary School Young Farmers Clubs”. We are giving out mini-grants to secondary school students who belong to Young Farmers Clubs. The grant will be used to expand existing school gardens or acquire new crops, fruit trees or livestock for existing school gardens. Information on this call is available on our website www.smallholdersfoundation.org/latest_news.html. The deadline for submission of application is on the 31st day of March 2011.
After several months of planning, we launched our “Smallholders Microloans Program” in January. We gave out micro loans to the first batch of 27 women selected from 5 farmer cooperatives in Obitti Village of Ohaji/Egbema LGA of Imo State. On Tuesday
week we will give to the 2nd batch of 30 women in Nkwerre LGA of Imo State.
We have commenced our big World Bank supported project “Climate Change on Air” – a 20 episode climate change radio serial drama. This radio educational drama will educate farmers on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We will use state radio stations in the 5 southeastern states to broadcast the drama for 1 year starting from May. We aim to reach 15 million listeners. We are presently establishing “Farmer Listener Clubs” in 95 local government areas of the 5 south-eastern states.
Jennifer: Tell us a bit more about your micro finance credit loan for women
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: The Smallholders Microloan Program is a new program. It was launched in January 2011 though the planning started in June 2010. We used award money from our UNDP Equator Prize to start off the program. The loan is exclusively for agricultural purposes. It is not for trading or for anything other venture that is not agriculturally related. We are targeting women small farmers who belong to cooperative organizations. This is because women do about 60% of farm work in this part of Nigeria. There are also a few men who received the loans. We placed priority on cooperatives that has partnered with us or a listener club for our Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio. The application was rigorous and an applicant needs to complete an application form with an endorsement from the Cooperative Chairman and Village Chief. We gave out 27 microloans on Monday 24th January 2010 to the 1st batch of loan recipients in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. We are giving out the loans to the 2nd batch of recipients in Nkwerre LGA on Tuesday February 8th 2011.
Jennifer: What more should we expect from the Smallholders Foundation in the immediate term?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: For us, the next step is to scale our Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio from its present community radio status to a state radio at the first instance, to reach an estimated 3.5 million small farmer listeners living in 27 local government areas of Imo. Farmers will receive timely, relevant and well-adapted information in agriculture, environmental management, health and market prices. They will have a unique access to ask questions and receive answers.
We are working round the clock to make sure we achieve this with minimum resources available atleast before the end of the year. We also expect to extend our programs to the south-south this year.
In the long term say in 5 years, we intend to establish further radio stations across Nigeria to reach 90 million small farmer listeners, driving the next Green Revolution all across Nigeria.
We will also be extending our school gardens project to reach more young people and introduce the concept of students owned gardens into Nigerian universities.
Jennifer: What other awards have you received till date?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well… I am an Alumni of the prestigious Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES) Braunwald, Switzerland – 2008, Global Fellow YouthActionNet – International Youth Foundation – 2008, Ashoka Fellow 2008, Caux Scholar – Initiatives for Change Switzerland and USA – 2009, Fellow Global Social Benefit Incubator of Santa Clara University, California USA – 2009 and a Clinton Global Initiative University, Outstanding Commitment Award Recipient – 2009. I am a Winner of the YouthActionNet/Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Awards 2009, Winner of the World Bank Development Marketplace 2009 on Climate Change Adaptation, Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise – Young Laureates Program 2010, Winner 2010 UNDP Equator Prize.
I am a Winner of the World Youth Summit Awards (WYSA) 2010, Fellow of the Unreasonable Institute, Fellow Rainer Arnhold Fellowship Program of Mulago Foundation, Laureate of the World Innovation Summit in Education (WISE) 2010 of Qatar Foundation and Architect of the Future Award of the Waldzell Institute 2011.
Jennifer: Wow, impressive! In what ways have these awards impacted your work?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Some of these awards come with financial support to expand an existing project or implement a new project. Others, in the case of Ashoka Fellowship is a stipend to dedicate your time working for your organization and expanding it.
Secondly, the award grants us local and international publicity which is leading to new local and international partners for The Smallholders Foundation.
Thirdly, the awards grant us access to knowledge through the exchange of knowledge with fellow laureates, winners or colleagues. The knowledge and cross fertilization of ideas enables us achieve our long term project objectives
Jennifer: Without them, what would be different about you and your work?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Receiving the awards is good for the work. Especially in an era of many organizations doing one thing or the other. It actually makes people know that you are serious about what we are doing. Without them we would have gone ahead to do our work because this is what we came out to do. However, our pace of achievements and expansion would have been slower without them.
Jennifer: Some people critique young entrepreneurs by arguing that they are driven by recognition and awards than by genuine commitment to the on-field work. What is your response to such critics?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well, I cannot really give a full comment on this. From my own understanding entrepreneurs, I have meet are driven by their ambition, passion and commitment more than recognition and awards. You have to also understand that most entrepreneurs pass through the same trajectory. From concept or idea stage to piloting their model to early stage to scale – up and to replication of the model within geographical areas. I think entrepreneurs can only go through this process with only a formidable business plan or project idea. For us at the Smallholders Foundation, we are agricultural based. Incidentally agriculture can only be done on the field and that is the place we work.
Jennifer: When you are not working, where else can people find you? (What do you do for fun?)
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: When I am not working, I watch TV. My best channels are CNN, BBC on the weekends, National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. Some weekends I hang out with my friend wherever we feel is quiet and we can gist and laugh.
Jennifer: How are your family and/or friends responding to your achievements?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Well… my family and my friends are supportive but not surprised that I am receiving these accolades. This is because; ever since I have been a child I have always wanted to serve humanity. I have always been different. Different in what I want to do, different in what I want to become, different in the way I approach people and do my things. Most of my friends are years older than me, but since childhood I have lead.
Jennifer: In our last interview with you after you won the Rolex Award you spoke about your feeling some sort of pressure to do other things. What are some of these things and how are you responding to these pressures?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: To be honest with you, the pressure comes from our ambitions to do many things. We want to create lasting social change, we want to improve the lives of millions of Nigerians and we want to do this as quickly as possible. Of course many communities want us to do one thing or the other for them, not realizing that we are do not have access to funds as they presume. As such we prioritize these appeals and requests as the come. At times pressure comes from the project itself. When you realize you have to do 3 to 4 things at the same time because the deadline to submit a project report is fast approaching. We are a very small organization and of us are multi-skilled.
Jennifer: What is your personal mantra?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Honesty and hardwork.
Jennifer: Have you registered to vote? Will you vote?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: Yes I have registered to vote and I will definitely vote.
Jennifer: What are your expectations for 2011 general elections?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: I expect the 2011 general elections to be free and fair without violence.
Jennifer: What is your advice to other young people in Nigeria and/or in Diaspora?
Nnaemeka Ikegwonu: My advice to young people in Nigeria and in Diaspora is to “Do something for Nigeria”. However, be sure not to do it to gain attention but to improve the lives of those who will benefit.
Aim to achieve big but start small. This will enable you have an impact.
Don’t let failures, disappointments and the problems in Nigeria to frustrate you. Consider them as part of the learning process.
Thanks for joining us at CP-Africa Nnaemeka!
Nnaemeka’s organization is currently organizing a mini-grant program. Check it out here and help us spread the word!
Images via Rolex/Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu