#FutureLeadersConnect Files No.1 : All About The Selection Competition.
Earlier this year, the British Council announced it was receiving applications from individuals in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, UK and the USA for its Future Leaders Connect (FLC) program. Through the program, the UK government was aiming “to identify exceptional individuals (aged 18-35) who have the potential to be future leaders of their countries in the fields of politics and policy, and who will be amongst the shapers of global policy making in the years ahead.” Successful applicants were promised the opportunity to join a long-term network of emerging policy leaders, discuss policy issues in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, engage with global leaders, and be trained at some of the UK’s leading global institutions. I received about 3 WhatsApp broadcast messages about this opportunity, but I was very doubtful that I was qualified, and put off applying until a few hours before the deadline in May.
The application required that I write about a major global change I would like to see over the next 5 years, and how this change would impact my country. If you read my blog, follow me on social media, or know me in person—it will probably come as no shock to you that I wrote about gender equality and women’s rights. I explained that I would like to see Sustainable Development Goal # 5 (Gender Equality) make global gains, and noted some local impacts this could have in Nigeria. In 2015, I wrote about what the SDGs mean for Nigerian women and girls after the UN adopted them. You can read that post here.
I was so sure I was going to get a rejection, that I applied while watching T.V. and didn’t even spell check my application. You can imagine my shock when I learned that out of over 4,000 applicants in Nigeria, I was one of 12 finalists who would be advancing to the final round.
In July, the 12 finalists gathered in Abuja from different parts of Nigeria for a two-day selection event. We were informed that only 6 persons would be selected from Nigeria for the 2017 Future Leaders Connect cohort. The first day, all 12 finalists got a chance to engage in very enriching interactive sessions with inspiring Nigerian policy shapers like Mr. Akintunde Oyebode (Executive Secretary, Lagos Employment Trust Fund), Tolu Ogunlesi (Special Assistant to the President on New and Social Media), Dr. Paul Oluikpe (Principal Manager, Central Bank of Nigeria) and Shimite Bello (Executive Secretary of Delta State Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Development Agency). I learned a lot about influencing policy on a local level and online. We also got a chance to network with each other.
I was blown away and completely humbled by the finalists. Every single person I met was intelligent, passionate and well experienced. The finalists were passionate about different issues like: terrorism, financial crimes, tropical diseases, industrialization, youth unemployment, education, etc. I quickly noticed that while every other finalist had a different policy issue, there were two of us focused on gender equality. We also both happened to be female lawyers. I worried there wouldn’t be space for two gender equality advocates, but I hoped at least one of us would make it—even if that one wasn’t me. I immediately clicked with the other gender equality advocate and we wished each other well. #WomenSupportingWomen.
The next day was D-Day. We each had 5-minutes to pitch a policy solution to the problem we discussed in our application, in a TED Talks style event. Audience members included Nigerian government officials, World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shapers, members of the academic community, and other applicants to the FLC program. The judges included representatives from the British Council and the British High Commission. The event was moderated by the oh-so-articulate Maupe Ogun from Channels TV. I was a nervous wreck. The last time I had felt that anxious was during moot court competitions in law school.
Nevertheless, I decided to keep my presentation simple. I shared the story of how my mother’s experiences as a widow and a religious leader in Nigeria inspired my passion for women’s rights. The policy solution I pitched involved changing minds. I discussed how in Nigeria, attitudes toward gender need to change before policies can change or be implemented. I shared the example of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill the Nigerian Senate rejected in 2016 on the grounds of religious beliefs. I will be sharing more details about my policy proposal in the weeks to come.
The judges spent a very long time deliberating. The decision took so long that the moderator, bless her heart, began asking random questions like: “Who likes classical music?” The Stress. My family sent me encouraging WhatsApp messages throughout the day that kept me hopeful. After what felt like forever and a day, the judges came back with their decision. The audience also got to vote for one candidate. After about three other names were called, I heard mine. The Relief. Not long after, I heard the name of the other gender equality advocate called. The Joy.
July 13th was without a doubt one of the best days of my year so far. I was (and am) so completely floored to be chosen from such a prodigious pool. I still feel imposter syndrome here and there.
Over the past few years, many of you have watched my passion for gender equality evolve. I am so grateful for your support. Over the next few days, I will be bringing you along with me as I travel to the U.K. for the commencement of the program. I can’t wait to share my experiences and learnings, and I will be counting on your continued support! #WatchThisSpace, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you haven’t already.