Prime Paragon of the Month

Pharm. Oluwadero is a Social entrepreneur, youth empowerment activist and development worker, who keeps setting and raising the standards of whom a Pharmacist can become. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on youth development, the pursuit of purpose, advocacy in Nigeria and beyond, pharmacy education, and more.

Facebook: facebook.com/john.oluwadero

Twitter: @JOluwadero

LinkedIn: John Oluwadero

YPG: Please introduce yourself to our YPs and let us know what you do?

JO: I am John Oluwadero, a pharmacist, social entrepreneur, and practicing youth worker. I studied at the University of Ibadan. I work with children, young people, and their families in my capacity as the Senior Youth Worker at the BNI Youth Centre at the University of Ibadan.

YPG: Are there other organizations you work with/for or engage in charitable causes? What do you do and in what capacity?

JO: I am the President/CEO of Building Nations Initiative (BNI), a youth work and community development organization based in Ibadan. BNI is committed to strengthening communities through the engagement, education, and empowerment of young people as change agents in the society. We operate community youth centre in at the University of Ibadan, with outreach posts in Lagos and Ado-Ekiti.

I am also the Literacy Liaison for the Royal Commonwealth Society, a position I recently got appointed to late 2020. In this capacity, I coordinate the literacy working group of the RCS towards promoting access to quality education and skills development opportunities. This role also involves mobilizing participation of school children and young people across the Commonwealth in the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, the world’s oldest essay competition since 1883.

YPG: Why Pharmacy?

JO: In my third year in high school, I lost my dad to a non-communicable diseases and the experience influenced my choice of either medicine, or pharmacy. Eventually, I had the privilege of studying pharmacy.

YPG: How did the journey to becoming a Pharmacist lead to your current interests?

JO: As an undergraduate in Pharmacy School, I desired to understand the mechanisms by which endemic diseases such HIV/AIDS and malaria spread amongst human populations. I observed that infliction with these diseases further expanded the poverty chasm in the country, and left many young people vulnerable and unprepared for life. Lacking any form of viable structural social support, these youths took to crime, a decision facilitated, inauspiciously, by the climbing unemployment rate in the country. These concerns passionately spurred me to found BNI)

YPG: What was growing up like?

JO: I grew up in a remote village where my parents served as missionaries, reaching out to vulnerable children, young people and their families. While my mother was teaching in a community school, my father provided mentorship to the young people in the village through Youth Clubs, Boys brigade and Red Cross Society. When we lost our Dad, our family became the kind of vulnerable families my father dedicated his life to working for. His death indeed changed the way we lived our lives, speeding our transition into adulthood by reason of the responsibilities we then had to shoulder as little children. We went into farming, street hawking, and learnt diverse trades just to be able to feed ourselves and ensure we stayed in school.

These experiences shaped my life, and to a greater extent channel my path into the pursuit of a purpose driven life, particularly through my work with young people in the respective communities where we work.

YPG: So, what is the goal of BNI? What have you achieved thus far? What milestones are you working towards?

JO: You will agree with me that many youth development efforts in Nigeria have not been able to holistically address and alleviate youth challenges because they are uncoordinated, unstructured, and unregulated. The lack of professional expertise and framework of practice in the implementation of respective youth development initiatives has led to difficulty in maximizing the demographic shift of the country to a bulging youthful population. Currently, there is no postgraduate degree program on youth development, and no existing national youth work policy or other legislations to guide the practice of youth development as a profession.

At BNI, we envision a world where young people are able to easily access professionally licensed youth workers in a legally recognized and regulated safe space within their community, where they’re able to acquire skills, access positive youth development services and livelihood opportunities that’d equip them for life, and also empower them to contribute meaningfully to the society.

We achieve this vision by educating, advocating, and demonstrating best practices in youth development work, hence our social investment in establishing youth centres, committing to training community youth workers and volunteers, engaging stakeholders on youth work policy, and also promoting platforms for multi-stakeholders dialogue.

Through the support of our 114 volunteers, and 8 youth development workers across our three youth centres, we have been able to directly impact 24, 000 children and young people in 21 communities through our diverse youth work and community development initiatives.

In December 2019, BNI partnered with Oyo State Government to host the first-ever public symposium on youth work in Nigeria. 106 youth workers representing 42 youth work organizations committed to working with the Oyo State Government in strengthening youth work practice in the state https://bit.ly/2OGvxXr

During my tenure as the Advocacy Focal Person (2017–2018) for Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network CYSDP of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, BNI was actively involved in leading a nationwide #Sport4DevelopmentNG campaign to advocate the prioritization of right of children to access sports and play in the Nigeria Sports Bill, as recognized by Article 31 of the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Aside the daily positive youth development programs and services available at our youth centre, we have also implemented outreach projects in marginalized communities. Through the Youth Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Livelihood YES-LIP Project, BNI trained 78 young people in Ibadan on fish farming agribusiness, and other preferred vocational skills; e.g. baking, shoe/bag Making, fabric arts, graphics design, and photography. We have also provided books, learning materials and set up library facilities in five schools in rural communities of Ekiti and Oyo State benefiting a total of 3,260 students (2185 boys and 1075 girls).

During the COVID-19 lockdown, BNI introduced the Food Aid in COVID-19 Emergency (F.A.C.E) Project. The project was implemented in response to the need of vulnerable young people and their families amidst COVID-19 crisis. For the FACE pilot phase, 1517 people representing 150 households were reached with food aids, hand sanitizers, and nose masks. 53 volunteers were engaged and approximately $2180 was raised two weeks.

Our research and development team have also implemented outstanding studies that has inspired policy insight on youth development in Nigeria and Africa. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, BNI implemented a UNESCO funded research on the role of youth-led organisations in peaceful elections and political participation of young people. The study conducted in Oyo, Lagos, Ekiti, Kwara and Osun states is the only pre-election study that predicted the lowest turnout of youth voters in democratic history of Nigeria https://tinyurl.com/yym77ulp . Through the support of the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town, South Africa, we have also studied the role of informal sector in creating work opportunities for youths in Nigeria. https://bit.ly/3rwMmp8

As an organization committed to empowering young people for global opportunities, we established the Global School Africa (www.globalschoolafrica.com), an independent social enterprise of BNI, as a platform for providing global skills education to young people and career professionals in Africa. Through Global School flagship programme, Certificate Programme in Language for Humanitarian Diplomacy, we have trained 289 young persons in French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Sign language, hence strengthening the capacity of these young professionals to work in a cultural diverse society. The Educational Testing Consultancy Unit of the school have also supported young people with their graduate study goals, particularly through IELTS/GRE/TOEFL coaching, and mentorship on graduate admissions and scholarship. The school currently has 12 staff and has implemented Cultural Immersion program in Benin Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, and Ghana. In early 2021, the school also launched online learning platform for global skills education. (www.learning.globalschool.com.ng )

YPG: For YPs interested in learning more about what you do and the opportunities available, how can they learn more?

JO: At the heart of any youth work program or project is volunteering. YPs that are genuinely interested in impacting lives of young people are welcome to join us. We have remote volunteering opportunities available e.g. research and development working group, and media and communication, and counseling. Volunteering offers a great opportunity for self development, fulfillment, and career development. More information about BNI is available on our website www.bniglobal.org, and our Facebook page www.facebook.com/bninitiative.

YPG: I am sure you’ve had rewarding moments in the course of your career/journey, do talk about some of your notable achievements? How rewarding/fulfilling has your work been? (Do mention any personal and/or organization accolades)

JO: In youth work practice, the hallmark of achievement for me is the honour and privilege to be considered as someone to be trusted by young people in discussing deep issues concerning their lives and aspiration. When a young person voluntarily makes that call or visit to my office, and is willing to talk and seek advice, it means we are doing our work right, and also it means the young person is willing to yield to guidance. Most of the results we’ve seen are often from voluntary interest. One inspiring story that is really dear to my heart was that of a young secondary school girl we met in one of our community outreaches. She voluntarily made herself available to be mentored through our Build a Teen Programme, where she learnt Baking. She also participated in our summer camps for teenagers and was very active in our teen’s club. Now, she is in her second year in UI with very good grade, and also runs her cake baking business. She even made the cake we used for our anniversary.

One of my greatest joy is seeing our teenagers, volunteers, and members excel in life. In BNI, we don’t just work towards career excellence. We are committed to seeing to it that our members excel all-round. We have seen relationships turned into marriages with children. Seeing our members advancing in their academic and career pursuits — jobs, businesses, research fellowships, oversea scholarships etc., — gives me great joy. Our alumni are now spread all over the world, doing great things where they are.

I have also received certain recognition for in honour of my contribution to positive youth development, I was honored as a 2018 recipient of the Junior Chamber International, Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Nigeria JCI-TOYP National Award. In same year, I was named as one of the 30 emerging African leaders by Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

YPG: Towing this unconventional route, what door(s)/opportunities have opened up to you? What advice can you give to YPs?

JO: Being a youth development worker is a sacrifice. It is a path I am very careful to advice young professionals to follow because it is not financially rewarding as compared to the conventional pharmacy practice. So, my advice to YPs wanting to follow this kind of path is to understand what the journey entails before going into it. The pursuit of purpose and fulfillment in life is a journey. Before you decide to journey through unconventional paths, be very sure it is the path where you derive purpose for living and pleasure for life.

That being said, opportunities that have really opened unto me have been more of doors for a greater responsibility within the global youth development space. While people may see it as something to brag about or hype your social status, I basically see it as an opportunity to contribute positively to the lives of young people globally.

I started BNI in my 100 level at the University of Ibadan as a campus organization. By our fourth year, we already became known on campus and even in my state. IN 2013, an opportunity came to represent Nigeria at the First Commonwealth Conference on Education and Training of Youth Workers at the University of South Africa, Pretoria. I was opportune to be sponsored by Ekiti State Government for the conference. That opportunity births my passion for professional youth work practice, and also my involvement in the Commonwealth Youth Programme. I went on to become the pioneer country representative for the Commonwealth Students’ Association. In 2014, I also represented Nigeria at the United Nations World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka, where I had the opportunity to join other global young leaders to contribute to policy recommendations for the post-2015 development agenda which eventually birth the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I have also been privilege to meet with world leaders, and global policy think-tanks at many international engagements during my time at the Commonwealth Youth Programme, especially through such platforms as 2018 Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Uganda, Commonwealth Sports Ministers Meeting, and 2018 Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting in London.

YPG: Every successful person by any measure or standard has people they look up to as mentors? How did you meet them and leverage their knowledge and/or resources?

JO: They say respect is reciprocal. Respect and honour are the currency of mentorship. When I see someone has something of value to add to my life, I respectfully develop an undemanding relationship with them, by respecting, honouring, and celebrating them. When you do so, you are cultivating an atmosphere of healthy relationship. Let them obviously see that you acknowledge their authority on your life through your submission and openness to seek and accept advice. Don’t wait till when you need their assistance before you keep in touch. Constant and open communication fuels relationship; Text, Call, Visit, Give gifts etc. Just celebrate and honour them with no desire for nothing in return other than quality relationship and open communication.

Also, mentors are not to give you money. They are not financial investors. They are to guide you through life.

YPG: You are a Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Working Group (CYSDP) member, right? How did that come to be, in what capacity are you currently serving and what do you do?

JO: On 25th January 2016, I was appointed by the Commonwealth Youth Programme to serve as the Africa Regional Representative for the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network. In this role, I educate, advocate and demonstrate the role of sports in promoting peace and sustainable development. As the Africa Regional Representative, I led CYSDP advocacy on supporting national sports commissions and ministry of sports in the member states in Africa have a functioning mechanism to involve youth in decision-making processes. This was achieved through the instrument of CYSDP position paper at the Commonwealth Sports Ministers Meeting, and the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting respectively. To achieve the aforementioned advocacy goal, I supported the CYSDP in developing and implementing youth-centered study in the Sport for Development and Peace field. I also provided education and training opportunities, using the CYSDP Advocacy Toolkit or other similar resources to encourage youth to become leaders and advocates for SDP in their countries.

To mark the 2016 International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, I coordinated the Local Organising Committee representing 18 national youth organisations, towards hosting the Africa Regional Conference on Youth Sports for Development and Peace in partnership with the University of Ibadan, in April 2016. The conference had in attendance representatives of 42 youth-led organisations in the sports for development and peace sector, with the former Director-General of the National Sports Commission and member of Commonwealth Advisory Board on Sports as the keynote speaker. The communique from the event was later fed into the CYSDP position paper to the Commonwealth Sports Ministers.

Upon completing my tenure as the Africa Regional Representative for the CYSDP, I was appointed as the Advocacy focal person. In this role, I led CYSDP advocacy on supporting national sports commissions and ministry of sports in the member states, across the Commonwealth, with a functioning mechanism to involve youth in decision-making processes. To achieve the aforementioned, I provided youth workers and representatives of youth sports organisations with education and training opportunities, using the CYSDP Advocacy Toolkit or other similar resources, to encourage youth to become leaders and advocates for SDP in their countries.

Achievements: At the 8th Commonwealth Sports Ministers Meeting in Brazil, member states approved CYSDP recommendation on the inclusive engagement of young people in sports governance at the national level. To implement this recommendation in Nigeria, I launched a #Sport4DevelopmentNG Campaign to advocate harnessing sports for peace and sustainable development. The campaign mobilized advocacy support for the Nigeria Sports Bill. 79 youth, campuses, and sports organisations, and 13 media partners to include Channels TV, were engaged as organizing partners. The former Minister of Youth and Sports approved the recommendation. Through the #Sport4DevelopmentNG campaign, I lobbied the input of the CYSDP recommendation (approved by Commonwealth Sports Ministers) into the Nigeria Sports Bill. Owing to the outstanding success of the campaign, I was invited by the House Committee on Sports of the National Assembly to the Public Hearing on the Nigeria Sports Bill where our advocacy demand was presented.

As a way of educating the public on the role of sports in promoting peace and sustainable development, I led CYSDP partnership with the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lagos towards hosting a Public Forum on Sports for Development and Peace in Nigeria.

I ended my tenure with the CYSDP in February 2019.

YPG: Considering your constant relationships with youth in need of guidance and also being a Pharmacist, what is your view on the education experience across faculties of Pharmacy in Nigeria? Do suggest improvements/innovations, if any.

JO: Many young pharmacists do not have the competence to conduct social research and also how to effectively engage in advocacy and policy interventions. Our curriculum does not make room for such, and this has actually made many YPs inactive in civic spaces, particularly in public health advocacy.

I think it will be of great value if the pharmacy school curriculum can have a little touch of psychology, research methodology, public health, and sociology.

YPG: If you could have a tête-à-tête with one person you admire, who would it be, why and what would you discuss?

JO: That’d be Pastor Poju Oyemade and/or Mr. Bayo Adeyinka. Much of the discussion would be about visioneering, purpose-centred leadership, people management, engaging culture, and strategic management for sustainable organizational growth.

These men have a practical understanding of leadership especially in time of crisis.

YPG: In May 2020, after the passing of your mom — Mrs. Deborah Bolanle Oluwadero — at EKSUTH, you wrote an open letter to the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, intended to address the state of our health system. What has changed since that time?

JO: I wrote the letter because I am very familiar with the person of the Governor. I know he is progressive and would take actions based on issues raised in the letter.

After his open reply to the letter, there were some improvements in the health sector in the state. One of the issues raised in the letter was the need for ambulatory services in the state. Through the support of MTN Foundation, EKSUTH got two new ambulances.

The state government also introduced the Ekiti State Health Insurance Scheme, as a way of ensuring universal health coverage of the poor through sustainable health financing model.

Also, I am aware that the government began the renovation of about 50 health centres across the state. That being said, I believe there is still a lot of work to be done in strengthening the weak health system of the country.

YPG: What will it take to see the change you and the populace at large pray and clamor for?

JO: Vision, Order, and Righteousness.

YPG: With your experience and passion for capacity development and International development, can we expect to see you taking the fore in the charge to realize a better Nigeria? Do elaborate if you have any intentions whether political or diplomatic

JO: The future is really about where God is leading my path. All I can say for now is that I remain highly committed to the advancing the course of positive youth development practice in Nigeria, and Africa at large.

Thank you for honoring our call, we truly appreciate you.

This interview was conducted by Sejoro Tonuewa and Oluwatobi Moses Ojo

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