Kingsley Bangwell is executive director and founder of Youngstars Development Initiative. In an interview with Blessing Bature, he discusses the imperative of youth development as a panacea for curbing security challenges in Nigeria.
About The Organisation…
Youngstars Foundation is one of Africa’s unique, life-changing youth organisations operating in Abuja, Nigeria. From a weekly youth club in a local barber shop in 1995, Youngstars Foundation is gradually emerging as one of the leading youth non-profit organisations that are building young people and strengthening youth organisations in the areas of democratic governance, entrepreneurship and leadership development programs in Africa. In 1995, at age 21, I started Youngstars Foundation in a local barber shop in Jos, Plateau State and it has grown to have its headquarters in Abuja and an office in Accra, Ghana with the objective of increasing the quantity of high pedigree young leaders achieving global impact. Furthermore, we also plan to enhance capacity building platforms for youth to actively participate in promoting public accountability, impactful and sustainable democratic governance, increasing youth voice and capacity to actively participate in public leadership at all levels and to actualise youth priorities. In addition, we are focused on boosting collaboration towards homegrown African innovations, inventions and solutions for the continent’s challenges and to grow Youth TV Africa to become a foremost youth centric media platform.
Youngstars Foundation is now in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), and is registered with CAC Nigeria as Youngstars Development Initiative (CAC/IT/NO 21517) and in Ghana as Youngstars Development Initiative (G.21, 431).
Inspiration Behind The Establishment Of
By the time I left secondary school, I was concerned about those young people who were poor like me but brilliant, students who couldn’t afford fees but were interested in developing themselves, people whom the society should have done something to cater for. So, by the time I left school, I said okay, since there was no place I could go to express or ask for assistance, I decided to start this forum where people like myself could come and talk about the challenges they face and how some of the challenges could be addressed.
We started this whole thing over there in Jos. I was visiting secondary schools, giving inspirational talks, talking about issues that are affecting young people in secondary schools, primary schools and that is what we were actually doing for a couple of years, volunteering. Eventually, we started incorporating issues that are now prevalent with the young people, like the issue of HIV and Aids that was a dominant discuss then and there was another discussion, all of this issues, if you are talking about youth, you are talking about HIV Aids and Drugs Use and all of that. So, we gathered youth in the community, met at Sunday evening to talk about issues we were dealing with then because I was a secondary school graduate, waiting for admission into a university. I graduated from secondary school in 1994, and was waiting for admission with my couple of friends. So, the Youngstar Foundation started with a local barber shop in Jos, Plateau State, precisely 5 Niger Avenue, off Tafawa Balewa street in 1995. I was the one operating the local barbershop as a barber and I was using that facility for the weekly youth forum while waiting for the university admission. So, my organisation now became the leading youth group in plateau, which has metamorphosed into a full grown organisation or group for young people to come and talk and express their issues, see where we are now.
Contribution To National Developments…
Since inception, Youngstars has directly conducted over 60 workshops, facilitated over 500 stepdown workshops and hosted hundreds of radio and television programs. Youngstars conducted DESPLAY, the oldest annual youth democracy-training program in Nigeria, which wrapped up in its 10th year. Youngstars has also introduced Nigeria’s first political leadership preparatory program for youth called “Young Aspirants Leadership Fellowship (YALF)”. They are currently piloting Nigeria’s first youth online television channel. Youngstars has also launched ‘Thinking School Africa’, which holds every November in Dubai for youth on innovations. We established Pan African Youth Institute for Youth Centric Research, Publications, Toolkits Development and Solution Services. We also established Premium Youth Hostels in Abuja and Lagos. We inaugurated Youngstars Chapters in at least 25 African Countries and achieved major global collaborations with A-Class Nigerian and International Celebrities
You can imagine someone who left secondary school at age 21, yet to work with any organisation but now taking up a burden to solve the problem of others and even when I had the idea, articulating it into that kind of organisation that would serve as a framework to harness youth development as I always desired, bringing in people and being able to generate the resource to do what I wanted to do was not easy, because my objective was quite peculiar since I wasn’t selling a product that would require a shop for the business before starting to make sales. But in my case, I am not selling anything. It got to a point when I had the challenge of not really understanding how to articulate the whole idea. I had to start talking to people, and the ones I went to meet started advising me that I needed to have a vision, mission, write down objectives, develop some form of emotion. So, we had to sit down with my team of volunteers to do that, which itself was a burden. We had to produce a letter headed paper. We went to a business centre and asked them to make it for us.
Another challenge was that of mentorship, you know, for something you haven’t done before, unlike now that there is Internet where you can go online to ask Google. In fact there, was not a youth NGO that I could go to, there were only adult NGOs and going to them, they were reluctant to share their information. For example, one of the NGOs I met then, I only asked him to guide me on how to write, and he told me that he couldn’t that it was confidential information. So, during those years, it was really difficult but after a while, I articulated what was required to be done. I started going out to schools. I remember the first set of schools we visited then; I believe they accepted us out of our passion. Schools like Baptist High School, Aba Memorial College, Police High School and Temple College in Gauwga Sagari. Some of those schools at that initial stage just believed and mobilised their students. So, in a term, we had several schools we were going to discuss with but we didn’t have funding, we had to trick some of those schools. So, that was what happened in the first couple of years and that was how we ran into a man who has now become a major shaper of the organisation. His name is Mr Philip David. I went to his office to submit documents, then, he was attending to some documents and thereafter, he attended to us. He lent us some advice that actually propelled us to where we are today.
But the major challenge of the organisation at that initial stage was that of funding, money to even register was a problem. For several years, the organisation received no funding but conducted activities in secondary schools until 2003 when it received its first funding from Allen Webster Winners Fund, UK. And to God be the glory, since then, it has partnered with British Council Nigeria, the Office of the Presidency on MDGs, ICNC USA, LYNX USA, Federal Ministry of Youth Development, Nigeria, World Youth Alliance USA, SKYPE UK, IRI Nigeria and NDI Nigeria. The NED, which has funded Youngstars Foundation annually since 2004, remains our key funder.
Advice To Aspiring CEOs…
The first thing I always tell people is to pursue something you are passionate about, because passion will be the unseen intrinsic energy that will fuel your drive. Even when every other thing fails, it will be there. So, getting into something you are not passionate about, will give you problems. I can tell you that a high percentage of business starters or new ventures that start up, sometimes collapse within the first two years. So, you need to be passionate so that you can be resilient during challenges, which is imminent in any business venture.
Another advice I will say is, start within an entry point that is much easier for you. I don’t want to say start small or big, be innovative in your business strategy. Don’t start the way everybody is starting when you are entering the market, look at what everybody is doing, and then come up with a way that is very unique.
Get a mentor that will advise you right from the conception stage, learn from people in the same line of business, then don’t be in a hurry while building your business, be patient and resilient and above all, trust in God.
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