Building young African leaders the ZeroToOne Foundation way

True leadership is using knowledge, power and authority to ensure the living standards of the people are improved —Chinua Achebe


Leadership, to some extent, is as old as man. In Africa, even before Western colonisation, African communities had leaders and various leadership styles to govern themselves. The big question in most contemporary African countries is: Is the kind of leadership we had before then, the kind we have today? Whatever the answer is, Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, had this to say, “Our children may learn about the heroes of the past. Our task is to make ourselves architects of the future.”

Leadership is not only a vital element in politics, business, family and personal lives. It is something that defines our past, present and future. It is something that determines peace and war. It is something that determines progress and retrogression. It is the pillar on which accountability and responsibility are anchored. Yet, vital as it is, it is something that is scarce in our everyday personal and national lives. No wonder, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, said, “Leadership is never given on a platter, one has to earn it.”

Chinua Achebe, in his book ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ noted that the trouble with Nigeria—if not the whole of Africa, as many would believe—is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. The book was published thirty-seven years ago, but till today, the prognosis and nuggets in the book are still valid. Till today, African leaders and politicians, both old and young, are still searching for the right leadership strategies or solutions out of the maze they have caused for themselves or they found themselves in.

Given this depressing indices, there are many who believe that it would take Africa and Africans forever to get out of this leadership maze or crises. On the other hand, there is hope, no matter how small. Across African countries and lands, there are few people and organisations that are becoming increasingly leadership conscious and savvy, and are pulling their expertise and resources together to help others, especially the young ones and the youth, to get the right skills and knowledge it requires to be an exceptional leader.

The ZeroToOne Foundation is one of Africa’s leadership and entrepreneurial non-profit organisation that is increasingly becoming an international force to behold. Within the past three years, since its inception in Nigeria, it has helping, in its own way, to redefine the concept of leadership and entrepreneurship in a way that is helping to change the dismal status quo by triggering new and diverse conversations within the youth cycle. The foundation’s programmes and mission are geared towards raising effective leaders that would shape the future with impactful careers, technology, entrepreneurship and civic leadership.

Founded by Ridwan Rasheed, a young tech enthusiast, entrepreneur, co-founder of Idera OS, and a Tony Elumelu Fellow, ZeroToOne has many programmes and initiatives targeted at young people and youth. One of its programmes is the annual online ZerotoOne High Impact Leaders Fellowship (ZHILF) programme for young African leaders and entrepreneurs. The fellowship programme, whose last year’s edition was attended by over four hundred fellows from forty-three African countries and whose third edition would be taking place this November, is a completely virtual programme, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. So, fellows across Africa could participate comfortably from their respective locations.

This year’s edition of the fellowship, which would run from November 10th to December 19th, 2020, is a six-week experiential learning programme. According to Rasheed, it is designed to identify and grow talented leaders while giving them the opportunity to apply their skills and interests to provide solutions to pressing needs in their communities. Also, the aim is to bridge the gap between classroom learning and industrial knowledge for disadvantaged youth.

“Fellows will have access to professional development through access to our global network and professional recommendations,” Rasheed said. “We make ‘heroes’ out of ‘zeros’. Over the last few years, our programmes have built a reputation for been innovative and have impacted over twenty thousand youth across Africa.”

In a recent Nigerian Tribune interview, Rasheed stated that some people have to find their purpose in life; while for others, their mission and purpose would find them.

“Mine is the latter. Looking back, I think what influenced this path was my natural instinct to solve problems. When I see a problem, my first reaction is to fix it or to do something about it,” he said. “So, these days, when I’m asked, ‘Who are you?’ my mind wanders to what I’ve been through and who I’ve become. Today, I think I’m a sensation, whose story and life mission is to build/nurture high-performing young people and businesses in sub-Saharan Africa.”

He noted that the era of natural resources is gone, and that Africa needs to actively invest in human resources that’ll fuel economic and social-political transformation through innovation, creativity and technology. He also noted that Africa needs to promote, support and create more to boost the morale and momentum of its youth in matters concerning leadership.

“Let me give you an instance. One of the fellows, from our last fellowship, was recently appointed an SA to the Deputy Vice Chairman, House Committee, on Army in Nigeria,” he said. “Countless others have gone on to become gainfully employed across the world.”

I would end this reflection by paraphrasing one of Patrice Emery Lumumba’s famous quotes on African political problems. Lumuba, the first prime minister of Democratic Republic of Congo, had opined, and I paraphrase, that the tragedy with Africa is that those with ideas are not in ‘leadership positions’, while those in ‘leadership positions’ have no ideas. When the people have no chance, they still vote ‘or go’ for those with no ideas.

This is the leadership crisis Ridwan Rasheed and his team at ZeroToOne Foundation are trying to solve in Africa by leveraging technology to educate young people by giving them leadership skills, at no cost, which would help them change the gloomy leadership narrative in their respective African communities. And this noble endeavour, other people and organisations, should emulate for the betterment of Africa’s posterity.

Kingsley Alumona, a social commentator, writes from Ibadan.




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