Nigeria’s Top 10 Champions of Youth Empowerment – Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

Mrs. Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, a social entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience in international development and business management, founded Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability & Professionalism (LEAP) Africa Foundation in 2002. The youth-focused leadership development organisation is on a mission to bridge the gap in leadership, education, employability and entrepreneurship in Africa through youth development interventions.

Nwuneli was driven by two convictions in setting up the foundation: a desperate need for a new generation of visionary, ethical, creative and disciplined servant leaders in Africa and to create a platform that can enable a small group of people, who share the same vision, to work together to change their communities, countries and indeed the world.

The foundation recognizes youth leadership and inclusion as critical to wealth creation and nation building. Its value-driven interventions are designed to inspire, empower and equip young people to lead ethically for personal, organisational and community transformation.

It structures its interventions to motivate the youth to creatively address social issues and

deliver positive changes in their communities as a model to transform the African continent. Its programmes are also designed for supporting social entrepreneurs to build systems and structures that are crucial for business sustainability, thereby contributing to livelihoods, social and national development.

The foundation’s two broad objectives are to make secondary education work for young people and then raise talents for the actualization of sustainable development goals.

LEAP Africa is actively involved in developing the body of knowledge, leveraging its strategic direction of ecosystem building, thought leadership and advocacy. It undertakes extensive research from which it continuously rolls out leadership development books, articles, research papers and reports, which are actively used by entrepreneurs, managers and institutions across the globe.

LEAP Africa’s mission of raising leaders and empowering the youth agency across Africa has attained great milestones. The organisation has a track record of having established footprints in some 26 states in Nigeria and eight countries in Africa.

At the latest count, it reports over one million direct and indirect beneficiaries from its change programmes in Nigeria, 11 published leadership development books for guiding the creation of positive and lasting changes in individuals, organisations and communities.

According to Nwuneli, the foundation has pioneered leadership, civics, ethics, governance and succession training programmes for youth among others. “Through leadership and life skills programmes, we have trained youth, teachers and practitioners across Africa. Many of our alumni are celebrated leaders across Nigeria, and we are extremely excited about the roles that are playing in shaping Africa’s future”.

LEAP Africa counts its success on the ability of beneficiaries to make practical changes in their lives, their organisations and communities. Nwuneli is delighted that many beneficiaries supported have become entrepreneurs across Nigeria and many have transformed their businesses from one-man enterprises to institutions that collectively employ thousands of people.

The foundation has some of the long running and extensive youth empowerment programmes in Nigeria. One of its flagship programmes, Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), has been in place since 2004 and holds a remarkable record of having directly transformed the lives of 2,650 young people, who in turn, have positively impacted about 7,680 others.

A further testimony to the impact of the programme is a report that more than 60 percent of the YLP alumni network now actively advocate for good governance and leadership in their communities while making significant contributions across the nation.

LEAP Africa’s YLP seeks to empower, equip and support young change leaders, who are at the forefront of providing effective and innovative social change solutions with the skills, knowledge and support system required for them to build sustainable organisations.

The organisation’s involvement in youth empowerment programmes sprang from its concerns over a surging growth in Africa’s youth population without a corresponding link to economic growth and sustainable development. In view of a growing risk of neglecting the bulging youth, LEAP Africa saw a critical need to invest into young people in order to unlock productivity and innovation, thus reducing poverty and insecurity in the country.

In recognition of this need, LEAP Africa formed partnerships with BudgIT Foundation and MacArthur Foundation and re-launched YLP. The aim is to equip undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 30 in institutions of higher learning across Nigeria with the skills for personal leadership, community/sustainable development and active citizenship towards the achievement of sustainable development goals.

LEAP Africa also offers iLEAD programme aimed at enhancing Nigeria’s secondary school education. The multi-dimensional programme engages teachers, school administrators and graduates to equip under-served youth in public secondary schools to improve learning outcomes, raise aspirations and acquire skills, which are needed for a meaningful and productive future.

For young graduates and teachers, iLEAD aims to inspire, equip and challenge them to become role models of leadership.

Another of the organisation’s flagship leadership development programmes is tagged LEAD the Way (LTW) – designed to enable teenagers develop trans-formative leadership skills. The objective is to empower and equip a new generation of young trans-formative and ethical leaders between the ages of 13-17 to build their leadership skills, demonstrate moral values and confidence, set goals, grow in their self-esteem and become the next generation of young African leaders. Its curriculum is modeled after international best practices and emerging lessons from reports on youth development across Africa.

Participants have opportunities to connect with other African teenagers in a creative and

inspiring learning environment. They can engage in in-person or online discussion forums where they share their learning and live mentoring sessions with young achievers, who share practical lessons to help teenagers navigate life challenges successfully.

The programme seeks to activate an incredible capacity of teenagers to champion change in their schools and communities. It takes them through a learning experience meant to ignite their social consciousness and strengthen their desire to give back to their communities. They are encouraged to identify problems in their schools and communities and take up opportunities to lead and/or make direct impacts.

The organisation reports a number of benefits of the programme, which includes helping to activate self-consciousness early in teenagers as they learn to be aware of their beliefs, values, attitudes and emotions. These, it says, motivates them to take action and also helps them to begin to see themselves as active citizens and part of the global society with the capacity to effect positive changes through creativity and innovation.

Nwuneli is quite impressed by LEAP Africa’s youth-focused journey so far towards bridging the leadership gap in Africa. “Beyond the indicators of our impact and reach, I am most proud of the institution that we have been able to build – one that is synonymous with good governance and ethical leadership. 

“With our new focus on digital learning and strategic partnerships, I am more convinced today than I was at our inception, that in our life time, with your continued support, we will inspire, empower and equip a new generation of principled, disciplined and creative leaders who will transform Nigeria, West Africa and indeed the continent of Africa”, she said.