Call it an adventure, a dream realized, a handshake with experience or a door of opportunity. In June, I traveled to Uganda for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP’s) Generation Change, a program for emerging leaders.
In addition to the chance to share our work with PeaceOpoly, this training program provided the best conflict management workshops I have ever witnessed. I went, I saw and conquered. I returned buzzing inside from the energy and spirit of new skills I acquired through the training.
The program is a gathering of experts from USIP and Generation Change Fellows from Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Nigeria. It is a gathering of equals, and yet everyone has their own unique experiences to share.
Background and PeaceOpoly
First, a bit about my work with PeaceOpoly.
Thanks to support from Ford Foundation, PeaceOpoly is a civic education program that enhances the ability of youth citizens to engage with public servants and politicians in a more informed, direct and constructive manner. PeaceOpoly is a program of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF).
I first learned of YTF from a YTF student, Oganiru. Back then, I was working as a circulation manager at Champion Newspapers. When I heard about YTF, I was intrigued because I thought it might be a great place for me to work. I was very much into developing my ICT skills, and thought working for YTF would inspire me to learn and contribute in a meaningful way to my community.
Now I’ve worked with YTF for five years. I am responsible for delivering YTF’s innovative education, technology and entrepreneurship programs to youth and women across 36 states in Nigeria.
“Who are my people?” is the first question at the training. I quickly remember the voiceless youth and women in my community – those energetic, creative, innovative young people in my community who go hungry every day because of bad governance in our country. I remember the men and women, young and old from the Northeast are made homeless by Boko Haram. I remember those who bring change and social justice, equity and transparency in our society. I say these are my people.
The thinking we’re asked to do at the training is spontaneous and challenging. I had never participated in this type of reflection before; the training no doubt helped me think deeper and deeper.
Inspirational Leaders and Fellow Participants
From the opening, we move to conflict management training. I was in a room with extraordinary facilitators, including Alison, Aubrey and Denny from USIP. I came out of her training as a skillful leader, communicator, conflict management professional and vision sharing expert thanks to the awesome team at USIP. And the other participants I met and interacted with: Victoria, Imrana, Rebecca, Abdullahi, the list goes on. People who in their individual ways have made positive strides to change the world we live in – for good.
This is the moment I have been waiting for – every camera turned on, every eye looking straight at me. It is the story of PeaceOpoly, with the headline: “How we are making today’s and next generation’s leaders through PeaceOpoly?”
Within the stories of PeaceOpoly’s work, the numbers come out: 250,000 youth projected to be impacted by PeaceOpoly in two years. 85,000 lives already impacted in six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. PeaceOpoly is part of the success recorded in 2015 general elections in Nigeria and much more.
A thundering clap follows my program statement. “Wow! Amazing! Wonderful, powerful, congratulations, and keep it up!” The support and praise rained from every part of the room. I was happy that people appreciate our efforts.
Sharing My Story
Finally, the conference attendees participated in River of Life, an experience I have never had. It is a deep reflection on your life from the day you were born to date, including the people you met that helped you. It is incontrovertibly obvious that I’ve let go of the greater part of my past.
The most challenging moment arrives when it is time to tell my story. Storytelling is a skill I barely grasp – my boss used to tell me the importance of storytelling, but I never fully understood its power. And yet, here I am telling my story to the world. After a rough start, I can thank Generation Change training for my ability to tell my story strongly and coherently.
I am a leader and I teach leadership in my workshops, but no leadership training has ever challenged me like this. I am better experienced now than ever in talking about leadership. Conflict management is a skill lacking in many leaders in the world, and thanks to Generation Change training, I now have the skill.
Even though there is no single formula or style for managing conflict, I now hold onto the tested and proven styles of conflict management: compromising, accommodating, avoiding, problem solving and competing. I recently applied some of them and they worked for me.
I plan to use the new skills on my projects with YTF. In fact, in the coming months, I’m planning a train the trainer session for my colleagues. Thanks to what I learned as a Generation Change Fellow, I will positively impact the lives of 250,000 PeaceOpoly participants I mentioned earlier – talk about changing generations!
Ezekiel Nworie is a program manager at YTF – Nigeria. He is responsible for implementing YTF’s education programs in technology and entrepreneurship for youth and women. He is passionate about youth development and community activism.