So Long, 2023: Thanks for All the Fish
Just like Ritu Ghatourey rightly put it, Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you have had, what you have lost, and what you’ve taken for granted. I couldn’t stop this quote about goodbyes repeatedly playing in my head in the last minutes of 2023. So Long, 2023: Thanks for All the Fish.
As a fan of the concept of “visualization”, for a moment, I closed my eyes to reflect on the year starting from January, 2023. Looking through my photo gallery provides even a clearer picture, which is why I love my gallery — filled with memories and pictures I barely share on socials. However, once in a while when I take a look at them often put a big smile on my face.
While visualizing, I saw a year filled with phenomenal personal and professional growth and achievements despite the challenges faced. From graduating from global fellowships to enrolling in new ones to taking on new roles and ending some, travelling across different continents, managing projects, making new friends and significant impact across different communities in Nigeria, Africa and across the world. All in line with my key areas of interest which include Data, Policy Advocacy and Climate Change (Climate Adaptation).
As I reflect, I remember vividly starting the year in a grand way, graduating from the Click-on Kaduna Data Science Fellowship as one of the 10 Best Graduating fellows. This was after six months of intensive, hands-on learning and exploring different aspects of data science and working on different projects to support the state in achieving its data revolution plan. In addition to this, we strategically engage policymakers through fireside chats and provide data-driven policy recommendations for effective resource allocation and programming.
The smile and the whisper of “you are doing great” to me by the Kaduna State commissioner for health while presenting me with “Certificate of Merit ” during the graduation ceremony still remains fresh in my memory.
By the end of the fellowship, I had developed a particular interest in data management and governance, the intersection of climate Change and AI as well as data protection and ethics which was influenced by the gaps I noticed exist in the sector especially in my country and continent. This influenced my interest in joining the UN Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data as one of the pioneer Data Values Advocate. Engaging stakeholders and policymakers advocating for inclusive and equitable data future for all at local, national and multinational level using the Data Values Manifestos.
As a data values advocate, I had the incredible opportunity to co-lead a virtual consultation on UN Global Digital Compact within the data values communities among other community engagements on data I either speak, moderate or attended as a member. I also had the opportunity to successfully design and implement a policy advocacy project in Katsina State, Nigeria. The project trains community leaders, youth leaders, leaders of people with disability and government representatives on data values manifestos and how to effectively engage policymakers to invest in open and responsive data systems and also invest in people to shape how they are represented in data. With a one-day workshop we analyzed the gaps in the existing data systems to know how open and responsive they were, provide policy recommendations on how best the government can invest to make the systems responsive and invest in people to shape how they are represented in data. At the end of the workshop, a strategic advocacy tool was created for effective policymakers engagement on data by the stakeholders which was presented to key policymakers in the state.
In addition to what I did as a data values advocate, I collaborated with a fellow advocate to propose a lightning talk at RightCons in Costa Rica on Data Protection sharing our community and youth engagement experiences which was not accepted (Oops!). However, we ended up co-hosting a somewhat similar fishbowl session at the Festival De Datos on “Wining on inclusive and ethical data in the AI era” among other engagements at the festival which I wrote about. While also serving as a data values advocate, I had my first taste of Brazilian Coffee in Sao Paulo, Uruguayan Chivito in Punta Del Este and Columbian Coffee gifted to me by a friend at the festival. While in Uruguay we also visited Microsoft AI Lab in Montevideo, thanks to the festival organizers.
Also, one of the fishes I am glad I caught in 2023 was traveling for a day to visit my mentee Steve in Mombasa, Kenya. This was in my role as a youth advisor with The Iris Project, advising the implementation of trust-based participatory grant-making for young nature protection and conservation activists and advocates from across the world. As one of Steve’s mentors working with Eli, one of my proudest moments in 2023 was watching Steve projects and organization (Youth Pawa) continue to grow and flourish. By the end of the year Youth Pawa had planted over 19,000 mangroves which I had the opportunity to participate in planting over 1000 during my visit.
Some moments after the visit, we called for a new set of applications, reviewed it and announced the winners. The announcement landed me Dipta the 2023 Iris Prize winner. As part of our peer-to-peer mentorship I am joining one of the advisors in mentoring Dipta from Bali on his amazing and ambitious data-centric recharge well project. This is in our efforts to empower young people and bring to life their projects and ideas through our funding, mentorship, community and communications initiatives.
Another fish I am glad I caught in 2023 was accepting to work for The Ashley Lashley Foundation an organization based in Barbados as The HEY Campaign Regional Focal Point Liaison Officer. In this role, I had the opportunity to work directly with regional focal points from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, North America and Latin America managing the implementation of the Healthy and Environmentally-friendly Youth (HEY) Campaign across these regions. Over the year I had the opportunity to co-design and support the implementation of a tailored capacity building sessions for the HEY Ambassadors across these regions, The HEY Global Youth Network Summit, HEY Global Climate Fund, Support young people to participate at COP28 and led the organization of a side event at COP28 on the impact of climate change and health. I am super proud of what we were able to accomplished with all these.
Onto one of the most challenging fish I caught in 2023 that tested my resilience muscles. It was accepting to volunteer to lead the Africa Youth Climate Action Plan (AYCAP) working group as the policy lead after serving as a co-lead in the previous year. In 2023, I led a continent wide data collection, data validation and youth consultations to develop AYCAP first year assessment report and a position paper on accelerating Africa just energy transition; youth and green skills development, working with an amazing team of volunteers and national partners from over 40 African countries. These two documents were launched at the 28th UN Conference of Parties (COP28) with the position paper launched at the largest student-led summit the Student Energy Summit (SES) in Abu Dhabi, UAE. With support from a colleague we facilitated partnerships that led to the organization of these three events at SES and COP28 with IRENA, Zimbabwe Pavilion and Student Energy Official among other organizations.
Also, while at COP28 I had the opportunity to represent my country with a party overflow badge (Thanks to NCCC for trusting me with the badge) that gives me the opportunity to follow adaptation negotiations. From Global Goals on Adaptation to National Adaptation Plans and Adaptation Finance I had the opportunity to learn and witness firsthand global leaders negotiating for what they think is best for their country and continent in the context of adaptation. I also had the opportunity to attend high-level engagements including the one on Climate Change and AI which I will write about soon. I also accepted some speaking engagements with International Labor Organization (ILO), European Commission (EC), Comic Relief US on topics around just transition, climate adaptation and funding for youth-led projects in the first week. In the second week, I was more focused on ensuring successful implementations of the about five side events I was leading.
Aside from these major fishes, I have had the opportunity to provide consultancy services for some organizations which I often write about, speak at different conferences, and support different local, national and international initiatives. Some of these initiatives include the launch of a data literacy campaign, organization of ABU Tech Connect, Plogging Nigeria and Jobberman Soft Skills training that aim at upskilling youth in Nigeria to be job ready.
In all these, just like a salmon fish, I have learnt to set ambitious goals for myself, whether it’s learning a new skill, improving my health, or strengthening relationships. Embracing challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, and not give up easily. Pursue career goals with unwavering determination. Be adaptable to changing circumstances and develop the resilience to overcome professional setbacks.
My personal and professional experience and skills played a major role in achieving all these milestones. I am also thankful for the gift of family, friends, colleagues and mentors who recommended me for opportunities and supported me in all that I do.
Few days into 2024 already, I look forward to a productive and meritorious year ahead filled with more impact and profound personal and professional growth.
“For all that has been, Thank You. For all that is to come, Yes!”