On this episode, we speak with Victoria Ibiwoye, Executive Director of One African Child Foundation. She sits on the SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee.
In 2017 and 2018, Victoria was named as 100 Most Influential Young Africans by the African Youth Awards. She is also a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and a recipient of the the Princess Diana Legacy Awards for her contribution to education and youth development.
Listen to the Full Podcast:
Read the Transcript Below:
Ada: Everyone, I’m speaking with Victoria Ibiwoye, she’s a humanitarian lawyer and executive director of One African Child initiative, a nonprofit organization through which she leads over a hundred youth in volunteering in Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi and Zimbabwe. She sits on the SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee. We are happy to have her. Miss Victoria, can we hear a little bit more about you? Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Victoria: Thank you, hello everyone my name is Victoria Ibiwoye and I’m the director of One African Child Foundation for Creative Learning. One African Child started in 2013 with a goal to support children who come from marginalized communities with quality and inclusive education and also to empower them with skills for them to become global citizens.
So far, our reach has grown from starting with just two kids in 2013 to reaching over 6,000 children across Nigeria Kenya and the Republic of Benin. We have also introduced a teacher training program to build the capacity of teachers to improve their professional skills in and out of the classroom. Since 2016 when we introduced this program, we have empowered over 350 teachers from across Nigeria.
Ada: That’s amazing.
Victoria: Thank you.
How She Got Started
Ada: Another question, what makes you so passionate about education?
Victoria: Okay, my journey through education comes from way back. It started since I was very little. I faced some challenges myself with my academics in the classroom. I was doing poorly with my academics and no matter the effort that was made by my parents who gave you know all of their pennies to put me and my siblings in a private school so that we can receive quality education also enrolling us in an after-school program you know so that we can be the best possible I still was doing poorly at school. I faced some challenges and this was one of what inspired me to start this journey.
Another reason was also the environment where I grew up in and where I spent, I would say, even most of my adult life. I live in a middle low-income community where I see so many kids who are either not going to school or they are going to school but the kind of schools that they go to, you can tell that you know it’s never going to raise these children to become the best possible version of themselves.
These two factors inspired me to start one African child foundation and I started this organization at college when I was 19. It was just my second year studying law and I said to myself that I don’t have the financial resources to help as many children across the country or across the continent as I would love to but I really want to focus on one child and this is what inspired the name “One African child”. I want to focus on that one child, help them see the potential in themselves.
Experiences Running an NGO in Nigeria
Ada: Next question, what’s it like to run an NGO or nonprofits in Nigeria?
Victoria: Running an NGO is not an easy job, I would say. It takes a lot of passion. You find out that there are so many NGOs out there but how many of these NGOs are sustainable and scalable?
Firstly, it takes passion to run an NGO and it takes you remembering or reminding constantly reminding yourself of the purpose behind why you do what you do. The why is very important because the passion would always die along the way.
I remember as a child some of the things I wanted to do I wanted to be too many things I wanted to be an accountant. I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to be a medical doctor. As I grew older, all of this passion changed you know over time. I’m no longer passionate about the things I was passionate about when I was a child or even a teenager so this is also the same about passion passion and change changes but it takes you constantly remembering your why to stay on track.
Running an NGO, also, is not a one-man job you would have to requiresome support in fact a lot of support along the way so there is like a mantra that I have, that I always remind myself over and that is, “Never walk alone”. If you walk alone the journey would be really tough but with support you can share a lot of burden, a lot of responsibilities and all of those.
As a leader, I believe strongly in delegation. I believe that I am not the smartest person in the organization even though I feel privileged to be the one to convey the vision and mission of the organization. I don’t think that I am the one within the organization who works the most, who works very hard. With support of volunteers, with support of mentors support of donors, support of friends of the organization, the organization has been able to stand strong today. We are scaling we are growing every single day.
It really takes- just to recap- it really takes a lot of passion to run an NGO it takes you to know the “why”. Why you’re doing what you’re doing and it will require a whole lot of support. One of the common challenges with people in the NGO space, I would say, is funding because you cannot make profits and you know whatever you are doing, ideally, the primary goal is not to make profits. Funding is a major challenge because you also need money to actualize many of your goals.
How to Fund Your Cause
Ada: Yes, it is. That’s the question I was going to ask next because, a lot of young people, they have a lot of passion, are interested in change making but then they look at their situation and they say, “I barely have enough money to take care of myself. How do I raise money to pursue a cause, to make changes in society?” We would like to know more about that, raising funds.
Victoria: What I’ve learned recently is that you don’t have to own resources. You just have to have them. That means that if I’m passionate about making a difference, I don’t have to have a facility like a training space that is mine. I don’t have to have all of the books that I want to donate to the kids in the community. I don’t have to have the food that I want to share to these kids or to the people that we plan to reach out in the community. I just have to have them and what this means is that you can collaborate to get some of the resources you want.
You can collaborate with a food vendor who believes strongly in what you do to donate food for the event you’re planning. You can collaborate with an organization that has an existing training space who share similar goals as you to use their training space without having to pay.
Collaboration really works strongly. It’s not easy to even find collaborators but you have to be strategic. It also involves you working a lot on yourself like how do you pitch your ideas to people. You find out that some people can almost sell anything just because they have great storytelling skills. Some people can have people buy into their ideas just because they are able to convey what they do in a clear manner.
For somebody who is in a leadership position you have to find out what works. You have to look at organizations that are thriving. What is working for them? Do they always have all the resources? Who are their partners? How do they approach their partners? I am somebody who believes in continuous learning.
When I meet people who work in communities where I would love to be in, I find out time to sit with them and lean on their wisdom and expertise. I ask them questions that would help me improve systems that I am building for myself and the organization that I work with. I ask them how they you know raise funds, how they talk to partners, how do you build relationship? You can also find collaborators but if you are not investing in very healthy relationship, they no longer want to keep in touch with you. They can tell you that who are spaces available this weekend but if you did not meet up to the level of expectation, that space is most likely to be available next weekend but not available to you for one reason or the other.
What I’m just trying to say in terms of funding is that money is not the primary thing. A lot of people think that you always have to get people to give you grants or to donate your organization. Money is not the primary thing. Just finding alternative ways to get resources is really important but that’s not to say that money is not important. Money is important. There are some resources you need that you cannot simply get by collaborating.
For me, I’ve studied law at the University. I don’t have any background in finance or even in nonprofit management but all that I have learned today they are things that I have learned on the job. I have learnt a lot about how to write grants. I’m still learning I’m not a pro at this .I’m learning along the way. How to write grants, how to develop a strategic action plan, you need a an action plan that is strategic and clear.
I am learning a lot about how to be more focused even though when people see me or when they see what we do at One African Child, they know that education is what we are working on but education can also be very broad and robust. Education can also be very vague I’m learning how to streamline that so that they know clearly that this is an area that we are specifically working on when it comes to education all of these pieces our work comes together to you know gets you to make you stand out once you stand out donors would be the ones who are looking for you and it would be less about you running to them for money.
Once you stand out you’ll find your own people but a lot of people also thinkthat being focused means being limited.
Challenges and Achievements
Ada: Let’s quickly talk about the challenges you’ve faced and your achievements with your organization.
Victoria: I would say like we face very common challenges with us as with other organizations. The biggest of the challenges would be funding, getting funding to run projects. We have really tremendous ideas. We have a lot of things that we would like to do. We really have a lot of stuff that we want to do to transform the education system in the country and in the continent but funding can just limit the capacity to which you can do.
For One African Child, like I’ve been saying earlier, our focus is really on the impact. We rarely put together events that brings 500 students together or more. We work with very small numbers because we want to see how our program is changing individual lives. A lot of what we do involves us working with kids who are just about 20 in our entire program or 50 at the most. We want to be able to double those numbers over the years. We want to be able to reach thousands and millions of kids but funding is a major challenge for us and we are at a stage where we are learning.
We are in a learning phase where we are learning more about grants writing and also more about branding and marketing. Even if you run an NGO, it’s important for you to have a business mindset because every business person wants to stay in the business. There are a lot of competition. They don’t want to go out of business. When you have the business mindset, you are not thinking of how specifically to make money but money is also a key. It’s really important. You are thinking of how to receive the resources that you need so that you can reinvest it back into the cause that you’re passionate about.
We are thinking a lot of our branding. A lot of people are online these days so sometimes we make me not sometimes allof the time we ensure that our onlinebranding is highly professional. It keeps people engaged with us. We do a lot of research around education and we connect with our community through that. I take, for example, if you say that, “Do you know that this amount of kids are out of school in Nigeria or this amount of children- Let’s say not children now. Let’s say 70% of Nigerian families have no electricity and without electricity, how can children read? how can they connect online to continue learning?
Something well researched triggers somebody who’s just curious as to what’s going on in Nigeria and it might just be the motivating factor of, ” How can I help? What can I do to make an impact?” Funding has been a major challenge for us and we are looking at how to address that through alternative means through grants, through individual donations, through fundraising and and all of those.
Another challenge that we face at One African Child is with volunteerism. Every young person out there wants to be a volunteer for so many reasons. Some want to volunteer because they see other young people wearing branded t-shirts online and it looks colorful. It looks really nice. They feel like we also want to go to a low-income community where there are tires and first everywhere, get their hands dirty, show that they are really doing something. Like I said about passion and the passion is temporary.
One of the challenges that we are facing is that we see volunteers today but we don’t see them tomorrow and it’s also that sense of impatience. A lot of young people want to see immediate results. “We just went to this community. Why are they still poor? Why are they not in a better place? We donated these school bags and all of those. Why have they not been in a betterplace?” A lot of young people are kind of impatient they want to see immediate results and sometimes also immediate results for themselves.
They see Victoria traveling to many countries to give presentations on education. They see Victoria being recognized for the work that she’s doing and maybe somebpeople also want to be like Victoria and they just want to achieve that within a day or two.
Ada: What are your achievements? We’ve tackled the roadblocks.
Victoria: Achievements, I would say, they are so many but the ones that really matter to me they are not in terms of all of the recognitions although I would talk a little bit about that. They are really in terms of where I hope that the organization will soon become in the future. For me, I am so concerned about in leadership. I want to be the person who raises other leaders. I want to be the person who- is this the word when they say somebody burns bridges- the person who brings people together.
Starting One African Child as one singular person, I never imagined- It’s interesting because I knew from way back that I was passionate about education but when One African Child started, I never imagined that it would one day become something stronger, something that would be beyond me.
For me, I see one African child becoming a sustainable and scalable organization because of the kind of leaders that we have and I have been spending a lot ofmy time over the years building the capacity of other young people like myself to become leaders.
As a youth facilitator, I would make sure that every new thing that I was learning, I would make sure that I’m replicating a force in the organization, sharing it with other people, building and raising other youth facilitators and today when we go for events, I’m usually the person who works at the backend. I’m usually the person who is behind the screen and other people, other volunteers are taking the lead so some of the achievement has been really that our organization has been able to raise not just volunteers but leaders.
Sometimes volunteers join organizations because they want to build capacity. They want to learn new things and One African Child has been a training ground where people come onboard, they learn new things. They are growing. They are not stagnant. This has been one of the achievements. We’ve learned, I learnt and we are we’re relearning over the years.
Ada: Finally, I’d like you to take us home with some advice, a quote we can take from you. We’ve got so many amazing quotes but we need something for young people. Something that will encourage us, push us, a final statement.
Victoria: Values are very important. Firstly, you must know your values, your life values and you must stick to them. Just to give you some practical examples, some of myvalues that I hold daily includes integrity, community humility, friendship and love.
I believe so much in integrity. My yes should be yes and my no should be no. I believe in humility and this means that I don’t think that I am the wisest person on this earth or by the kind of recognition that I received, I never feel like I have arrived. I see myself as a work in progress and in extending love to others. It just means that I open my arms to care for other people, to be selfless.
Selflessness and service have become a wayof life. Have your personal life values because they will be driving you not just in the present but also in the future. Also stick to them. That means that you must no bend your rules. Your yes must be yes, your no must be no. I have lost some opportunities in life just by sticking to my values but I am glad that I stood by my values because we may think that it’s okay to bend rules but a lot of things are happening today even on social media
We see how, for example, the #metoo movement. People who have abused other people’s right and felt that it can run away with it that nobody would notice. Now they are being called out. A lot of people were famous and popular and enjoyed some 15 minutes of fame. They are nothing today. The world has forgotten about them and moved on. It doesn’t mean that they were not living but they probably were not living by values. Values are really important. Have personal values and stick to them. Let them be your driving force.
This is more personal. Have a fellowship with God. Believe in something that is bigger and larger and greater than you. Have fellowship with God because there will be many times in life there would not even be somebody you can talk to personally, not even your parents, not even your best friend. You feel that there is no one who understands you. The moments you’re connecting with God, there would always be like a clarity, a direction of some sort.
These are two of the advice that I have. Anyone open to also following me on social media, on LinkedIn, on Facebook-
Where to Follow Her
Ada: That’s what I wanted to ask about. We’d like to know where to follow your work, your website.
Victoria: The website would be oneafricanchild.org. It’s OneAfrican like African with the “n” .org. Our social media handles, they are also the same. One African child and personally just my full name if you check on Instagram on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn it’s it’s Victoria Ibiwoye everywhere.
Ada: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for making out time to do this. I hope you have a great day and I wish you good luck in your fellowship.
Victoria: Thank you very much. Thank you so much for the platform. I appreciate.
This is part of the SDG Factory #100AfricanChangemakers series which consists of interviews and podcasts with the most outstanding young people achieving remarkable feats in the field of social entrepreneurship in Africa. The work of a featured changemaker has, in proven ways, led to the advancement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.
The aim of the project is to inspire hopeful non-profit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and activists and reveal tips for success in the social impact sector.