Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Godswill Uchenna Agbagwa. I am a Priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria. I was born in a small community in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State. As a child, I had a comfortable life, thanks to my hardworking parents. Things took a bad turn in 1990 when my father passed away leaving my mother to fend for seven children. Poverty quickly set in and for many years we managed to feed, obtain medical care and pay tuition.
It was then that I started dreaming of a better Nigeria where all can find support and encouragement to work hard, live in dignity and feel proud to belong. My dream was deceptively kept aliveby a corrupt military junta thatkept assuring us of an imminent coming of a better Nigeria where there would be free education, sufficient food, reliable electric power supply and clean drinking water. Every night, I dreamt of this kind of Nigeria. Morning camefollowed by night but weremained poor, hungry and helpless. I still had to trek several miles to fetch drinking water, burn nightly candles tostudy for my exams, and prayed that I didnot fall sick because there was no good healthcare facility.
By the time I became a Priest in 2003, my dreams of a better Nigeria had faded away.But in 2008, barely two years after I arrived Michigan for graduate school, the dream came back. As I toured Europe and North America on vacation, I wondered why amenities such as constant electricity supply, paved roads, good healthcare, clean water that are regarded as necessity in those regions of the world are considered luxury in my native land. I wondered why I was treated with contempt at the airports and nearly cried out my eyes at Toronto international airport in 2008 when a female immigration officer scornfully asked me how much I paid in bribe for my green passport.
It was then that my dream of a better Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa turned into a burning desire. For two years, I struggled, day and night, to unravel the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment in Nigeria. I engaged anyone that cared to listen. I read Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. I studied Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. I then took a trip back home to reassess the situation of things. Nigeria was still a sorry sight.
After thoughtful considerations, I became convincedthat the problem with Nigeriaand the rest of Africa is a combination of failure of leadership, loss of social and moral sense, as well as lack of entrepreneurial spirit. I then reasoned that if we can revive the African social and moral sense, re-awaken the African spirit of entrepreneurship and nurture leaders with the capacities, competencies and character to effect positive social changes, poverty and underdevelopment will soon be history in Africa.
Consequently, I decided to establish a Center for the purpose of working towards this dream.TheCenter commenced activities in 2013with primary focus on helping youths build the capacities, competencies and character to achieve sterling successes and bring positive change to Africa. We concentrate on youths because the impressions that shape our capacities, competencies and character are easily assimilated at this stage of life.Today, our programs include: Emerging Leaders Project (ELP), CSAAE Opportunity Fair (COF) and Win As You Learn (WAYOL).
Ladies and gentlemen, we have invited you all tonight to talk about our first and fastest growing program, ELP. But first, let me briefly tell you about COF and WAYOL.
COF is an integrated career-building program designed to help graduating African youths launch lucrative careers and contribute to African socioeconomic development. As of today,COF has trained over 1000 youths from across Nigeria on how to become successful entrepreneurs; secure dream jobs; secure educational and training opportunities home and abroad; create, manage, save and grow money; get involved in civic activities; fight for their rights as citizens; as well as how to become ethical and inspirational leaders. Next year, our Center plans to bring COF to the United States to help those looking homewards tap into the immense genuine employment and entrepreneurial opportunities back home.
WAYOLis an inspiring competitive reading and film-viewing program aimed athelping African youths understand and imbibe African moral code, culture and history. To encourage participation, CSAAE awards WAYOL scholarships or other educational gifts to those who excel in the reading and viewing contests. Especially here in the United States, WAYOL will be very useful in helping our children reconnect with their African values and eventually return home to contribute to African socioeconomic development.
Now, let’s talk about ELP. ELP is a three-year structured mentoring program for future presidents, lawmakers, governors, top-notch professionals, business entrepreneurs, CEOs and religious leaders who will do the right thing and only the right thing for Africa. We focus on ethics, creative thinking and problem solving. Through a combination of Foundation conferences, mid-year summits, inspirational book reading and film viewing, telephone coaching, community services, leadership-building experiences and ethical reorientation, mentees imbibe the skills and habits of highly effective leaders.
Every year since 2013, we select 25 brilliant and disciplined freshmen with leadership potentials across Nigeria through a rigorous merit-based process that involves written exams, oral interviews and background checks. We kick off our mentoring year in the first week of December with theFoundation conference. This conference brings togetherglobal leadersfromall walks of life to inspire mentees through real lifestories and skill-set workshops.
At the end of this inspirational conference, the mentees, guided by their mentors, propose personal and community development projects to work on. Our mentees work on these projects with their mentors via the telephone.
In May, we gather again for the mid-year summit. This time, the mentees take the stage to present the progress of their projects before the mentors and their peers. This provides great opportunity for constructive feedback and exchange of ideas.
At the end of the summit, mentors continue to follow up with the mentees on their initiated projects via telephone coaching. Between the foundation conference and the summit, thementees are continuously engaged through inspirational book reading and film-viewing. Among the recommended readings were Steven Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective leaders Ibikun’s girl entrepreneur and our own book, “Career Path: Capacities, Competencies and Character”. Mentors read and watch along with mentees.
Ladies and gentlemen, “seeing”, they say, “is believing” and so I want to bring in our IT Director to show you some our clips.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you have seen, ELP is quietly renewing the face of Nigeria from the grassroots. Today ELP is in over 20 Universities in Nigeria. As a campus-based mentoring program, ELP not only provides mentees ethical alternative to the hopelessand corruptlife on college campus, but also serves as platform for mentees to combat corruption. From FUTO to UNIBEN and from UNILORIN to UNIJOS, our mentees are fighting corruption, organizing ethics trainings and leading by example on campus. As of today, ELP has inspired over 40-community development projects going on across Nigeria. ELP is also uniting Nigeria. CSAAE mentees comprise Christians and Muslims; Hausas, Yorubas and Igbos.
Judging from their performances so far, I have no doubts that these mentees will turn out to be the kind of leaders we all want, and CSAAEINC will be there to help them make the best decisions for Africa. But we must help them to get there and the time is now. These mentees share a lot in common. They all have an unwavering faith in God. They are orphans and semi-orphans who are not sure of breakfast tomorrow. They all want to go to school but have no one to pay their tuitions. They have ideas that can change Africa, but they donot even have cellphonesor laptop computers to start working on these ideas. I am confident that if we can support and encourage these mentees, we shall soon have leaders with the capacities, competencies and character to make Africa a great place where all can find support and encouragement to work hard, live with dignity and feel proud to belong.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my dream!
I thank those who share in this dream especially my childhood friend, Fr. Vincent Arisukwu, CSAAE Vice President,who helped in establishing CSAAEINC in Nigeria; the board members, mentors, resource persons, donors, friends and well wishers.I invite all here to join our efforts to make this dream come true.
Thank you for lending me your ears!