Mrs Yinka Ogunde is the Chief Executive Officer of Goals & Ideas Group. She tells Ademola Olonilua about her brain child and how she cools off when she is not working
How would you describe this year’s edition of the ‘We Are The Future Of Our Nation’ project?
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The 11th edition of WATFON project which we held in March can be described as one of our most successful because we were able to combine both young and old speakers and the students found it very exciting. The theme as usual was still centred around Nigeria and we were able to get speakers who effectively communicated with the students. We had students from Lagos State and most of them were in their final year, about to enrol into the tertiary institution. We always make sure that every WATFON is a celebration of Nigeria, the hall is decorated in Nigeria’s colour, we cut the cake of unity which is also in green and white. The students also come out to talk about Nigeria and share their expectations about what they want their leaders to do for them and also share their thoughts about Nigeria.
We learnt you are also working on another initiative tagged, Project 57,000. What is it about?
Our objective with Project 57,000 remains the same. We want to instil a spirit of patriotism in the students. We want them to be able to see that even in our diversity, we are still one as Nigerians and promote unity. We want to use the platform to show the students that despite our circumstances, there are still some people that can be seen as models for our children to follow. Project 57,000 is a celebration of Nigeria at 57. The idea is woven around the fact that Nigeria would be 57 years in October and we want to reach out to 57,000 students in various parts of the country between October and December. This is because we believe that if we are able to touch them and get them to have a connection with our nation and also show them that there are some people who are actually going out of their way to nurture this in their lives, maybe we would begin to find a way forward. Our experience with WATFON has shown us some things and we have seen the appreciation the students always express that when they come for WATFON, they are always amazed by the calibre of people that speak to them. It shows that they must be truly important for these people to leave what they are doing to come and talk to them. They see people that they have only read about in history books. I remember that the year General Gowon came to speak at WATFON, they did not want him to go because the children had to touch him to believe that it was truly General Gowon; that is a history book personality. I remember when the gentleman, Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth also featured in the programme, they were amazed because these are people that you see in textbooks or magazines. Someone like Jimi Agbaje has been coming for WATFON for about eight years and he has never missed an edition of WATFON and the children always find that exciting. These are personalities that under normal circumstances, they may not be able to come to their school but now they are seeing so many of them. It is also an opportunity for them to be able to share their thoughts with the children so that they could ask probing questions. You would be amazed the kind of questions these children ask. Sometimes they put the adults in a very tight corner with their questions and we begin to realise that we are trying to find a way out.
Your objective is to spread the gospel of patriotism among the youths; how challenging has it been knowing that over the years, they keep saying the youths are the leaders of tomorrow but no one seems to give them a chance?
There are so many things in any project that you undertake that could lead to frustration but when you choose not to give in to frustration, then you continue to gain strength and that is what I have found out with WATFON. There are times that circumstances all around are saying the negatives, those are trying times. But you need to tell yourself that you wouldn’t allow it get to you. Nigeria is a very challenging place to live but I have decided that I want to be someone that spreads a message of hope. If I give in to that depression, it would affect a lot of people. I remember a day I posted on my Facebook wall I was close to giving up. Shortly after, people began to send messages to me that if I gave up, it meant that there is no hope for Nigeria anymore. Some also made statements like, ‘If you say you want to give up, what should people like us do?’
There are things that would test your desire to continue in that line. When you make up your mind that this is what you choose to do, it would be easy to just ignore all the negatives and stay focused. If I choose to look that way, a lot of actions that our leaders take can be very distressing and when you are faced with young children who are asking questions about some of these things, your attempt to be diplomatic may not work; it may make you lose your credibility. Some time you agree that it is the reality of life and you paint a picture of what can be for them. We have the challenge of redirecting their thoughts and explaining to them that the reason they are there is because we want them to leave the venue with a transformed mind-set. We are aware of what is going on in Nigeria but we have to be solution centred. The depressing moments are when everything could be so overwhelming and you feel like throwing in the towel. After sometimes, I shrug that off reminding myself that those who changed the world were those who influenced a generation. It is not a function of numbers because there are people who go against the tides and they live in the beauty of their ideas no matter how crazy they sound. One of the things I have been insisting on is that if we are truly going to change our country, we have to address what is going on in the mind of the next generation. We have to understand and look into the way they are being taught and we have to actually see who is teaching them. If we fail to do that, we are still going to end up with the same material that we have always had. We are still going to end up with people who are thinking just the way we are and how would true change come to play. That is the crux of it.
You seem so passionate about your initiative but what is in it for you?
I wish I honestly had an answer to that. Sometimes when I sit down and reflect on WATFON, I wish it was a project that I could be released from doing. Sometimes after we finish an edition, I would say that it would be the last because I would have spent the time and resources I should have invested in my business but I cannot especially when I get a message from a student telling me what the programme did in their life. I have found out that money is not everything. Most people ask how we fund WATFON because we do not even get corporate support for all that we are doing. Most of the support we get for the programme comes from friends, family and loved ones. They have seen what I have done over the years and they know it is worth it. Someone like Professor Taiwo Osipitan would call me to ask me the date for the event. He would volunteer to pay for the drinks. Those who are in charge of the hall collect about N2.5m but when it comes to me, they just ask me how much I can afford. But when people see the magnitude of the event, they usually believe that I must be getting funds from somewhere. My friends and loved ones have seen that this is something I am very passionate about and this has made their support very consistent. Initially, when we started, Mr. Biggs was very active at the time and I had some friends at UAC. For the first three years of WATFON, they were the ones taking care of the feeding without any charge.
Virtually everything you do with the students borders on teaching. Would it be right to say it stems from the fact that your mother was a teacher for about 30 years?
I could say that it was part of it because I don’t have a teaching background, I did not even study anything related to that in school. I studied Mass Communication but in between it, I had always known that any society that is going to grow itself cannot ignore the development of its members. When I was very active in the field of advertising and marketing communication, I organised free training for fresh graduates going into our industry for free. I organised my senior colleagues from other companies to come and talk to these students. I organised the seminar back then because the graduates then did not really have an idea about what we did. Somehow, we have not been able to effectively communicate what we do to the younger ones. Guess what? a lot of people got jobs through that initiative and it was free of charge.
One would think that with all you have on your plate, it would wear you down but instead you are always glowing and beaming with smiles, how do you do it?
If you find the area of your strength in anything that you do, you do such tasks effortlessly. That is why I hardly handle things that are outside the areas of my strength. Organising things is one of my strengths but when it comes to figures and numbers, I do not like that because it bores me. You have to find out things that you do effortlessly and it has to align with your vision and purpose. It gels together and when others feel you are working, you are actually having fun.
What time do you set aside for rest?
One of the things I do is that when I take time off, I relax and travel out of Nigeria. So when you see my photograph by the seaside, you would know that it is time for relaxation. I travel with a lot of novels, all types. I enjoy reading novels and I do that when I am on break. I am a fast reader. Sometimes I do not sleep till I am done with the novel; I could eventually fall asleep by 2am. I have an interesting concept when it comes to reading novels, due to my curiosity, I read the first page and because I am eager to know what the story is about, I jump to the last chapter before I now begin to read the novel normally. I love reading novels because it helps to take my mind off things.
You have over ten teddy bears in your office. You seem to love them a lot, why?
They have even reduced now because some kids come to my office and they just take them away. I do not know, I just like them; I think the child in me loves them. It is important to know that when you are in an environment like this, you should not take life too seriously. You learn from your mistake; and when you make them, you don’t dwell on them. You have to truly believe that yesterday ended last night and today is another bright day, just let all the past mistakes go and face the new day just like a child. I enjoy having all these soft cuddly things so I just amass them. Sometimes when children visit me, I enjoy gifting them because they would always pick one that they like. Maybe that is why I enjoy watching cartoons; all those cartoon characters relieve tension.
How come you love dancing a lot?
I am married to a dancing family. The Hubert Ogunde family, so we have to dance.
Were they the ones that made you fall in love with dancing?
I had already loved dancing before I got married. It is a good way to exercise and it also relieves tension. Back then in school, I danced a lot during social nights, we called it rock the boat. Everyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s would understand. I was also a part of the literary and debating society.
Do you also love singing as much as you love dancing?
I love singing but I don’t have the time to do as much as I would love to but that is the price we need to pay. You need to sacrifice some things for the greater good. If I could turn back the hands of time, would I do the exact same thing? In some areas I would, but I would certainly play more now. I would create more time for play, even though I create time for play, I would certainly want to play more.
How did you meet your husband?
In those days, a lot of us were into literary and debate. I attended Our Lady of Apostles and Methodist Girls High School and my husband attended Igbobi College. In those days, the mission schools always had some things to do together, be it drama, debate, etc. I was quite young when we met. Immediately after my graduation, I got married at the age of 21 and we have been together since then.
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