Jennifer Uchendu: The young Nigerian environmentalist with a sustainable message
At 24, Jennifer Uchendu has developed herself as a sustainability analyst passionate about improving the lives of African youth and women via innovative features and project. She is the founder of SustyVibes, an organisation driving the cause for greener environment in Africa. Here, Jennifer talks about her two greatest passions: youth and the environment.
What inspired your passion for sustainable development in Africa?
At a very young age, I knew I had a burning desire to spark positive change in Africa, starting with Nigeria; I was the girl who always wanted to do the right things and got very mad at injustice. Interestingly, I also wanted to be a gynecologist so I could treat and work with women.
Fast-forward to 2010 - As a final year undergraduate of Covenant University, I was given a seminar topic on "The Role of Biotransformation in the Health Sector" and then I read so widely and stumbled on concepts like Climate Change, biomass and fossil fuels, which introduced me to Renewable Energy which I instantaneously fell in love with. Upon graduation, I further developed this interest through reading and looking for opportunities in the sector, I thereafter found myself volunteering at the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral resources where I decided that I was going to have a career in Sustainability.
So how did you begin this journey towards creating Sustyvibes and getting your voice heard in the midst of the multitude?
Launching SustyVibes was something I had delayed for a very long time and maybe because I felt I didn't have the right qualifications to talk about sustainability publicly and even begin to lead movements in Nigeria but sometime in 2015, I just decided I was going to create something beautiful, a project that showed both my passion for sustainability and my commitment to women development.. And with the highly anticipated Sustainable Development Goals introduced also in September of that year, I knew I had to be part of its success in Nigeria and so I got thinking and the unfolding result is what you see me do with SustyVibes.
On getting my voice heard, I always say that I stand on the shoulders of very good “elders” and people who have been in this sector long before me. They have amplified and endorsed my work and this has inspired me to even work harder and so I owe a huge part of the success so far to these people.
What do you think your organization brings to the table of sustainability development and the youth?
First, we are bringing the truth which is that Nigerian youths are not just involved enough in environmental protection and sustainable development. Second, we are changing the problem above by creating a network of young people that are inspired and charged to create and impact the needed changes in whatever sector they find themselves in.
Since you began, what have you noticed regarding the level of awareness many young people have over environmental issues?
I have noticed a low awareness level, I cannot think of how many times I have had to define sustainability to people in a day and what's even interesting is that once I have these discussions, they are inspired and looking for ways to contribute in their own small space, this is why I decided to have offline events that bring young people together in the name of Sustainability.
Speaking about the environment, the United Nations conference on climate change which resulted in the Paris Agreement had certain climate actions required from countries. Do you think Nigeria is on course in achieving the goals set by the agreement?
First things would be for us to even sign the agreement and once this is done, I expect to see most of the strategies in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions being implemented, we can already see that the focus on agriculture is being promoted by the Federal Government, issues like floods, erosion, Niger Delta Clean Up and drying up of Lake Chad have been regarded as top priority for the Ministry of Environment and of course, there have been some positivity of the application of Renewable Energy in Nigeria too.
So I can say that we have a long way to go but we are not just folding our hands doing nothing.
What major climate issues is the country battling with at the moment and what more can be done about it?
I am very worried about flooding and erosion in Nigeria and thankfully, there have been some level of pro-activeness from both the Ministry of Environment and the National Emergency Management Agency via sensitization projects and the likes. I believe more of this should be done and hopefully, where we can have citizens actively involved in the awareness processes and change in habits that trigger some of these disasters. We have seen erosion projects being kicked off and I truly hope that this tempo is maintained.
But even more frightening is the drying up of Lake Chad which would mean big trouble for us in Nigeria as a lot of displacement would occur, we would have a lot of the youth who live off this Lake becoming terrorist and very violent protesters. The first step is for governments to agree on the best line of action to avoid it from drying up completely. A strategy that is of course – sustainable.
It has been said a number of times that young people can serve as agents for sustainable development but what does this really mean?
It means that young people can work to promote development that is sustainable, it means they can be innovative about better ways things can be done to preserve our resources for now and the future. It means that we can start to advocate for sustainable causes in whatever career or phase we find ourselves in. Having a mind frame that is aligned with sustainability makes it easy enough so that when we are in positions where we can directly influence change, they are able to lead without hassles. A personal example would be when I proposed a sustainability department for an organization I worked for, this was driven of course by my passion for the cause but mainly because I had a mindset that believes going green is only way to operate and now with SustyVibes, this is all I'm talking about and working for.
As a young environmentalist, how can more young people become engaged in this campaign to preserve the environment?
They should get in touch with us at sustyvibes! We have a number of projects that are directed towards environmental protection and preservation and because we have good relationship with many environmental organizations, it is easy to find projects they can directly work on.
Business sustainability or green business is a subject you are quite passionate about. Care to elaborate?
Yes, I want to see more businesses and organizations take sustainability more seriously, and through my business sustainability series with my colleague Adiya Atuluku, we are simplifying the concept and helping businesses think green and operate ethically, and through this series, we are even helping to increase awareness I. The mind of young professionals so they can take these issues up and drive them in the organizations they work in.
With the advent of social media, more young people have become involved in informal, politically relevant processes such as activism or civic engagement. How can this involvement be further maximized?
Progress on this front will come when we have a unified voice, when young people refuse to be influenced by the many corrupt leaders who seek to maximize on their social media influence. I look forward to more organized protests, petitions and conversations that affect threatening or harmful bills, statements and reactions from government. Finally, I believe having young people involved more in the implementation of the SDGs would go a long way to promote development; we can start making a difference from our own small circles.
There are many opportunities for the youth to influence leadership as we have seen over time. In your opinion, are the Nigerian youth taking up the opportunities?
We are coming up; it used to be worse than it is now. We are coming out of our shells and taking our rightful place as change makers. Whether it is in political leadership or driving startups and personal ventures, we have really woken up and with time, more people would pick up.
Finally, what impact are you hoping to have in Nigeria with your SustyVibes
I just want to get more people thinking, talking and doing sustainability. I want to have created and supported more platforms where we can relate better with our present reality of a climate changing world and that we start to act faster to both its mitigation and adaptation. I also want to have inspired more people to start up causes that promote sustainable development. This is not an easy task but I have to try.
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