Chidiogo Akunyili, who is currently a Global Leadership Fellow, World Economic Forum, Geneva, can be described as a chip off the old block. She is a daughter of the late Prof. Dora Akunyili, who garnered global recognition for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights. And like her mother, Chidiogo is striving towards making the world a better place for all through her personal projects, as well as her work leading the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, across Africa and the Middle East
Why did you join the World Economic Forum?
I joined the World Economic Forum because I was drawn to the mission, “improving the state of the world”, and the opportunity to work with Global Shapers, young change makers who are true to the vision of being and living the change they want to see in the world. I am at the World Economic Forum because, with its understanding of the importance of multi-stakeholder responsibly and engagement, we are daily showing that together we are stronger. And true to the African proverb, if we want to go far, only together can we go the distance.
How can the Global Shapers hub influence the African continent?
They already are (influencing the continent). Our founding fathers capitalized on bonds forged in the corridors of top universities. From East to West, North to South of Africa, and globally, the community is connecting likeminded, passionate, dynamic, driven young people to collaborate, to lead, to follow, and fuel a movement. Shapers in Abuja are carrying out projects that impact thousands across Northern Nigeria, projects aimed at building and increasing the level go “Amana”, which means trust between youth and security agencies. They are working with schools in the same region, having sent thousands of varied school supplies to support parents’ decision to send their children to school in a region heavily disrupted by the insurgency of Boko Haram. The Bamako Hub is providing free Wi-Fi spots across various underprivileged communities in Bamako; the Nairobi Hub has planted close to 3,500; Johannesburg Hub has reached thousands of young South Africans to go out and vote; Rabat Hub brought together well over 150 young people from over 30 countries across Africa to Shape Africa. They are not paid, they are not financed in cash for their work, but here they are working hard, and with the determination, passion and heart that ‘together we go the distance in building and shaping the Africa we want’. Now, multiply their passions and dedication across Shapers numbering close to 2,000 in 96 cities across Africa’s 54 countries, this is the Africa we are curating, a critical mass of people who will inspire and change the world.
How do you feel being listed as one of most influential young Africans for 2016?
It means that to whom much is given, has in turn much to give, and this in itself is the gift of this recognition, it gives me so much more to give. I was deeply touched and encouraged by the beautiful words of love and well wishes of friends and family whose encouragement fuels life itself, giving me the courage to go the extra distance.
Do you think young Africans have what it takes to lead the continent?
In 1968, Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, told the tale of an unnamed man in Ghana who is greatly let down to see his dream of post-independent Ghana disappear with the normalization of bribery, corruption and other forms of social delinquency. ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ captured the imagination of the continent as we were held captive, glued to and living the pages of the book. This ‘captivity’ has lasted for over five decades, in that time it is my belief that ‘the beautyful ones’ have been born! I know because I am one of them, I know because I have met and engaged with thousands of them, youths from across the continent and beyond, including most certainly via my work leading the global shapers community in the region, as well as interacting with youth organizations like African Youth Initiative Network, YALI, Africa 2.0, Harambe Entrepreneur alliance and AISEC. In the true spirit of Ubuntu, I am because you are and you are because we are.
Young Africans are the hope; hope is the seed of change.
Your mother fought fake drugs with missionary zeal, what is your crusade?
It is to love, to empathize, to learn, to grow, to seek, to speak, to write, to be. In being, in the fullness of oneself, can we be so much more for others. My crusade is to be the best of me, with all the blessings that has been my life, a mother who was strong, fierce, soft and gentle, an ‘amazon’ that taught us so much. I am grateful for a gift of communication that goes beyond a working fluency in seven languages, including Chinese; and a heart to serve. In being can I serve humanity, in being do I serve my purpose.
Who are your role models?
God, and in all, the infinity of our understanding of that which we can’t see but feel; the lone man doing tai chi by the lake in the morning; the colleague and mother who juggles career and motherhood and love with grace and joy; the many faces of people positively inspiring the world in so many little ways as simple as allowing that driver to go; the old woman that smiles at you on the streets with such peace; those who give with no expectations; those who navigate difficulty with grace; the givers; the lovers; the dreamers; the inspirers; the teachers; writers; voices of wisdom. The characteristics embodied by the individual inspire me. My prayer is to learn to embody, where possible, the many values of a life well lived.
What do you think is Nigeria’s biggest problem and how would you solve it?
As with domino, you might find it’s the little ones that can knock an entire country down. In solving the big problems of education, power, health, corruption, we mustn’t lose sight of the people that make up the system, the values that are guiding our actions, and the mind-sets that inspire these values. It is the little things that matter; the bigger challenges are, more often than not, symptoms of a deeper malaise.
It’s the mind-set that makes up values. The values make up culture, culture determines norms, and norms are the bedrocks on which the future is built.
What are our prevailing mind-sets? What shapes us?
Would you run for election someday?
I lack the pure ambition to answer in a straightforward manner. What I lack in ambition I make up with the purity of conviction that I will always welcome the destiny of purpose.
Which book are you reading now?
I am in the habit of reading many books at once, not always quite finishing all. Of the current list are “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch; Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth”; “The dark side of the light chasers” by Debbie Ford; and Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”.
Can you give a list of five books young Africans must read?
I am a big believer that we all have various ways we experience and learn. The specific books that speak to me might not speak to the next person. That being said, I hesitate to speak about specific books one must read. Allow me instead to share the types of books that could greatly benefit a young African: an African history book that predates colonialism; a history book of your country that predates colonialism; African philosophers and classics à la Leopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Dubois, Albert Camus, Kwame Nkrumah and Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka; the list does go on. Any book that teaches you the values of goodness for goodness sake and inspires you to a higher level of self; biographies and thoughts of those with whom you connect and inspire greatness in you. Above all, read!