Aderinsola Adio-Adepoju is one woman who has her hands into so many things. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Lagos, an entrepreneur, a teacher, and an SDG educator. This multipotentialite, as she describes herself, has a huge ambition. She wants to train African youths to create the future of the continent they dream to live in. She spoke with Rasheed Adebiyi on this mission, Sustainable Development Goals, and other issues. Here are the excerpts of the interview.
Tekedia: Could you please tell us about yourself?
Adio-Adepoju: I am Aderinsola Adio Adepoju. And I’m the founder of I-Train Africa. I-Train Africa is an Edtech startup with a vision to build an ecosystem of African youth who have the knowledge and skills to build the future we want. We aim to achieve this through awareness, blueprints, and community. Simply put, through ABC. This social enterprise was born owing to the obvious gap in the education that we are being offered in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. This education largely doesn’t meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce. My passion for education lies in offering practical knowledge and skills that lead to the empowerment of youths (16 to 35) and that passion has been expressed through the different enterprises and causes I have embarked on in the last decade. I have had a fashion business for 10 years and the vision of Deryne Couture Fashion Institute is to empower youth with relevant fashion knowledge and skills, towards attaining Sustainable Development Goal 8. I typically say I’m an educator across three different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 4,6,& 8). I teach Chemistry at the School of Foundation Studies, University of Lagos (SDG 6). I also already mentioned my Fashion Institute which is directed towards SDGs 4 & 8 (target 4.3 i.e vocational education). Of course, I also teach via I-Train Africa which is SDG 4 & 8 focused.
Personally, I’m happily married. I have two wonderful children. I enjoy storytelling and even if I say so myself, I’m a good storyteller. I have been opportune to travel across five different continents based on me winning global opportunities that are related to the SDGs. A notable one would be the UNLEASH Global Innovation Lab which took place in Singapore in 2018. This lab gathers 1000 youth talents annually to proffer solutions to the pressing global problems. It was such an experience! If I was to define myself in one word, I will say I am an educator.
Tekedia: What is the motivation behind ITrain Africa?
Adio-Adepoju: I-Train Africa, like the name, suggests, means “training of Africa”. This was born from a personal pain point. I had a distinction in MSc Environmental Chemistry from University of Lagos, Nigeria but then, I discovered I lacked a lot when it came to the knowledge that will benefit me or that will make me fit into the 21st-century workforce. This became more obvious to me when I left the shores of this country. By 2017, I had reached a resolve that schooling and education are not synonymous. I embarked on advocacy through any means available to me to start teaching youths what they need for this century and the future of work. For instance, I teach my students how to communicate (a soft skill) via email even if it’s beyond the scope of the Chemistry I was appointed to teach. I try to incorporate soft and life skills into my teaching be it at the University, Fashion institute, or I-Train Africa.
Seeing students who are supposedly educated, but actually are not, based on the 21st century standards is the driving force behind this initiative. My journey into becoming a lifelong learner happened in 2016/2017 which I consider late but this decision opened my eyes to a lot of things such as the staggering skills gap that exists between an average youth who has gone to school in the developed world and another person down here in Nigeria/Africa. The skills gap, the things that we do not know is stopping African youths from reaching the apex and building the continent we desire.
A shocking realization during my course of interacting with youths is; youths/students don’t know what they don’t know. When a person doesn’t know what to look out for or learn, how then do they start learning for it? Knowing what is needed is very important in order to learn it.
The obvious disconnect between making youth aware of what they need and the place to get this knowledge per time is the gap I-Train Africa is trying to bridge. When youths are able to know what they don’t know, then they can seek knowledge. We hope to start filling this gap by first creating awareness of what is needed per time. For example, a year one student will need a slightly different set of skillset from a year 4 students. The next step will be to create a blueprint program for different stages. I-Train Africa hopes to provide an informed and connected kind of educational system. Not a disjointed one where we are teaching a technical skill e,g coding when we have not given the youths the basic knowledge on how that skill can be solving a problem or how to communicate the value of that skill. The need to see an informed and learned crop of African youths who can translate education into economic growth drives us at I-Train Africa to build programs and communities that can help bring this set of youths to life.
Tekedia : By this September, the SDGs would be 5 years old. Do you think Nigeria would be able to meet the targets in the remaining 10 years?
Adio-Adepoju: By this September, the Sustainable Development Goals will be five years. And the truth is we are way behind. Especially when it comes to the basics such as health care, education, no poverty, zero hunger, etc (first 5 SDGs). Globally, the trend is not what we expect and for a place like Nigeria where even for cities that we will term as being developed areas like Lagos, Abuja, and co, we still lack quality health care systems and education. The case is even worse in remote areas as basic access and not quality is what is limited here. Given that access is still being debated in 2020, I don’t see how we can achieve the targets of leaving no one behind by 2030. I don’t see how we can achieve these goals in 10 years because I believe for any goal to be achieved at all, there must be a plan which is followed sequentially, and well-executed. There must also be goodwill towards the plan. However, It’s not what we are seeing. As painful as it is, it’s the reality. Nigeria achieving those set Sustainable development goals and targets in the timeframe is almost impossible in my opinion, only if there’s some form of revolution or something drastic happening. But with the current pace, the current budgets, the current planning, I don’t see Nigeria achieving these targets by 2030.
Tekedia: Nigeria has one of the youngest populations in the world. What roles do you think these demographics could play in meeting the SDG targets?
Adio-Adepoju: Luckily for Nigeria, as you said, she has one of the youngest youth demographics. This demographic represents potential, ideas, innovation, and implementation. Because this demographic represents all these that I have mentioned, it means there is hope. However, a population that has ideas and the ability to bring new things to the table also needs to be informed. There are about 34 million youths in Nigeria which give us an edge when it comes to the potential but potentials are not enough to work with, we need the enabling environment and the right policies. Youth also need to be taking part in politics and policy-making that affects them. If there’s any chance we are going to meet these goals and targets, the youth is the way to go. Youth can bring about disruptions and proffer the solutions that can Fastrack the process. We have 17 goals with clear targets that were drafted in 2015, what we need now is goodwill, and disruptive solutions to follow through. I’ll say our potential through youths is great but it is not enough to achieve the goals. We need youths at that table so that we can be working from all angles of innovation, implementation, and policymaking.
Tekedia : How do you think the Nigerian tertiary institutions could help drive the achievement of the SDGs?
Adio-Adepoju: First, I consider education (SDG 4) as one of the most important SDGs and I do not just mean formal education, education in the informal sector inclusive. Why is this so? In order for you to mobilize people to do something to help you achieve something, it is important you tell them the reason why. You need to tell people “why” they are doing something. If you don’t, you can’t get them involved in it. There’s this Benjamin Franklin’s quote that says tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember but involve me and I learn. The goal is for people to learn and I will say for the better part, many students are not learning, especially at the undergraduate level because they’ve not seen the need to. They are just being taught. They are just being taught to remember but however, the SDGs are goals which mean we need to get people involved. So, in order for us to get them involved, they need to be learning not just to be taught. We can do that by designing the educational system in such a way that it is already helping us achieve the SDGs. How do I mean? If you are saying “I want to end poverty, hunger, and improve the economy” it means we need to be explaining how they are a part of the solution.
I always say the most important part of any education is when you make people realize the reason why they are learning. Tell them the “why” before teaching them the “what”. Every person, old or young, even a five-year-old child will ask why it in their mind or vocally in order to rationalize why they should be doing something. If you can tell them why, then they can rationalize it and when they can rationalize it, our work is easier. You don’t have to drag them to do it. A person that understands “why” gets involved. The focus needs to shift from schooling to get a certificate to learning to solve a problem. Orientation is paramount which is where awareness and sensitization come in. As a way of action, the universities need to organize a series of orientation programs that could be virtual or physical, not just one program that is designed to check a box-like we currently have. In this series, we address things relating to the SDGs and how the education they are about to receive has to be about learning and not schooling so that they can be providing solutions. The questions such as “what do you want to study at university” shouldn’t even be a question anymore, it should be “what problems do you want to solve in the world”? Based on their response, we can now allocate a subject matter to them that will be solving the problem and the skills they need to be learning on that journey. Changing our curriculum may not be feasible on the immediate but adjustments can be made to allow for the 21st-century requirements. There are some things I learnt during my undergraduate that I feel are no more relevant to the 21st century. We should be replacing such courses and if not make them zero unit courses. We can create a course named “SDGs and You”. There is a university in the world already named University of Sustainable Development which focuses on sustainability. If we can implement it and I don’t mean we teach the theory by telling them SDG one is this, SDG two is that I mean creating real-life experiences and starting from the basics. The basics of anything at all in terms of education are the “reasons” the ‘whys” so that they can buy into your vision and be involved. If we can get this right, the rest becomes easy.
Tekedia: Moving forward, what is the future of ITrain Africa?
Adio-Adepoju: For ITrain Africa, we have short-medium term objectives and goals and we have long term goals as well. In the short term, say 1 to 3 years, we hope we’re able to build a strong community of youths who are already learning about the reasons for the SDGs and who are directing their projects and their social enterprises towards attaining these goals. We also hope we are able to create enough awareness across Africa starting with Nigeria particularly amongst youths (16-35). We hope to create awareness, sensitize and teach this audience virtually. We want to be able to reach every youth in every higher institution in Nigeria with the knowledge that there is a place where they can come to when they don’t know what they need. Yes, you heard me, knowing/being aware of what you need is the starting point. Many of us including myself typically say “Google is your friend”. But when you don’t know what to ask Google, then it becomes a problem. So, it is important we first create the awareness that we at I-Train Africa know what you need, because we have gone before you, and then knowing there is a place where they can find such knowledge is what I-Train Africa is concentrating on in the short term. I want every youth to know that such a place exists where you can come and ask, what do I need for this level to be able to survive for the next stage? As an illustration, if I am in year one, what do I need to learn so that by the time I am getting to year four, I can deliver a good project. When I am in year four, what do I need to learn on my projects, what skills do I need to acquire that I can transfer into the workforce? In the short-medium term, 2-5 years, it will be to create blueprint programs and a skills hub. Long term 5 – 10 years, it will be for us to create a system of education that can be incorporated into higher institutions and influence the kind of education that is delivered across schools in Nigeria and Africa. Also, to be able to have a section that is dedicated to reeducating the educators so that no one is left behind.
We plan to partner with individuals and organizations to provide knowledge and skills through our hub. We also plan to partner with the government to influence and recreate the curriculum so that this model can become part and parcel of the educational system. Finally, we hope to influence policies nationally, continentally, and ultimately globally through the United Nations.
Given our short-medium term objectives, we are currently building a community where we are teaching and getting youths involved with the SDGs. The community arm of I-Train Africa named “Accessing Global Opportunities Knowledge and Skills” is a free Facebook community of youth ages 16 to 35, who may want to use their academic projects, social enterprises, or SDG related projects to access global opportunities. We plan to be a sustainable organization hence our plan to generate revenue through our different knowledge-based products in the nearest future.
Tekedia: Finally, how do you juggle your job with family commitments?
As for juggling my family and my commitments, this is not a new question for me because I get asked that a lot. First I will like to say I’m a multipotentialite. It’s a word for people that pursue diverse interests laterally or sequentially or both. We multipotentialites have a superpower which is effective multitasking. We are able to juggle many things because our mental balance thrives on us having more than one interest at a time. Multipotentialites optimal condition is reached when we have two or multiple things going on. I’ll say, me doing a lot of things is simply me maximizing my potential as a multipotentialite and this allows me to pursue one of my interests which is I-Train Africa.
Secondly, I typically say I have a solid support system(SSS) through family and friends. I know where I’m going. I’ve built up the friendship and networks around me in such a way that I can rely on them. I have built the structures in such a way that I can make them do some of the work for me. You can’t be everywhere. So delegation is really important and making sure you build a structure or a system that will do the things that you can’t physically do is very important. Structuring the different aspects of my life, delegating them when I need to, and focusing on the important parts has helped me tremendously. I am a creative so the creative part of what I do is really important to me so I focus on that. I can’t take away the fact that I have an amazing and supportive husband who sees the dream with me. He sees the future I want, he sees what I’m trying to build and bought into it a long time ago. You would remember I mentioned earlier that whenever you want someone to get involved, make them see the “why”, make them see the “reason”. He sees my reason and he supports that reason. That support system is a lot. It is one of the things I would say has added to my success and of course my parents. Basically, my family has been a great support system for me. They’ve bought into my vision so they support me on my journey whenever I ask for their support.
Lastly, I’ll say learning. I have used knowledge as my juggling power. Knowledge is what you need to be able to do what you need to do. Whenever I encounter a challenge on my journey or I am having difficulties with an aspect of my life, say, for instance, talking to my son and him listening without me shouting, I go learn the “how” through courses, training, mentorship, etc.. There are people that have mastered the art of talking to children without hitting them or shouting, so I seek knowledge. I get a coach, mentor, or anyone with knowledge to teach me how to handle that aspect and I implement it. If it works, I insert it into my structure and I move on. Balancing my life appears seamless to the world but the truth is, you need the knowledge to optimize your processes and save yourself the energy and time you need to stay creative. As a summary, knowledge, support system and building structures that I can consistently rely on are my secrets to balancing.