Susty Person of The Week – Adenike Akinsemolu
Adenike Akinsemolu is a passionate environmental researcher, educator, and female child advocate. Born in Ondo State Nigeria, Adenike is the author of numerous studies, which have appeared in reputable publications. Her passion for the environment propelled her to study Environmental Microbiology at Babcock University. Subsequently, she received a postgraduate diploma in Education at Obafemi Awolowo University.
A former intern at Clinton Foundation, Adenike’s work and enthusiasm for youth and the environment have taken her all over the world. In order to make environmentalism a part of the everyday experience of Nigerians, Adenike started the Green Campus Initiative. This initiative began at the Adeyemi College Campus, a college of Obafemi Awolowo University, where she is a lecturer. By creating Green ambassadors on college campuses across Nigeria, Adenike’s movement aims to positively impact the ways in which Nigerian youth incorporate green living into all elements of their lives – from riding bikes to taking shorter showers.
Additionally, Adenike founded the Girl Prize, which provides financial and mentorship support for young Nigerian secondary school girls with an interest in the sciences. She currently an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society and recently appointed as a member of the National Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Practitioners Association of Nigeria under the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
When she is not raising the next generation of green leaders or women scientists, she can be found working on her PhD in Environmental Microbiology, spending time in nature, and playing sports. Read her interview below:
If you had 2 minutes to sell yourself to a potential investor, how would you introduce yourself?
I am the founder of the Green Campus Initiative – the first campus-based green education initiative in Nigerian higher education institutions. I am also recognised within Nigeria to be at the forefront of actively campaigning for the inclusion of green education and sustainability in the academic curriculum.
When did you discover you had an immense passion for the environment?
I live in Ondo town right now. It is rural. Apart from travel, and some of my schooling, I have always been a rural dweller even when I was not in Ondo town. I grew up with the quietness and the foliage and the peace. When I was doing my youth service, I stayed in Ondo town properly for the first time in a long time. I love nature, and so I explored a lot – Idanre Hills, Erin Ijesha waterfalls, etc. I had a hiking partner, and we did a lot of adventures together. I have lived in rural environments abroad as well. Even with the rural nature of these places, they were clean. The people cared about disposing of waste properly, and all I could think of was how I wanted my local environment in Ondo town to be the same. This was when the passion for the care of my local environment was ignited.
Why did you think it was important to create this Initiative?
I had been to parts of the world where students were living their lives without hurting their environments because they simply knew better. When I started teaching, I did not like the environment that I met. Students would litter the place without as much as a wince or a second look. I wanted to introduce a better way to my students. A healthy environment is vital for a healthy existence, and I wanted us to aspire together to make our environment better for us, and the generations to come. One day during class, out of sheer curiosity, I asked my students what it meant to ‘go green’, and they had no clue. It felt like a challenge to me so I thought I would try. I wanted to teach them about Green living and help them see that their actions have a direct impact on the environment, which in turn has a direct impact on their general well-being. And this is what I have since been doing with Green Campus Initiative.
What is Green Campus Initiative all about?
The Green Campus Initiative promotes the development of leadership skills in our students. Our goal is not only to empower young people to be environmentally aware and to adopt green practices but to also become social change makers in their various communities. We ‘preach’ a lot about corruption. Not just in the sense of the more popular monetary corruption and improper social behaviour, which students are sometimes aware of, but in the ‘green’ sense also. Any attitude that promotes environmental degradation and waste is ‘corrupt’, and we train our members to be incorruptible in environmental terms. We offer practical hands-on training to students, teaching them how to be green citizens and assisting them in kick-starting ‘green’ business and organisations. All of this is realized through training programs facilitated by experts the relevant fields that align with what the GCI is about. We create youth leaders who we hope will go forward into their environments to practice, propagate and promote green living.
How has your work brought about positive change and how do you measure your success?
About 5,561 youths have been trained on eco-consciousness and social responsibility in 2016. Our team has also significantly grown in the period and expanded to include the establishment of 12 new departments for our programs. We are planted in about 38 schools nationwide.
We successfully recruited 50 members for our cycling program, renovated one (1) dilapidated primary school with the help of our volunteers. Our university ambassadors were also able to start Green Kids Club chapters successfully in various secondary schools.
In 2015, our community flower-planting outreach program planted 100 different flowers in the community. Additionally, we procured and distributed numerous recycle bins across the campuses where we established our chapters.
The measurable impact of our projects so far has shown that universities with our chapters have shown increased cleanliness and better aesthetics of their public spaces. Students attending the school we renovated and painted, have expressed increased enthusiasm for coming to school and improved learning from having a better learning environment.
What are your favourite SDGS and Why?
SDG Goal 13 (Climate Action) and Goal 4 (Education). I love Goal 13 the most as it is the key to realising almost all other goals. A child access to solar energy will allow him/her to study well at night. This can lead to better job opportunities and innovation. In turn, energy from solar sources will help tackle climate change. The Solar Company will contribute to the growth of the local economy. Therefore by taking necessary climate actions, we can overcome poverty, protect our planet, while ensuring no one is left behind educationally.
Your work with the Clinton Foundation afforded you some impactful “international exposure”, would you say the experience is essential for development enthusiasts?
I was a delegate at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) in 2009 shortly after Hurricane Katrina. A quote from President Clinton’s speech that: “People who work together generally do better than people who fight. People who build, generally do better than people who wreck. People who learn, generally do better than people who insist on remaining ignorant and people who care, generally fare better than the heartless’’ made a huge impression on my mind and spurred me to get actively involved in volunteering.
Working together with a team composed of volunteers from different countries, we successfully helped in rebuilding and cleaning up some areas affected by the Hurricane. Reflecting afterwards on my experience with this project, it struck me how supposedly little positive acts can make a significant impact in the lives of people in dire need of them and the world at large.
Moreover, during the time I spent at the Clinton Foundation, I learned invaluable lessons about the power of giving back in recognition of the incalculable value of impact others have made on my life. Development enthusiasts need to network with like-minded people, collaborate as well as learn the power of giving back. The Clinton Foundation creates a platform for that.
Briefly tell us about your Girl Prize Programme.
The Girl Prize is an awards body that recognises outstanding young women who are interested and involved in STEM, and environmental sustainability issues in Nigeria. The Girl Prize also runs a scholarship/mentorship program for girls interested in science and specifically environmental sustainability.
Self-esteem building, leadership skills development, and the teaching of the value of community service, are the three legs upon which the Girl Prize stands. To qualify for the awards, recipients would have shown leadership potential, remarkable scholarly achievements in any area of environmental sustainability, and evidence of positively impacting their local communities.
I intend that the Girl Prize not only bridges the achievement gap for young women in Nigeria in STEM but also widens the access for younger women in areas of environmental awareness and sustainability. To qualify for the awards, recipients would have shown leadership potential, remarkable scholarly achievements in any area of environmental sustainability, and evidence of positively impacting their local communities.
What are your most important values as a leader?
My most important values as a leader are passion and teamwork. Passion, because it is the most important driving force of what I do. My work is neither glamorous nor upbeat and ‘fun’. Without unrelenting passion, I would have zero motivation in the face of seemingly daunting challenges and impossible situations. I also value teamwork because the success of my venture depends on the diverse range of skills, talents, and competencies of the various individuals I work with. I also value building up other people in terms of helping them discover and consolidate on their strengths. The long-term success of any impactful work is its sustainability, therefore developing leaders who carry the vision forward is a paramount goal, for me.
What would you say is Nigeria’s biggest Sustainability issue at the moment?
The environment itself is a challenge, but in terms of external factors that can work against our tackling this main challenge, first on the list would be people. The way we think as a people is generally not very evolved. For instance, many people do not understand passion. They suspect that there’s some monetary gain, and they want their own share without even understanding what the movement is about in the first place. People are also very stuck in their ways. For some to come to a place where they understand the concept of going green, they almost always have to experience some kind of adversity caused by the negative environmental practices that they engage in. Our aim is to get to their minds first, and affect their thinking so that their attitudes can be changed without them having to first personally encounter the direct impact of their wrong practices. Infrastructural challenges are also a significant roadblock. To do all of the things we want to do, we need availability and access to adequate and affordable infrastructure. As an example, modern waste management methods require considerably heavy infrastructure, which we by ourselves cannot afford.
What are your long terms goals?
My long-term career goal is to build a green university in Africa and run a continent-wide trash economy where the problems of the continent become a solution to many other problems such as education and health. Again, trash has its positive uses, and we seek to implement methods where the problem of trash not only becomes a solution onto itself but a pathway to making other important contributions to the lives of the people who generate this trash. Everything we do is not only based on research but is also research in itself. Therefore, data mining is very high on our list of priorities. We aim to be the ‘one-stop shop’ for verifiable data regarding ‘green’ practices.
How can people reach you and learn more about your work?
The public can sign up to be Green volunteers and ambassadors, no matter the age or walk of life. Details are on our website (www.greenthecampus.org). They can also help by looking inwards and deciding on areas where they can adopt green practices. Imagine a student who already knows about green living from the things he has learnt at home, or seen on television, coming to our campus and finding the GCI. Such a student is already on their way, and their involvement with the GCI either as a volunteer or an ambassador will go a long way because their passion will be coming from a personal place where they believe in what they are doing.
We are currently hiring interns. They can apply online