Susty Person of the Week: Olatunji Yusuf
Olatunji Yusuf fondly called Tee-Jay holds a bachelors degree in Geography (first class) from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is also an Oxford-Wiedenfeld Leadership graduate scholar on the Environmental Change and Management programme at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He is an award-winning young transformation leader and has served in various leadership capacities which include elected as President National Youth Service Corps Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Nigeria and pioneer President of Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Young Professionals’ Forum, Lagos. His interest is in the politics of resource governance, climate change adaptation strategies, energy and environmental policy design.
Read his amazing interview below:
Kindly introduce yourself
My name is Olatunji, born and bred in the sleepless city of Lagos. I am neither from the north nor from the south. I am a Nigerian. I am proud to be associated with the home of man (the environment).
What do you currently do?
I currently work as an International Development professional with portfolios in Asia, Central/East Europe, Middle East and North Africa Region and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Kindly talk about your sustainability studies
Actually, I never studied a degree titled sustainability. However, all my degrees have sustainability embedded in the curriculum. I studied Geography at the University of Lagos (4 years), Nigeria and Environmental Change and Management at Oxford University (12 + 3 months) with a focus on Climate Change & Adaptation Policy. Sustainability is at the heart of all I do, be it renewables financing, constructing wastewater treatment infrastructures, or greening our ‘millionaire cities’. At Oxford, I was engaged in plethora sustainable initiatives such as Switch-Off UK energy efficiency project in Oxford colleges and around Oxfordshire County and other sustainable activities with the World Economic Forum Global Shapers.
Why did you choose your school and course?
I chose Geography because it connects to everything else, in place and time. For instance, Geography helps in understanding spatiotemporal ties of emerging technologies, the causalities, etc. Geography at UNILAG is awesome and very rich in content. Oxford Environmental Change Institute is a leading Environmental Institute and ranks top in the league of Universities in the World. The research facilities are top notch. Therefore, the selection of these schools was deliberate, based on their pedigree.
Have you always wanted to be in the Sustainability field?
Yes, I have always wanted to be in the field of Sustainability. Sustainability is everyone’s business. For instance, a system that is not sustainable will die. One does not have to be a practitioner to be Susty. It is all about causes you care about for present generation and one’s posterity. Sustainability is crosscutting; from our energy consumption behaviour, our level of consumption vs waste generation vs waste reuse etc.
What are your thoughts on Sustainability in Nigeria?
Although, sustainability awareness in Nigeria is on the rising trajectory, the achievement so far is miles away from satisfactory. There is an awareness vacuum in the system. Many firms in Nigeria think CSR is all about supporting humanitarian causes, its more than that. It also about being ethical in one’s business operations (for instance, it is unethical for a factory to discharge untreated waste in a stream or any water body – which is a common practice in many of our unmonitored cities). The environment is at the heart of our existence. From the water flowing downstream to our reservoirs, the organisms living in it, to the air we breathe. No one wants to drink chemically polluted water or inhale polluted air. I work in the international community, and I can tell you that there are financial opportunities you cannot access, unless you have an active environmental responsibility or sustainable policy in your organisation.
What would you like to see change in the above?
Awareness should be the first priority. The way and manner the message is passed matter. Sustainability needs to be presented as something beautiful to be admired. Not a horrific thing that burdens one’s comfort. It has to be presented as a win-win approach to our common problems. For instance, telling an ordinary person on the street that using LED Bulbs can help him reduce the amount of energy consumed and consequentially adding to his monthly savings. Another is informing the public on how reusing used materials reduces the negative impact of non-properly disposed waste such as flooding consequentially reducing water communicable diseases or loss of time travelling to work on a rainy day. Information passed creates awareness, awareness influences actions and attitudes, and better attitudes make an excellent society.
We noticed you have been involved in a project for urban poverty, kindly shed more light on this
Yeah, that was one of the first few projects I did as an undergraduate student. The project was driven out of my passion to end poverty in my country in my lifetime (smile). It focuses on understanding the spatial distribution of the ‘poor’ (those living below $1.25 a day) in the informal sector of metropolitan Lagos. The study aimed at understanding the causal variables and the dynamics. The project was a great one and I still refer to it.
Would you say there is a good networking relationship among Sustainability people in Nigeria?
None that I know about for now. Most Susty folks in Nigeria have their cliques among old school mates or professional friends at work. A working network is needed. Something like a movement of passionate people on the subject matter. It can sometimes be difficult to mobilise people to buy into the idea of sustainability, particularly in a setting like ours where many still struggle to make ends meet. That is where sending the right message comes in.
What sustainability issue do you think requires the most attention right now in Nigeria?
Of course, all sustainability issues are important. There are many sustainable issues Nigeria needs to give quick attention. Of utmost importance are; energy consumption and waste generation behaviours. Waste is largely behaviourally influenced than infrastructural. There are many things everyday people do not know in Nigeria and the ones we know, we know them wrongly. Reorientation is all the land needs and other changes will follow.
Would you consider postgraduate studies in sustainability extremely important to practice sustainability in Nigeria?
Postgraduate studies is not ‘extremely important’ but desirable.
Do you have plans to return to Nigeria to practise Sustainability?
Home abroad can never be home at home. Nigeria is my home. The ultimate destination of everyone is his or her home. Returning to Nigeria is non-negotiable. I have a lot to give back to Nigeria than the country has given me.
What are your long-term career plans?
My current goal is to build a resounding career in International development. Leadership is the missing element in the Nigerian society. We need leaders with the right philosophy of leadership that fits into the 21st century types of challenges. My long-term plan is to contribute in this regard.
What kind of Sustainability jobs would you be hoping to see in Africa this 2016? Sustainability jobs are enormous and rapidly emerging on the continent. The uniqueness of Africa would mean unique types of green jobs. Sustainability jobs cut across all sectors from banking, agriculture, oil and gas, agro-processing, manufacturing, education, health, community engagement, infrastructure management, corporate responsibility etc. All we need to ensure is that people are getting the right skills to fit into many of these positions as they become available.
What do you wish you knew or did before undertaking your postgraduate studies? I wish I knew the magnitude of initiatives in the field; I would have initiated more pro bono projects that my research work would later be based upon.
What are your other interests?
I enjoy playing football (sorry, I am not a die-hard football fan) and Ping-Pong, I am a lover of art and of course, my job involves travelling a lot, so I enjoy travelling and meeting new folks. I currently take out time to learn Arabic, French and Russian languages due to the places I work.
Do you think the SDGs are achievable by 2030 and why?
We will not achieve the exact plan. What we achieve would be based on the available resources and political will of the various stakeholders. We achieve either less or more. The tools and expertise we need to achieve the SDGs exist.
What are your favourite SDGS?
All the 17 SDGs are important. They are all connected and interlinked. However, from the sustainable standpoint, clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, protect the earth, life below water, and life on land are my favourites.
What is your advice for young people interested in sustainability in Africa? Sustainability is what holds the future. There are more green jobs coming up. As more firms are beginning to take responsibility, I advise young people to stay informed. The continent needs skilled professionals to fit into these roles and we need to start thinking of how it can be incorporated in our school curriculums.
How can people reach you on find out more about your work?