Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Weate.
This exclusive GBC-Education blog series, In Their Own Words: Youth Speak Out for Education Investment, highlights the unique relationship between private sector investments in education and youth, the very population that they’re seeking to impact. In the series, A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors scattered across the globe talk about the work they’re doing with businesses to help improve education in their communities. Follow this series to learn about the different ways businesses can engage youth to better their contribution to education.
WHY SHE THINKS BUSINESS SHOULD ENGAGE YOUTH:
“Imagine what we can achieve when working together with governments, international development partners and other key stakeholders. There are (almost) no limits.”
One of the worst lead poisoning incidences in modern history took place in Bagega, Nigeria just a few years ago, affecting thousands of adults and children. After the 2008 economic recession, the value of gold increased dramatically, luring small farmers to mine on their mineral rich land. Unfortunately, the mining companies never provided workers with proper tools and, along with the precious gold they dug up, flumes of noxious chemicals were released into the air, poisoning their communities. Children were blinded or left paralyzed while some suffered from irreversible neurological damage. After three years of legal battles over reparation for the damages, the government and international partners finally pledged over $5 million for international organizations to clean up the contaminated areas and provide the much needed medical aid.
The community rejoiced because the problem was finally solved, or so it seemed. The government, though, took its time releasing the promised funds and around 400 more children died from lead poisoning. Outraged, the #SaveBagega campaign was created to draw attention to the missing funds. The hashtag received considerable attention from people and media houses all over Nigeria who began asking the government what happened to the money, holding the government accountable at long last. With pressure from citizens and the media, the Nigerian government finally released the money meant for medical support for those affected by the contaminated mines and the surrounding community.
Both grassroots campaigning and media attention are something which A World at School Global Youth Ambassador Ojonwa Miachi believes to be a powerful means of executing change within communities. Through *Connected Development, the organization behind #SaveBagega, Miachi works with the project Education Budget Tracker, tracking funds intended for education throughout Nigeria. She works on the policy and advocacy side, identifying communities deprived of basic amenities related to education, despite government aid pledges.
“In the past, young people and students have often tried to hold school systems and governments accountable through strikes and demonstrations (which are not always peaceful),” Miachi explains in a blog post. “These methods have not been effective as students end up losing school years and sometimes even their lives. As a result, parents and students have become despondent about ever improving accountability and transparency in the education system.”
Mobilizing a network of young community members who she has empowered as watchdogs of government funding, Miachi, a youth herself, has given the power back to education’s largest population of stakeholders. Working alongside analysts, journalists, legal practitioners, activists, information managers, academics, and development consultants, students and other youth play a crucial role in identifying the misappropriation of funds.
Miachi and other Education Budget Tracker organizers have taken care to visit local schools to learn more about community-level education policies and identify ‘watchdogs’, and always translate the results into local languages. To enable her youth further, Miachi equips them with mobiles phones so that they can report through SMS messaging, on the go, and through a medium of communication they’re already familiar with.
“With the [Education Budget Tracker] platform young people, community based organizations, and community members can participate in ensuring accountability,” says Miachi.
What is crucial to Miachi’s work, though, is the business support they receive. Education Budget Tracker relies on local media houses in Nigeria which amplify the voices of the largest stakeholders in education — that is, youth. Their partner media houses allow the team free air time on the radio to publicize their findings, showing the government they care and will make sure all funds are allocated as was previously agreed upon.
“We use media help to let people know about Education Budget Tracker,” says Miachi. “We use media to talk.”
Media is the best source for Education Budget Tracker to spread its findings to the larger population, using the radio to gain more support. Without teaming up with local media hubs as a platform to alert everyone about their findings the program’s efforts would not be as effective. By the same token, by providing free air time, the media industry is reaffirming the importance of business involvement in education, the community of which they are a part.
They also leverage social media to amplify their voices further. “Twitter and Facebook are also great tools to engage others, give voice to the communities and put them on the government’s radar for educational interventions,” writes Miachi. “Imagine what we can achieve when working together with governments, international development partners and other key stakeholders. There are (almost) no limits.”
*Connected Development (CODE) is the registered company Miachi works for; Follow the Money and Education Budget Tracker are both projects under CODE.