This month Alumni Voices speaks to Nabila Okino about her time at York, co-founding Social Change Organisation – The Continental Approach – and how she is trying to change the narrative of the African continent by showcasing positive African stories that inspire and innovate.
Which hall were you in?
What course did you choose? Why did you choose it? Why York?
International Human rights Law and Practice. I chose the course because of my interest in human rights and social justice. I wanted a course that equipped me with the knowledge and skills to advocate for marginalised groups, influence policies and would give me the experience to create impact initiatives that could lead to change in my community.
Deciding to come to York was an easy choice for me. In my search for a university, I wanted an institution that created a balance between theory and practice, one where I could see what I was learning in action. So the internship opportunity that the course offered made the course and the university even more attractive. Also, I wanted to experience the city, I had read about its rich history, the people and how the city was one of the safest, these all factored into my decision.
Describe your York experience in 3 words
Tell us why?
York was everything I wanted it to be. The city brought the calmness I needed to balance my hectic schedule. It was rewarding because of the opportunities it presented. I had the opportunity of doing an internship with the international Committee of the Red Cross, carried out research for the Centre for Applied Human Rights and worked on exciting projects with my colleagues. I felt ready to take on the world.
York gave me the gift of friendship, I met some of the best people. When you first arrive at your college you really don’t know what to expect, but you hope to get on well with people. I met two amazing friends who lived in the same block as me, we were from very diverse backgrounds, but we bonded very quickly. We shared meals, had Zumba workouts, attended the Christmas Markets, went shopping and studied together. This made the Covid lockdown easier. At a time when there was so much uncertainty in the world, it was refreshing to have people to talk to and spend time with.
It was an introspective experience for me because I was in York when Covid started. Far away from home and family. The university accommodation was a great companion during this time. From the greenery, the ducks, the rivers to the cycling tracks, they did wonders for my mental health. Just being able to take walks and feed the ducks made me think deeply about my journey, where I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life. It was truly a wonderful experience.
What happened after you graduated? What role did you move onto?
After graduating I moved back to Nigeria. It was difficult to find a job due to Covid and its impact on various aspects of our existence. However, about seven months after I secured a role as a Policy Analyst at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Although this was a pivot from my previous experiences, I was excited to learn something new in a different sector. It was also during this time that I and my co-founder, Alex Makotose, founded The Continental Approach.
Why did you decide to set up The Continental Approach and how did you go about it?
The Continental Approach was borne out of necessity. During my time in the UK one of the challenges I faced in researching and writing papers was the dearth of resources on Africa by African authors living in Africa or in the diaspora. Sometimes it was difficult to reconcile what I was reading with what I thought was the reality and my experience as an African woman. This was a sentiment shared by my co-founder and most Africans I was interacting with. So we thought to create a platform where young Africans could share their stories and take charge of shaping their narrative.
In setting up The Continental Approach it was important for us to get contributors from different African countries. Being a Commonwealth scholar, I had access to a network of amazing young Africans both from the University of York and other universities in the UK. This was our first point of contact, I reached out to some people and they were all so excited to contribute. This is one thing we are really proud of at The Continental Approach – none of the people we reached out to said ‘no’ to us. They recognised the need for such a platform and they were willing to lend their time.
What does The Continental Approach aim to do?
The Continental Approach aims to showcase positive, innovative African stories that inspire and propel people to make an impact in their communities, influence policy and contribute to the development of the continent. Every day, the media churns out news and information about Africa, most of which are related to issues of conflict, corruption and poverty. Although we recognise that these challenges exist within the continent, they are not the sum of our existence. There is a lot of innovation happening, young Africans are breaking boundaries and solving the world’s most interesting question. We intend to showcase all these and more.
How does it go about achieving this mission in practice?
Africa is a large continent, there are 54 very diverse countries. Telling the stories from 54 countries is a huge undertaking, especially considering we have limited resources and personnel. So far, we have worked with 16 contributors from 11 African countries. We recognise the diversity of the continent and the importance of working with people from different regions in order to properly capture their experience.
With the help of the team and our pool of contributors we publish essays/articles, 300 second interviews with innovators & change makers and also publish explainers on topical issues happening within the continent. Through our publications we are able to produce easily digestible content that educates and inspires people. In the near future, we intend to produce policy briefs based on our research, which we can share with institutions, government and regional bodies.
What are the main issues facing young Africans on the African continent?
The issues facing young Africans across the continent differ from country to country. But generally speaking, there is a lack of representation of young people in decision making. This often leads to an alienation of innovative voices and talents that can potentially improve and develop their countries. However, within the media landscape, there is a lack of visibility of the work and impact young Africans are making. Through our research and interactions, we have uncovered and met fascinating people embarking on life-changing initiatives in countries like Madagascar, Uganda, Nigeria etc. but we hardly hear of these stories; we hope to change that at The Continental Approach.
Can you give us an example of a success story?
Success is sometimes difficult to measure beyond seeing growing numbers of interactions and visits to our website and social media. However, through an article published by one of our contributors, he got noticed by an international organisation who found his research interesting and wanted to work with him. Our platform was able to create that visibility for his work.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
How dynamic it is. Being one of the co-founders, I am constantly in meetings with different people from across the world. These are people doing crazy amazing things so it’s always very fascinating for me. So, it gives me the opportunity to meet people and learn from them. It inspires me to show up every day and keep going.
If someone wanted to set up a Social Change Organisation, what tip would you give them?
Talk to people! It’s very easy to assume you have all the answers or solutions to the problems you are trying to solve. But interacting with people will open you up to different ideas and opportunities. There are so many people and organisations you can partner with to make your work easier, so set up those meetings, go for coffee and open communication channels with your target audience.
What’s next for you and The Continental Approach?
We want to expand to more African countries and empower more young Africans. We’ll continue to seek out innovative African stories and spotlight Africans making an impact in their communities. Resources are our biggest challenge so we will be putting a lot of energy into creating partnerships and working with donor organisations that align with our values.