In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Chude Jideonwo, the Executive Director of The Future Project talks about the passion, expectations and challenges of The Future Awards. This year’s award ceremony comes up on August 26, at Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Who nominates the nominees?
The nominations process is open to everyone. Primarily, it is for members of the public who nominate by SMS and online. Then industry watchers, leaders, media etc also call our attention to inspiring young people. Of course the nomination action process is only step one, there is also the 2 month judging process.
Every year, majority of the nominees and eventual winners of the awards come from Lagos and other big cities. Will there ever be an edition where an appreciable number of the nominees would come from, say, Ilesha or Makurdi?
The majority of Nigerians live in Lagos, the majority of entrepreneurial, profession, advocacy and governmental activity happens in Lagos. It’s sadly inevitable that for any awards process and anything else that is pan-Nigerian, Abuja and Lagos will take a fair share. However, depending on what appreciable means, it is a misconception – albeit understandable – that a lot of nominees don’t come from outside. From Akure to Minna, this year’s nominations list has a great spread across the country. The issue is that people don’t really go and actually investigate. If you check our websites and actually read the profiles, you’d see.
Do you think the award is really living up to its vision?
Absolutely. Showing that young people can run enterprise and run with visions? Yes. Restoring faith in country for a large swath of young people? Yes. Being a platform to scale up the work of young people and launch new, enduring ideas? Yes. Granting opportunities and trainings in entrepreneurship and creativity? Yes. Finding support for nominees and winners? Yes. More importantly, building a network of change minded young Nigerians who are doing even greater things? Oh yes. We are extremely excited to be tools for the change we seek.
There have always been certain levels of criticisms – nominating friends, using the awards for pecuniary gains, etc – how have you been handling these criticisms?
It’s really the cost of influence. Some of these narratives are really curious, because I don’t know how it’s possible to have so many friends (Laughter). The integrity of this process is beyond reproach. We also pride ourselves as having the most transparent process – we have published all the stages of the process, all the names of the judges etc on the website. No other awards in Nigeria does that presently. The problem is that the proliferation of awards and general corruption in our system makes people immediately doubt intent, it is understandable. However, the knee jerk criticism of a minority can be counter-productive unless you learn like we have that to do what you believe in, you sometimes have to skirt the mud. Thankfully, the reason we have so many raving fans is because people who encounter the process always come off impressed and inspired. It is changing Nigerians, perhaps Nigeria and it is therefore a fair target for criticism. But it’s standards are high, even cumbersome.
I understand that nominees are expected to submit their birth certificates. Do you also go any extra length to verify the authenticity? If yes, how?
A birth certificate is conclusive legal proof of birth. So we apply the standards of courts in terms of evidence provided as proof of age and ensure that nominees meet that standard. Many of them don’t and they are immediately penalized.
With the advent of social media, when you look back at the times when we didn’t have all these, how easy/difficult was the organization – nomination process – award event back then?
Oh dear, social media has made our work so much easier. You are able to gauge reception, track issues arising, push publicity on platforms directly to target market, direct own messaging, crowd source information, contact nominees. It’s changed the way we do the entire awards. We were early adopters of social media for advocacy in Nigeria, using Facebook then as perhaps the first national event to do so and it is a blessing.
Do you ever get protest mails/calls from nominees who believed they deserved to win a particular category but lost out?
As always, but like I said in a conversation yesterday, people who insist that they alone deserve to win or be nominated betray a lack of awareness of the breath of amazing work that young Nigerians do across the world. We must avoid the conceit of imagining we are alone in excellence. Nigeria needs a network of inspired young people working in tandem to regenerate our economy and systems. There are many people every year who are fit to be nominated and win, and every year we are just so inspired and humbled to meet so many and to know there is hope.
Had there been years when the award was hosted without a sponsor? How did you raise funds?
Oh yes, at least three editions have held without a sponsor. We have worked with a support model – brands that believe us have donated, partnered on equipment and other materials we needed. Individuals continue also to be passionate about this vision, it truly humbles us and it has helped. We have always worked on the principle that money or no money the event will hold, we don’t de-emphasize the importance of resources but the vision must live, and it’s also why we are focused on building wealth to support the causes and issues we are passionate about.
When you look back at the first season in 2006 and then this seventh season, what would you say was the greatest challenge for the TFA and how did you surmount it?
The challenge has been pulling the resources to do an event that barely pays for itself year in year out and being able to compete and surpass other platforms with perhaps a hundred times the resources. That has been our greatest challenge, it has also been our greatest pride. Some people have said we don’t like to spend money, others have said we have too much money and I say if they know just how much we have to manage, if they know how little the resources have been, they would call The Future Awards a miracle. It is a testament to how much you can achieve if you have your heart in the right place and your finger on the pulse.