Scholars’ Voices: What Breaks Your Heart and What are You Doing to Solve It

The team at the Mastercard Foundation sat down with Hammed Kayode Alabi, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar Alum from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss his journey and his work in providing secondary school students in marginalized and underserved communities in Nigeria with essential life skills training needed for the workforce and the future of work.

Here is Hammed’s candid response to the question, “What breaks your heart, and what are you doing to solve it.”

Hammed Kayode Alabi

My life journey has been like a Jigsaw Puzzle, and I am still a piece of that puzzle yet to be unravelled. I was born and raised in the largest floating slum in Africa – Makoko, in Lagos, Nigeria. Like every other child, I had a dream, but the circumstances around me crushed those dreams. I lost my mum when I was seven (7) due to a long-term illness, and my dad immediately became unemployed, compelling my brother and me to stay out of school for some time.

At age 13, I had to grow fast and turned to hawking in the street to ensure we had food on the table. However, those moments were defining for me as they offered an opportunity to see problems in my communities and how I could be a solution to them. I saw children who were out of school just like me, and I saw young talents being wasted in the streets because they had no access to mentors to guide them through. Seeing all these challenges broke my heart, and right there, I was obligated not to be part of the problem but to the solution.

At age 15, I started teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills in a primary school in a rural community in Lagos, organizing remedial classes for struggling students and building capable young leaders. I went ahead to study at the University level and won the best-graduating student for my department. My education allowed me to access information, leadership programmes such as the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative (CYFI), and personal development opportunities. Teaching became my lifeline, and I believe that children in rural communities can change their inherited circumstances with the proper education, skills, and opportunities. From working with over 3000 children in marginalized and underserved communities, I discovered that only 1 out of 10 young people like me would have access to the education that will enable them to create solutions in their communities and transform themselves. The World Development Report (2018) by the World Bank revealed that “children from poor households will likely leave school without acquiring basic skills like literacy or numeracy, which will translate into severe shortcomings in workforce skills.”

According to The Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022: Investing in Transforming Futures for Young People report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the numerous labour market challenges facing those aged between 15 and 24 years who have experienced a higher percentage loss in employment than adults since early 2020.

 Kayode Alabi Leadership and Career Initiative (KLCI)

With changes happening in the economy, from growth in tech startups to a digitized economy, children in marginalized communities who lack access to the essential skills, networks, opportunities, and education would struggle to integrate into the economy fully and prepare for the future of work. This is why I started the Kayode Alabi Leadership and Career Initiative (KLCI) to help children, young people, and students in underserved communities develop life and 21st-century skills that would enable them to forge a trajectory for their careers. KLCI offers a blend of career mentoring, leadership training, scholarships, and activity-based boot camps to allow secondary school students in underserved communities and teachers-in-training to develop 21st-century skills.

 Skill2Rural Boot camp

One of the projects I created through the Kayode Alabi Leadership and Career Initiative (KLCI) is the Skill2Rural boot camp. In this intensive program, children living in rural and underserved communities co-create solutions to the problems and challenges they face in their communities using design thinking tools while developing 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence. The boot camp, accompanied by a mentoring programme, has seen over 6500+ children in 50+ schools in 6 states in Nigeria develop life and 21st-century skills needed to integrate into the workforce and the future of work. This year, the Bootcamp trained youths in three internally displaced persons camps in Maiduguri, Northeastern Nigeria, on essential 21st-century skills to empower them to create positive change in their communities.

Teachers-in-Training Boot camp

In 2020, when COVID-19 struck, it was evident that there was a health crisis in Nigeria, and Doctors-in-Training joined the healthcare system to respond to the challenge. Similarly, COVID-19 came with an educational problem as approximately one billion children were shut out of the classroom globally, with children in marginalized communities most affected.

However, teachers-in-training were doing little to respond. This not only broke my heart and kept me pondering. My team and I conducted a survey and discovered that only 30% of teachers-in-training have the skills to solve educational challenges. So, we launched the Teachers-in-Training Bootcamp, where teachers-in-training in Nigerian learning institutions go through 7 weeks of intensive online boot camp, 20 hours+ of learning, deepening their knowledge on how to solve educational problems and challenges in underserved communities. They identify a gap in the educational space, devise a sustainable solution, pitch, and receive funding to implement the idea. Hence making them 21st-century and transformative teachers transitioning into the teaching profession. The boot camp since 2020 has had three cohorts, seventy students, and teachers, and seven ideas have been funded.

As I said, my life can be related to a jigsaw puzzle. My circumstances broke my heart, but it became a piece of my dilemma in working to end educational injustice and revolutionize education in Nigeria and across the continent.

Learn More About the Scholars Program


About Hammed Kayode Alabi

Hammed Kayode Alabi is passionate about education access in underserved communities and for young people with forced migration backgrounds.

He completed his Master’s in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar. He researched the Mastercard Foundation-Foundation for All (FFA) project, where he explored the experiences of refugees in accessing higher education in Uganda, and currently works as the Senior Educational Mentoring Coordinator with Refugee Education UK, where he connects young refugees/asylum seekers to mentors for educational support.

Before this, he worked as a Young Refugee Project Coordinator with the British Red Cross, helping young refugees/asylum seekers in London develop life skills through the Refugee and Befriending Programme. He recently spoke as a UNESCO youth delegate at the Pre-Summit of the Transforming Education Summit at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, where he shared his vision to revolutionize 21st-century skills-base education.

He has written two books and authored over 192 personal, community, and global development articles.

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