Meet Chizurum Michael Anabaraonye: Nigeria’s award-winning activist and young entrepreneur who is leading a global movement to mobilize young people to advance the quest for climate action and energy transition

Meet Chizurum Michael Anabaraonye, a writer and activist from Nigeria who is leading a global movement to mobilize young people to advance the quest for climate action and energy transition. Anabaraonye has won multiple awards for his work in environmental and social justice activism.

Chizurum Michael Anabaraonye is a change maker who has won multiple awards for his significant contributions and advocacy. He has had several positive effects in these areas such as climate action, gender equality and youth empowerment. As a young person who is committed to making positive change, he has made use of a variety of platforms and his abilities to bring attention to issues relating to human rights, climate change, and gender-based violence.

In 2018, he was appointed the president of the Student Union Government at the University of Abuja. The university is comprised of forty thousand students, as well as academic and non-academic staff. In this position, he championed the Green Initiative, which established a platform for the academic governing body, student innovators, and businesses to chat about a new path toward combating climate change by promoting innovation in the development of renewable energy sources, recycling, tree planting and campus awareness campaigns on climate change and clean energy.

As a result of his excellent performance as an outstanding young leader, he was chosen to serve as one of the 2018 Campus Directors of the Hult Prize Foundation who will lead their campus teams to compete for the 2019 Hult Prize seed grant. The Hult Prize challenges young people around the world to solve the planet’s most pressing issues through social entrepreneurship by awarding them a seed grant of $1m.

The Hult Prize Foundation, in 2019, had the vision to establish the groundwork for an enterprise that will provide meaningful work for 10,000 youth within the next decade. As one of the 2018 Campus Directors of the Hult Prize Foundation, Chizurum was given the challenge of nurturing and leading a team that will develop a business in the renewable energy industry that has the potential to create work for 10,000 people within the next decade.

In 2019, Chizurum was given the position of Regional Director of the Hult Prize Foundation for Nigeria for the 2020 challenge. In this role, he was responsible for the leadership of one hundred teams representing one hundred universities that will compete for the 2020 Hult Prize seed grant of $1m. These teams were tasked with creating businesses that would improve the environment with each completed sale, dollar earned, and decision made. One of the defining characteristics of his leadership was the way he tackled the issue of lack of funding for competing teams, who needed financial support to attend the regional summit in Abuja and present their idea. Through his intervention, many businesses provided the needed funding for all participating teams to attend the regionals. In the long term, this helped in forging cooperation between the businesses, investors, and participating teams with great ideas for innovative renewable energy technologies. Some of the teams today have accessed further funding and other forms of support from these businesses and investors to launch their business ideas.

Earlier in his career as an advocate, Chizurum, through the non-profit organization he founded to promote gender equality, had worked with and received support from many donors to promote the rights of women and the girl child. These institutions included UNICEF, UNFPA, Global Wallace Fund, The Girl Generation, Department of Foreign and International Development (DFID) UK, UNDP, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many others.

Chizurum has brought honor to Nigeria and the whole continent of Africa on the world stage. He has spoken on different issues at events held around the globe and has participated in and contributed to many policy documents and workshops that empower young people to change the world, including “Building Bridges Between Africa and Europe,” which aimed to put an end to gender-based violence. He was also one of the young people selected by UNDP and the federal government of nigeria to work on a plan to advance climate action and renewable energy deployment in 2019.

At the 2017 Global Peter Drucker Forum, where he was recognized as one of the top ten finalists (9th place) of the Peter Drucker Challenge, he advocated for women’s empowerment and engagement in commercial activities as a means to achieve inclusive prosperity. In 2018, he was honored at the Global Peter Drucker Forum gala night that was held at Hofburg Imperial Palace Vienna Austria for his work on the future of work and the nature of the firm in the face of artificial intelligence, big data, automation, and cloud computing. His work, which was critical of a future world in which machines will displace man and take over the majority of jobs, proposed that instead of outright “automate and replace,” firms should focus on improving efficiency by training and retraining their workers on skills needed to operate machines and creating an ecosystem in which machines help people do their work better. According to him, “if we give all of the jobs to the machines, we are asking for trouble. It will cause an unimaginable catastrophe.”

Chizurum joins the leadership team of Concerned Nigerians following his appointment as the Program Director. He was asked by the press and media team to discuss his work over the years as well as the future of his new initiative, The Green Hub. The Green Hub is a platform that will bring together businesses, nonprofits, students in the energy and engineering field, and governments to discuss a new path that will advance the growth of the renewable energy industry across the continent of Africa. The following is a portion of the subsequent discussion that took place.

Video description: Chizurum received an award at the Peter Drucker Forum gala night for his work, becoming the second African to be twice honored for his work submitted for the Global Peter Drucker Challenge.

Concerned Nigerians:  Chizurum, could you tell us about yourself, your work, and what you’re currently up to.

Chizurum: My name is Chizurum Michael Anabaraonye. I am an activist, I raise awareness about climate change, gender-based violence, and the economic implications of gender inequality and exclusion. I advocate for social transformation in the way we value women in our society so that they can emerge with all of us and I constantly work towards empowering young people to change the world. I have also been speaking out for change about our dependence on oil for energy.  These three concepts which include environmental stewardship, gender inequality, and youth empowerment, form the core message of my activism. It’s a whole lot to talk about and too much work to do to achieve the desired change. Currently, I am working on a project that will bring two or three concepts into force. The project is called The Green Hub, which brings together critical key players such as the government, civil society groups called nonprofits, businesses, and students to work together towards achieving change. Basically, Green Hub will work together to promote women’s participation in promoting environmental health and clean energy because the energy sector is still male-dominated. We will create a conducive system that will allow the innovative private sector interested in clean energy to dialogue with the government on how to tackle some of the obstacles hindering the growth of the industry in the county. And finally, young people who have an interest in clean energy can have the opportunity to learn and make their own contributions. No one will be left behind.

Chizurum with some of the women who were involved in the recycling of bottles and empty cans on campus

Concerned Nigerians: That’s quite impressive. Let’s go down memory lane. During your university education at the University of Abuja, you were appointed the SUG president of the university, and you were able to launch The Green Initiative. Could you tell us what it was all about and what prompted you to embark on that?

Chizurum: The University of Abuja comprises over forty thousand people including students and academic and non-academic staff. We generate so much waste from the consumption of water, soda, beverages, and paper. It was worrisome looking at the pile-up of these wastes.  Of course, many students were not aware of these implications. But I could do so little because I was not close to the school management, and writing to the school about it wasn’t helping. So an opportunity came when I was appointed the student leader, which became the right time for me to make a change. I launched the Green Initiative to tackle this problem. My aim was to build the next generation of sustainability leaders through action, education, advocacy, and innovation. We set up a local recycling business in the campus that gathered all the discarded cans and bottles, washed and treated them carefully, which were later reused in serving some of the local drinks we enjoyed at school. We encourage the planting of trees across the campus. We also encouraged students with innovative ideas to showcase their talents. Many of them produced rechargeable reading lanterns and other products powered by clean energy. In terms of financing, we created a platform that enabled businesses and the university to partner in promoting innovation and effective use of renewable energy across the campus and beyond. We worked with everyone, and I made sure young girls participated in these programs trust me they have a lot to contribute in this industry and in the global effort to combat climate change.

Concerned Nigerians: You talked about financing and collaboration in the effort to promote clean energy. Can you talk more about that because finance is a big problem in the industry?
Chizurum: When I was the Regional Director of the Hult Prize Foundation in charge of nurturing teams that will compete at the global level for the Hult Prize seed funding which was $1 million, I saw how poor financing was robbing the world of amazing ideas that will bring many breakthroughs in the energy sector. We had more than 10 projects that were so great but we could only select one for the prize. There is a huge opportunity to take advantage of lower-cost clean energy technologies, led by solar and wind, to forge a new low-emissions development model for the developing world. This was what their projects were all about, but we could not help. If I had the money, I would give those guys to launch their ideas. It bothers me, even more, to realize that the money necessary to make this dream a reality is readily available all across the world but this money isn’t going to the places where it’s needed the most.
Energy transitions in poor nations like Nigeria, sadly we should not be a poor nation except for the misappropriation of public funds in Nigeria, are being supported by many organizations, with the best of intentions and frequently with remarkable outcomes. However, private investors do not yet see renewable energy projects as offering an adequate return on investment. Promoting the monetary conditions for the fast adoption of sustainable energy technology in emerging and developing countries is one of the defining problems of our time.
We know that even though money is not in abundant supply in all countries, it is not finding its way to the areas where it is most desperately needed. Governments must provide international public finance institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and local institutions too with robust strategic mandates to facilitate the financing of renewable energy transitions. We can see that for this to be possible, there needs to be a strategic relationship between the industry, the movement, and finance institutions.
The 2020 Hult Prize regional summit winning team at Abuja

Many nations are still feeling the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, with the economic downturn being deeper and the potential to create a durable recovery being lower than in other areas of the developed world. The world’s efforts to combat climate change and achieve other sustainable development objectives will hit a serious snag if energy transitions and renewable energy investment do not immediately pick up momentum in emerging and developing nations. Because of their rapid economic expansion, industrialization, and urbanization, emerging and developing countries are expected to account for the vast majority of the world’s emission growth over the next several decades.

Each nation must make its own energy decisions according to its own priorities and capabilities. Yet, the international community must guarantee that all nations have the assistance they need to continue ahead on this crucial endeavor, as the global nature of the climate change crisis necessitates global solutions. These are tasks that the energy sector cannot tackle alone. The massive scale of the challenge requires all stakeholders.

Concerned Nigerians: You talk so passionately about renewable energy. You seem to have learned a lot about the industry during your tenure as the Regional Director of the Hult Prize Foundation. However, we have to acknowledge the fact that Africa is still yet to develop in that regard. Do you think there is much progress in the continent in achieving energy transition? Can you summarize the solar/renewables industry in Africa and its growth?

Chizurum: In a broad sense, Africa has enormous energy potential. It is thus not unexpected that it plays a significant part in the energy change that mankind is through at the present time. For the greatest possible outcome, African authorities must prioritize this matter (which concerns national sovereignty) so that this potential may be used to improve the lives of the people of Africa.

Some very significant “leapfrogs” have taken place on the African continent. The telecommunications and financial industries are always used as an example. The original concept of “mobile banking” emerged from Africa, and is now influencing developments in other regions. Dared you think the same thing about the energy industry?

I don’t think solar technology is a magical fix, but it’s becoming better and cheaper all the time. The same holds true for storage technology, the price of which consistently decreases despite an increase in output. Given our current predicament, we must prioritize approaches that are decentralized, personalized, and ecologically responsible.

Today, the traditional concept of energy is being rethought. Because of the energy shift, it’s time to start looking for other resources. People have become increasingly aware that there are renewable options available. They are decreasing in price. Africa seems to be a little late for the train anyway. These technologies are already commonplace in the energy mix in other regions of the globe.

A political and economic will exists to fund renewable energy projects in Africa, but it is at a slow pace. Financial institutions throughout the world are increasingly reluctant to invest in traditional energy, which is good for the industry. The growth of these technologies gives us a reason for hope, especially in Africa. As someone who has studied the trends in the industry for a long time, I can attest to the recent boom in solar energy projects. Within the next five years, most African nations will have deployed at least one renewable energy project and, more likely, one sizable school power station.

While solar power is becoming more affordable, it is still an unconventional and intermittent technology that cannot fully replace traditional sources of energy. The lifeblood of the geek economy is energy; without it, I doubt we’d be having conversations about computer networks, digitization, etc. Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves to at least have the basis for Africa to play a key part in that economy.

Concerned Nigerians: You have been an active campaigner for gender equality and women’s empowerment. And today, you are talking about involving more women in the renewable energy industry.  What significant impact will that make in advancing the growth of this sector?

A tweet of acknowledgement by the Hult Prize Foundation after the regional summit organized by Chizurum

Chizurum: Women’s empowerment and leadership in the energy sector could help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy by promoting clean energy and more efficient energy use. I can’t overstate the positive impact that gender equality can have on our planet and on every facet of human advancement. Women contribute a wide range of advantages to the economic world, as well as to the battle against climate change, to the shift to more modern forms of energy, and to everything else. Permit me to explain more.

First, women fare better at renewable energy companies, but they are still in a clear minority at 32 percent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. That number, too, gets smaller when one excludes administrative jobs. We need to understand that the transition to energy security and climate neutrality means we need to close the gender gap to fully involve women in a technical, scientific, and business transformation. I have traveled to different countries around the world.

I have worked with many companies, including male and female professionals. And I tell you women have enormous talents. With the complexity and challenges of 21st-century problems, we need diverse thinkers and diverse leaders. We cannot do it with just a male perception of the world. Women need to get involved in every way. When there is a lack of gender equality, society as a whole suffers as a result. Women tend to lead with a more long-term vision of what they want to accomplish, they prefer to lead in finding solutions.

Concerned Nigerians: What are the main problems that keep Africa from developing renewable energy and getting electricity, and how can they be fixed?

Chizurum with some other guests at an international conference

Chizurum: First, there is a legal barrier. Some countries in Africa don’t have laws that make it easier to plan and build projects. Even if a state wanted to create its own program, it would be hard.

The second which I talked about is funding. It’s hard to get enough money to help. The trend is changing, but the way funding is set up now doesn’t work for renewable energy. Up until now, there were not many projects that worked because funding institutions were afraid to put money into them. Slowly, things are changing.

The third is insufficient human capital. There are not as many material and human resources in Africa as there are in other places for advancing the growth of the industry. Even simple maintenance tasks are done by people from outside the country. Rural electrification projects are made by startups with non-African founders and investors. The salaries and operating costs of these startups are not in line with the lives of the people who will benefit from the projects. So, if an international group starts building a solar power plant in my hometown, who will pay for the services? If the cost difference between the service provider and the person who gets the service is so big, the business model won’t work in the long run. That’s why we need to get maximum costs back on the continent, and human capital is a big part of that. It also lets projects stay on the continent and keep the money they bring in. But things are gradually changing now. This is why I advocate for women and young people to be greatly involved in this bold dream.

Concerned Nigerians: What are some of your long-term objectives and aspirations?

Chizurum: My long-term objective is to help governments, businesses, communities, and individuals across African countries and beyond that are interested in learning and enhancing the level of internal knowledge they possess in this field. I am not an engineer, my role is to raise awareness about these realities. I am building two different blogs to advance people’s knowledge of these possibilities.

I would also want, via Green Hub, to build a sustainable platform for educating young Africans to develop local energy projects. This would be done to utilize energy as a potent method for socioeconomic development, reduce poverty, create more jobs, and close the energy gap.

I am especially worried about the sluggish speed of the energy transition, which is why I am increasing the amount of advocacy work I do for it. It is incomprehensible to me why we are willing to spend so much money on the construction of refineries while remaining deaf to calls to accelerate the development of renewable energy sources and make them accessible to everybody. The use of renewable energy sources results in dependable power supplies as well as fuel diversity, all of which contribute to increased energy security, a reduced danger of fuel spills, and a decreased need for fuels that are imported. The use of renewable energy contributes to the preservation of the nation’s natural resources. According to studies, the use of conventional biofuels for domestic cooking raises the risk of pneumonia by eighty percent when compared to the use of clean cooking facilities. Furthermore, using traditional biofuels for cooking also doubles the risk of developing lung illness and lung cancer. Aside from that, climate change is a reality, and if we don’t act quickly, it might lead to a catastrophe that affects the whole globe and can happen very quickly since we are on the brink of it.



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