Nigerian Diary: Leaving Lagos!

I sit in my hotel room with my bags all packed.  This improbable trip to Nigeria, born two years ago through a Tweet and a big dream from a remarkable Nigerian businessman named Ayo Owodunni, has come to a successful close.

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The Find Your Edge Dream Team!

He and fellow visionary businessman, Ayoola Jolayemi, their wives, the amazing support team of Ayoola's company, SwiftThink, the indomitable Richmond Dayo Johnson, and many others all helped to make this project such a resounding success.

We all believe that Mastering our ABC’s (Appearance, Behavior and Communication)  goes a long way to making a difference in our personal and professional lives  - and the world around us.

The Corporate Affairs team at Nigerian Breweries after our day-long Crisis Communications session.  A+ !!
The Corporate Affairs team at Nigerian Breweries after our day-long Crisis Communications session. A+ !!

Over the past six weeks, our Find Your Edge programs have brought communications training sessions and workshops to businesses, organizations and students.

Me giving it my all at the Find Your Edge STUDENT SUMMIT on Wednesday.
Me giving it my all at the Find Your Edge STUDENT SUMMIT on Wednesday.

And last night, two of SwiftThink’s best and brightest, Tope and Ibukun, treated me to a special night out on the town.

All work and no play...
All work and no play...

Without any instructional slide shows, white boards or case studies, we danced, laughed and sang at Isaac Geralds's birthday party.

Happy birthday, Isaac! from the ladies.
Happy birthday, Isaac! from the ladies.

An incredible evening of good fun held at “Freedom Park” in Lagos.  It used to be a prison during British colonial times, but now is a gathering place for freedom of expression.  And fun.

No, Isaac did not bring me up on stage. Oh, yes he did!
No, Isaac did not bring me up on stage. Oh, yes he did!

Thank you, gentlemen, for all your hard work during our Find Your Edge project, and for taking care of me last night.

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Thanks, gents!
Thanks, gents!

And thank you Isaac, for your incredible voice that you so freely gave last night AND at the Student Summit on Wednesday.

Check him singing live my favorite song: "Ijebu Girl!" below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P66A8OBs_h4

Thank you again, Ayo, for dreaming such BIG dreams. And thank you, Ayoola for putting the business wheels into high gear.  Thank you, Folake and Seyi for being so supportive, sharp and caring. Thanks to everyone of you dear hard workers at SwiftThink.  This is only the beginning!

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Ayoola and me before the start of the Student Summit. Dream BIG people!

As I prepare to get on the plane this evening that will take me back to the United States – which I haven’t visited in three years -  I’ll be remembering all the inspirational experiences and new friends I had and met here in Nigeria.

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Faces of inspiration at our Student Summit this week!

I’ll be looking forward to seeing my husband and daughter whom I haven’t seen since I came here, 34 days ago.  I’ll be thinking of my dear mommy whom I haven’t seen during the whole time I lived in Tuscany.  And I also can’t help thinking about the people who yesterday boarded Malaysian Flight 17 only to meet with unexpected and preventable tragedy.

Nigerians often tell me how much they love life.  Last night’s birthday party certainly demonstrated it in a most joyful way.

Party! :)
Party! :)

I love life too - and want to savor and embrace every second of it because as we all know, life is fleeting.

Let’s encourage one another and unapologetically dance, sing, laugh and celebrate every moment that we can.

I love you, Lagos.  See you soon.

Baci!

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All rights reserved.

 


Nigeria Diary: The questions I am getting

Besides the ubiquitous, “How do you find your time here in Nigeria?” which I answer at least half a dozen times each day, some probing souls are asking me more pointed questions.

Questions like, “How can you relate to us as a white?”

I believe there are always ways to find common ground.
I believe there are always ways to find common ground.

“Don’t you think policies in the West will not work here?”

Sharing ideas and experiences .. can be fun!
Sharing ideas and experiences .. can be fun!

As someone who has worked and trained –and even lived – in a variety of places like Indonesia, Cambodia, Tunisia and Egypt, I welcome each and every question from each and every person.   I am never offended when someone is straightforward and honest.  It’s through the questions, that I can learn more about the person and find ways to overcome his or her concerns.

So, for the record, here are some of the questions and my answers I am receiving here in Nigeria.

  1. How can you relate to us as a white?   It’s more than obvious that my skin color is lighter than most everyone I meet here in Lagos. For example, I sat in service yesterday at a parish of Africa’s fastest growing church, The Redeemed Christian Church of Christ.  Did I say “sat?!

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I meant to say, I "stood, danced, sang and shimmied" for four hours! The meeting was a party. An encouraging celebration of each other and God.  I loved all of it.  And yes, I was the only pinky-skinned lady in the hall.  After the service, a young man interviewed me for his blog – asking how I got started with my career.  I offered some relationship and networking strategies – telling him to make sure to keep in close contact with his favorite professors after he graduates. He hadn’t thought of them as possible relationships, only teachers.  We connected on that point.  He is young. I am not as young. He is male. I am not. Yes, he has dark skin. I do not.  Years ago, when I trained an incredible group of Iraqi women running for office, their country was (as is still now) in the midst of chaos and fear.  I couldn’t relate on that level, but I could understand their desires to balance family and career.  We were able to find common ground.  And that’s the trick. Searching for those common hopes, dreams and fears that link us all together as human beings on the planet, regardless of our different cultures, traditions, backgrounds and even skin tones.

2. Don’t you think policies in the West won’t work here in Africa?  Let’s break that down.  Which policies? The policy of being thoughtful to your customers, employees or citizens?  To considering and providing for their well-being?  To holding peaceful, free and fair elections if you call yourself a democracy? Injustices happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and the only way to affect change, is to constantly and consistently expose and push against those injustices.  Observers sometimes complain there is not enough investigative journalism here.  But as I work with journalists and civil rights organizations in places where there is less than free expression due to a variety of real or perceived dire consequences, I am often impressed there is any level of investigative journalism. I try to encourage the increase, not carp about the short-comings.

3. Can you really teach journalists, you seem very motivational?  This was probably my most surprising question, as it didn’t come from a Nigerian at all, but rather from an American who seemed more than skeptical; she seemed down right cynical.  Whew!

Journalism training session
Journalism training session

Of course I try to be motivational. Encouraging.  Supportive. Inspirational.  Call it what you what.  To me,  it’s part of what you do as a trainer, as a coach.  First, you must try to establish a connection or a relationship.  I would NEVER come into a newsroom or any training room for that matter, and immediately launch into how to write better, or how to manage better, or how to stay on message better. What’s the incentive to change, aka work harder, from that approach?

Having once been a working journalist myself, I know that most journalists everywhere are not paid well.  We likely got into the field because we liked telling stories.  Stories that might make a difference.   The way I try to connect with journalists is to re-ignite that flame still burning inside them.  To inspire them that their writing - if credible and accurate – might make those differences over time.

I have read in diplomacy circles that relationships are, for some reason, labeled with the jargony impersonal word, “architecture.”  As in, “how strong is your architecture with journalists??”  Whatever the word, the point remains the same.  If you don’t first connect with your audience on some level, they are never going to care about what you say.  It’s basic 101 in presentation training lessons for anyone, regardless of your audience’s ethnicity or country-origin.

 First you connect. Then you can teach, or inform or persuade.  It seems obvious and yet it is too seldom done. Perhaps the obstacles seem too high.  But if we spend time building the architecture, the relationship bridges, to get over them,  I think the outcomes will be worth the effort.

Joseph, just one of the inspiring people I met at church on Sunday who asked me some thought provoking questions.
Joseph, just one of the inspiring people I met at church on Sunday who asked me some thought provoking questions.

Yours from Lagos,

Gina

 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 


Nigeria Diary: Meet the Press

Journalism can impact the course of world history in a myriad of ways.  And here in Lagos, I am meeting dozens of journalists who are committed to changing the course of their nation - for the better.

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In the past week, as part of our Find Your Edge Leadership and Communication program, I have had the privilege of conducting journalist training sessions at The Nation, the number two newspaper in all of Nigeria, and at TVC News, the first 24-hour news network covering the continent and emphasizes its news-gathering distinction with the tag-line, "Through African Eyes."

The participant journalists from TVC News Africa
The participant journalists from TVC News Africa

My hands-on training takes real stories in the headlines and calls on journalists to completely re-think them.  We analyze sourcing methods and verification.  We examine how to report from breaking news scenes. We consider ways to add context and perspective.  We drill on honing writing skills to become precise and powerful.

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Overall, the standard of journalism I have seen so far, has a way to go.  Many print articles I read meander and don't ask officials the obvious follow-up questions.   I've watched lack-luster reporters and anchors who appear only blandly interested in the stories they are covering.

But these groups I have worked with are different. They are eager to sharpen their skills and push themselves and frankly, in this environment, assume the possible risks.

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Like Evelyn, one reporter I worked with - who has been doggedly uncovering injustices for years - which have now evoked enough awareness and outcry that she tells me some officials want to meet with her to talk about ways to craft policy change.

And Mark, the radio broadcaster who shared with me at the end of our session how he is now inspired to not only read the news, but to consider the hopes, dreams and fears of his listeners and to seek ways to provide context around stories to help them better understand ramifications.

the nations paper

Journalism isn't a career you enter thinking you're going to make a lot of money.  Our wealth comes from telling real stories that make a difference.

In every society it's the same. For journalists to build credibility and deliver value, they have to learn to be watchdogs, not lapdogs.

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The people I have met appear earnest and eager.  They are authorities in their business; the people who can influence others to join the cause. To become leaders, not just writers and readers.

Reporting live from Lagos, Nigeria. I'm Gina London. Now back to you.

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.