In the fall of 2020, the United Nations Association – San Francisco Chapter decided to continue its United Nations Sustainable Development Goals youth mentorship program virtually (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), in place of the in-person mentorship program they had been operating for a number of years. As a volunteer youth mentor, I was matched with a young man working in youth development in Abuja, Nigeria. His name is Moses Agbara.
Moses and I were matched due to his interest in systems thinking along with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.
At the time I first met Moses, Nigeria was being rocked by weeks of youth-led protests against police brutality. The Nigerian police force had openly fired on protesters in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Protests were continuing in Abuja just blocks from where Moses lives.
Nigeria is, unfortunately, fraught with very serious human rights violations and high levels of poverty and government corruption. Their economy is largely reliant on oil, but the local population does not meaningfully benefit economically from their country’s rich resources.
When I met Moses I asked him about his background and aspirations. He was very clear from the outset: his main focus is to help support youth to live up to their potential. The projects he has worked on include improving libraries in Nigeria, helping them to be better public services, which in turn supports the entire community. Much of his work is around supporting girls in particular.
For the past two-and-a-half-years Moses and I have met weekly or bi-weekly. As is the nature of mentor-mentee relationships, I’m sure I have learned as much from Moses as he from me. If his insight into the challenges of his government are any indication of the intelligence of Nigerians in general, I can only conclude that Nigeria is full of sharp, insightful people veritably locked underneath an international conspiracy to keep poor people “in their place.” Nigeria’s fossil fuel-based ties with both Russia and China can only lead me to conclude as much.
Moses’ capacity to see and think in systems was there right from the start; again and again I was impressed with his ability to not only readily absorb what I had to share about systems, but to digest it, make it his own, ask questions, and to offer me new insights. (You can see the group’s brainstorm in the white board image below. It makes me very happy to see other human beings integrating the SDGs and systems thinking into their work, including material from the Systems Thinking Marin mini-course.)
Moses would now like to bring the team he manages at YiSHDA into the world of systems thinking. He feels that the nature of their work is already systems-oriented, but not really fully getting at the root of the challenges they are working on.
When Moses signed his whole team up to go through the Systems Practice course (on the Acumen website) together, I got excited. I started imagining the possibilities of a small group of five at YiSHDA really digging into this remarkably in-depth training. So, I offered to ask Systems Thinking Marin supporters to help offset the cost of this very small organization directing staff time toward their systems training, hence this blog post.
I also got a touch nervous. Moses and his group are already directly antithetical to the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram. You have heard of Boko Haram due to their nearly routine abduction of girls from schools, as well as other civilians. Their very name makes a statement against Western-style education, and education of girls is central to YiSHDA’s mission. If we “arm” organizers and activists with tools as sharp as systems thinking, might we be poking the snake? And in an environment where they are reliant on the protections of a corrupt government?
I realized, however, that I was getting ahead of myself. It would be overly optimistic to presume that this small nonprofit in Abuja could be so effective as to create a kerfuffle in the near-term. Rather, my hope is that Moses and his team are able to take their experience and, whether at YiSHDA or within other settings, marry what they learn with their own good sense and insights, and make it their own.
As you may know, on or around August 1, 2022 Systems Thinking Marin is officially closing its doors. The website will continue to be available, though in an archived fashion. I may or may not continue to meet with Moses on a weekly basis, but I will for sure continue to be available in some capacity as he and his group work to incorporate a systems perspective more visibly and fully into their work.
And I hope you will join us in supporting this effort. Be a part of the weaving of systems thinking into community engagement around the world!
YiSHDA’s group brainstorm, including the UN SDGs, the Systems Thinking Marin mini-course material, Theory U, and other systems thinking models.
When you make your donation, please note the reason for it when the field is available during the PayPal process. (Note that 7% of your donation goes to the fiscal sponsor of Systems Thinking Marin, Inquiring Systems Inc., for providing this and all number of other invaluable administrative functions. The remainder will go entirely to Moses’ efforts.)
As always, if you are working to bring systems thinking to Marin County or your community, you are welcome to contact me.