Gift Ifokwe is a master’s student at the Centre for Sustainable Development (CESDEV), University of Ibadan. She is a development practitioner and an SDGs advocate with a penchant for volunteering. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about her work in the non-profit and humanitarian space, the benefits of volunteering, the kind of Nigeria she wants, among other things.
A graduate of Agricultural Economics, what informed your choice of sustainable development studies for your master’s programme?
In the course of my undergraduate studies, during my early penultimate year, I got to know about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in which I developed a keen interest in and my passion grew on how I can become one of the global voices in sustaining the economic, social and environmental aspects of life.
What is your research thesis about, and how does it relate to SDGs?
My thesis is about assessing the perception and practices of how people package their food using plastics, with my core focus on selected restaurants in Ibadan North LGA. It relates to the SDGs, as the top aim is to determine what the respondents know about the environmental effects of plastic-food packaging and how often they package their food in plastic containers. This means that the goals focused on Environmental Sustainability (SDGs 13, 14, 15) would be critically assessed after successfully analyzing my data.
Which of the SDGs do you specialise in, and why? In what ways do you advocate them?
I specialise on the SDGs that focus mainly on promoting environmental sustainability, which are SDGs 4, 6, 7,13 – 15, and 17. I advocate these SDGs by first being the change I want to see, volunteering with reputable organisations that promote them, and leading the pace in my little corner.
You were one of the speakers of a recently concluded webinar tagged: ‘NGOs and Development’. What were the major highlights of the discourse?
The major highlights centred on addressing development issues around NGOs, as that month was the celebration of NGOs across the globe. The event also focused on the roles that NGOs play in the society and the world at large, which climaxed the benefits involved and skills required for volunteering.
You have been in the volunteering space for some time. What does volunteering mean to you? And how has it benefited you?
To me, volunteering is a freewill, selfless service that requires time and effort in achieving an organisation’s mission and vision. Volunteering has really benefited me and my career, as I have enhanced in my growth and development, gained marketable skills, improved my social and relationship skills, made and still making long-lasting impacts, boosted my self-esteem, combated depression while being an inspiring role model — not leaving out the fact that it brings fun and fulfilment not just to me alone but also to those around me.
Could you mention the NGOs/organisations you have volunteered for? What lessons did you learn working with these organisations?
I am privileged to have volunteered for quite a few organisations such as the Fashioned and Made for Excellence (FAME) Foundation, Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability (REES) for Africa, Lend A Hand for Africa (LAHA), the Girl Power Foundation, Rural Nurture Initiative (RNI), Plogging Nigeria, amongst others. Working with these organisations has taught me valuable lessons which are not limited to building my leadership skills, effective time management, team spirit, capacity building, networking, etc.
Do you have any interest in setting up your own NGO/initiative?
This question always comes up every now and then because of the way I am enthusiastic about my volunteering activities. No, I do not have an interest in setting up any NGO because it is not in my destiny. However, I could function as a dependable and effective Chief Operational Officer (COO) that every organisation might be looking for.
What do you have to say about NGOs who are out there for personal gains?
I would say there should be a proper monitoring and systems put in place so that organisations as such could be questioned and charged. More so, people should be careful about what they get involved with. They should thoroughly research on organisations that they would love to partner/volunteer with so that they would not be found wanting when finally caught. Tracking of records and progress made is very vital in ensuring that sustainability metrics are rightly put in place while setting up.
Do you think there is a relationship between volunteering and mental health/happiness?
Yes, there is a very direct exponential relationship between volunteering and mental health, especially when the volunteering is done out of selfless acts inculcating the fun and fulfilment it brings alongside.
Last week was the International Women’s Day, with the theme: ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. What do you have to say to Nigerian women as regards this theme?
To my fellow Nigerian women, I would love us to keep standing for one another, promoting equity, supporting winnings for women and girls. Women’s power means more people are being lifted out of poverty. It also means the world would make progress — because when progress is made for women and girls, we tend to make progress for all the global goals. Truly, there is a strong inevitable power when we promote SDG5. Let us not make it just a one off celebration, but a daily lifestyle.
As a youth, which kind of Nigeria do you want to see after May 29th? And, how would you contribute to that kind of Nigeria?
I want the kind of Nigeria that Nigerians truly desire — where someone would rightly lead and have the heart of gold, and truly be interested in her success and well competent in all areas. My contribution to this kind of Nigeria is to keep being the kind of leader I seek in my little space, to build leaders who would be ready to take 100 per cent responsibility, be well accountable and empathetic, even as we keep expanding the leadership base while partnering with organisations that promote these. I believe in teamwork building for 100 per cent efficiency and effectiveness.
What is next for you after your master’s programme? And where do you see yourself in five years?
Next after my master’s programme is to really practice all I have learnt and still learning in the global space, while helping others achieve their goals that is centred on sustainability matters for a sustainable lifestyle which everyone must daily incorporate.
In the next five years, I see myself as one of the world change-makers making things happen greatly in the environmental space. I also want to be a global leader who would be on a mission of building financial stable leaders that would lock hands together and collectively use their resources to impact their world positively.
It is mainly about impacting lives while getting impacted upon in promoting a sustainable lifestyle and generating cash flow. The top goal is to continue fulfilling God’s mandate for my life and everyone connected to me.
Currently, apart from your volunteering work, what else do you do for a living? And how do you manage the stress associated with your studies and work?
Besides my volunteering, which is more like a daily lifestyle for me, I am a development strategist geared on upgrading the lifestyle of people in all spheres of their lives through mentoring and training in becoming the best version of themselves, mainly in finances, fashion and fun fulfilment.
For the stress management part, I would say I am a good organiser, planner and time manager. I am really not someone who loves working under pressure — thus, I prioritise my tasks, beginning from very urgent and important tasks while inculcating fun activities in it. I really detest boredom.
You are popularly called the Gifted Hands. Why is that?
Yes. That is my fun name and one of the beautiful names I have chosen to call myself (smiles). I know and believe that there are a lot of gifted hands out there, but I am the GiftedHands (Gift, whose hands are gifted) who is bold, beautiful, and smart to take actions that cause ripple effects to my society and world at large.
By God’s mercies, I have neither ceased nor relented in making things happen, in making a difference in my little space, which has also helped me in becoming an inspiring role model. In a phrase, it simply means I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, as long as I am willing, obedient, and set my mind on it.
The quote ‘What your mind can conceive and believe, you can achieve’ has always kept me going.
What advice do you have for those wishing to go into the humanitarian and volunteering space?
My advice would be that it is a very great move coming into the humanitarian and volunteering space. However, it is very important that you define why you really want to do such or become such. Know your why clearly, understand it very well, and make it very strong so the challenges that might come into it would be greatly overcomed with lesser stress.
More so, work with a team of players having common purpose as no man is an island. Connect with people who are already in the space and model them while focusing on the long-term goals and not being selfish. Have the heart and act of giving too. It is all learnable.
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