Babban Gona, one of Aspire’s partner organizations in Nigeria, aims to ameliorate the level of poverty and violence so that the African economy continues to grow. Founded in 2012 during a time of continued turmoil and insecurity in West Africa, such as conflicts surrounding Boko Haram and the Niger Delta, Babban Gona sought to ease this insecurity and keep the community, particularly young people, safe and thriving.
“At the time there were over 20 million unemployed youth,” Lola Masha, Executive Director of Babban Gona said. “Young, able bodied individuals that had no work prospect.”
She emphasized the role feeling restless plays in youth resorting to violence or finding community in a militia group and what their early research revealed.
“While some had degrees, most didn’t advance beyond secondary school and don’t have the qualifications to work in many industries,” Masha shared. “We looked into which industries were employing a large labor force and which could absorb individuals with their particular skill sets.”
Masha and her team found that the best result was Agriculture — it is still the largest contributor to the Nigerian GDP, about 23%, and it’s the highest employer of semi-skilled labor.
Several years later, Babban Gona provides several services that support smallholder farmers and turn at-risk young people into successful, agricultural engineers. This is all done with the hope of disrupting the cycle of poverty and violence while improving the lives of young people, their families, and the Nigerian economy. Members of Babban Gona receive training, financial credit, agricultural inputs, and harvesting and marketing support.
A Collaborative Partnership and Investment in Youth
Aspire Institute and Babban Gona aim to support youth in their local communities so that they can contribute to solving problems on the ground and bolstering the local economy. Without a supportive environment fostering success, most youth from Nigeria and around the world will migrate outside of their home nation, threatening the livelihood of these communities.
“The average age of the Nigerian population is under 25 years. Africa, as a whole, is a very young continent,” Masha stated. “It’s important for our country to work to effectively grow its people, whether through educating them, empowering them with jobs, or providing resources to create a better future.”
Lola Masha and her team collaborate with Aspire Institute with the shared belief that providing individuals, particularly young people, with access to networks and opportunities will drive innovation and change.
“It’s investment in people that drives an economy forward — innovation won’t come to anything if you do not have the human capacity to execute,” she said. “I want to be a part of building a thriving society for my children, making where we live, where we are, where we’re from, a better place for everyone.”
As with all of our partnerships, Babban Gona and Aspire chose to work together due to a mutual respect and alignment in our missions.
“We always look for a shared perspective, a shared philosophy of what we do and why we do what we do, and that comes through loud and clear with Aspire Institute,” Masha said. “Our missions align and our hearts are in sync.”
When asked what advice she has for young leaders, Lola Masha shared:
“You are capable of more than what you are aware of. Don’t get overwhelmed; start with one step and let it take you on a journey of a thousand miles. There will be challenges but pause, acknowledge it, and have the courage to reach out for help when needed, and then carry on.”