The Ford Foundation has signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to spend N3.6 billion over the next two years for skill development and employment in the Niger Delta region.
Signing the agreement yesterday at the NDDC headquarters in Port Harcourt, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, the Head of West African office of the Ford Foundation based in Lagos, said that the MOU would advance skill development and employment of young people in the nine states of the Niger Delta.
According to him, the foundation identified a number of areas of convergence of interest and willingness to work with the NDDC. He said that those areas informed the drafting of the MOU and explained the rationale for this partnership.
Mr. Chukwuma said: “The reasons for this partnership are to leverage on our resources, not just financial but knowledge. For instance, we don’t know the terrain of the Niger Delta as much as the NDDC. As an organization based in Lagos, we don’t know the terrain well enough. But with the NDDC on the ground in the nine Niger Delta States, its depth of knowledge of the area will be brought to bear on the work we plan to do.
“Another interesting area where this leveraging comes to play is that Ford Foundation has partners and guarantees all around the world. We have developed the technical know-how for equipping young people to face the world of work and life in the society. NDDC will benefit from those partners of Ford Foundation that are working in these areas. Were NDDC to go it alone, it may not be able to tap into these resources.”
Mr. Chukwuma stated that the Ford Foundation had footprints around the world. He added: “Outside New York, where have our headquarters, we have regional offices in 10 key countries around the world. In each of these offices, we work as a network. With this partnership, all our offices around the world will key in and we will be drawing from them. We have already contacted our partner in South Africa to organize a learning exchange involving NDDC officials and South Africa to understudy how they are able to involve the private sector, the City Council and civil society organizations in the development of youth programmes.”
The Ford Foundation official said that they had engaged consultants to conduct skill mapping of the areas that needed to be addressed. He said: “Another area is ecosystem building. If Ford Foundation or the NDDC were to go it alone, they may not be able to draw on the resources out there. This partnership will enable both parties to engage all stakeholders involved in skill development and employment.
“You can take a horse to the stream, but cannot force it to drink. If the young people in this region do not have the attitudinal change that skill development and work that earn them gainful life is important, no matter what we do here, we will not succeed. So this involves investing in getting a new narrative that will make young people realize that hard work pays.”
Mr. Chukwuma said that there was need to engage people in the creative industry to get the young people to begin to think and act positively. “We need to prepare the young people to begin to take their destiny in their own hands,” he said.
The NDDC Acting Managing Director, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, said that it was good that the partnership was now underway, noting that it was very critical for the region. She said: “One of the things that the NDDC has not quite been able to achieve in the past is building collaborations with agencies like Ford Foundation. It is important to have a partner that is willing to put down resources to engage in a very meaningful way. It is a new dawn for the Niger Delta, especially for the young people. I do hope that they will take full advantage of this partnership.”
She said that the benefits of the collaboration were many, adding that the two organisations agreed to work on some priority areas. “The first, is the development of programmes to link skill development to jobs. We want to develop models for the youths in the region and link education with jobs,” she said.
Mrs. Semenitari underscored the need for community ownership of our projects and programmes, stating that it was important to listen in order to understand the needs of the communities.
The NDDC boss said that the NDDC still had some challenges in getting critical information to develop a comprehensive skill data base. “We also need to address the challenge of poor perception of development in the region. This is also connected to value erosion, especially among the young people. Yes we link skills to jobs, but everybody cannot be employed by government. So, we need to create incubation centers where new opportunities are created,” Mrs Semenitari said.
She said that the people of the region had a story telling culture and this had been amply demonstrated by their performance in Nollywood and other creative arts industry. To further build on this, she said that it was necessary to create incubation centres.
In his contribution, one of the consultants for Ford Foundation, Mr. Dabesaki Mac-Ikemenjima, emphasized the need to link education to employment. He noted that skills training should be geared towards providing employment for the beneficiaries.
Mr. Mac-Ikemenjima said that the Ford Foundation usually assisted governments to initiate policy reforms that would match training with appropriate jobs for the people.