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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Monday, January 08, 2007

Changing Lives (long, somewhat sanctimonious but heartfelt)

here we are 5 years later

Wednesday 3rd of January, l pick up the newspapers and beyond the usual grime of politics, mindless crime and irrelevant events, l am riveted by two stories. One was the truly admirable story of the fulfilment of Oprah's six-year promise to build a leadership academy in Africa for poor girls. Explaining the intrinsic goodness of this
latest initiative from the queen of, what the heck, everything! Would be stating the obvious. The ripple effect of that singular action will be felt for generations long after Oprah is gone to her maker. The other story was of some of Nigeria's richest CEOs who had built a new boat club. I have no comments yet. Fast forward a few hours, my programme comes on air and it is the nationwide repeat of our annual change a life show, for me also the culmination of a five commitment to the education of 50 children from absolutely poor single parent homes.

Six years ago when l started the initiative, my desire was to do one
simple seemingly insignificant thing on the 1st day of the year that
will make a huge difference in the life of the person at the receiving
end.

I started by announcing at the end of 2000 that anyone whose life can
be transformed with just N10, 000 should write in. At that time, the
show was aired only in Lagos. We got over 5,000 letters, which took
one week to sort out. As usual, l didn't have a dime to fulfil this
promise so l went to a number of companies and they turned me down.
The year before, l had served as the youngest person on Bola Tinubu's
transition committee and earned a reputation of a young Thatcher (the
man calls me Aje, (witch) up till now) so l knew he would listen to
me. He agreed to support the idea and on the 1st day of 2001 l gave
away N10, 000 to 69 people with the governor in attendance and an
unprecedented statewide audience as witness on Live TV!

One of the reasons the corporate types refused to help was that N10,
000 cannot make a significant difference to anyone's live and that the
people would just run away with the money. Well maybe N10, 000 was
nothing to them but "suya" (open fire grilled, peppered beef kebab)
money for an "aristo" (sugar daddy) date with an underaged girl but l
knew of people who left dying kids in hospital because they could not
pay N5, 000 hospital bills. Yes some of the people did walk away but
we had an 75% success rate with people starting little businesses,
paying school fees, hospital bills or just having enough to feed the
kids for a while! One of the awardees then was Sekinat Ayeyemi, a
wiry, shy, retiring, devout Muslim student who is today one of my most
able assistants, a confident, assured young undergraduate who oversees
the change a life scheme. She it was who went with me on the last trip
to Cape Town. Six years ago, Seki needed money for school fees and
someone to give her a fighting chance, today her professional future
is assured and her human person is elevated, now she is mentoring some
of our other kids.

During the course of 2001 l noticed the alarming numbers of
unschooled, unskilled young widows, abandoned wives and single mothers
who came to us for help. Each had an average of four children.
For the year 2001 l therefore decided that l was going to find gifted
children from the most absolutely poor single parent homes and ensure
that they got basic secondary education. The response was
overwhelming, we spent one week sorting the letters, two days
conducting physical interviews and another week verifying the claims.

I will not bore you with the truly pathetic story of each family. I
will however never forget the interview with Atinuke’s mum, a young
unemployed university graduate who was jilted by her lover and
ostracized by her family. Her innate dignity as she held on to her
wide eyed daughter whilst weeping the most awful silent tears. Once
again, no corporate organization agreed to help so l went back to
Tinubu that year and for the next five years.

It has been a tough but fulfilling journey for not only do we pay the
school fees, buy the books, uniform and so on. We set up some of the
parents in trade or jobs and pay for medicals or get intervention in
case of serious illness requiring expensive operations and care. We
counsel, support, and oversee the lives of these families. There are
great results like Mary and the four kids in a shop (story for another
day), the mmeribe twins and little waliu but there has been
immeasurable pain as in the deaths of Yiseyon and Damilola last year.

This is the last year of my 5-year promise, Tinubu is leaving power.
In the six years of change a live not once have we got support from
any organization despite our best efforts and the clear proof of our
work. It would not have mattered if we were getting deserved returns
for our creativity and work, so we can commit a sizeable percentage to
these interventions. However, seven years, over 30 unsolicited awards,
including Nigeria's version of the Emmys and we still cannot get
advert or sponsorship support which would have empowered us to do
more.

Imagine if after the Oprah show blew the rating in her first years
nobody took note, nobody placed adverts and bought into her vision,
creativity and effort so that she could diversify and build an empire
that keeps giving, where would she get $40m for a school for poor
girls in Africa?

Why is it so?
One, Nigeria’s political, business and social elite is not connected to Nigeria’s reality, they don’t watch Nigerian TV so they don’t know what is going on except what they read in deodorized, stylized and often compromised newspapers. Two, Nigeria has no rating system and this encourages corruption as there is no empirical proof of how many people are watching. Most of the shows with sponsorship on TV can be traced back to some advert executive, brand manager or company executive who is a silent partner. I know for sure of a reality show where 45% of the cost of sponsorship goes into the accounts of two of the sponsoring company’s top executives. Three, Nigeria buys hype, not substance.

Back to the 3rd of January and I picked up the papers once again and looked at the smug faces of the boat club executives, why do people castigate politicians who get to power and take care only of their personal, class and group agenda, isn’t that the shameful norm? Yes there is nothing wrong with a boat club but why is it a front burner story? Why is it a big deal especially in Lagos with over 8 million people but no alternate to road transport in a city surrounded by water? Oh l forget, isn’t it also the city without a light rail, train or metro but an elite helicopter service? Why are they are not pulling resources together with the federal or state (that’s another political minefield) government to tackle public transport as a commercial venture, you know, solve human problems, make money, live better yourself. But why do this when you can get by on patronage and live on an over crowed degraded island where you can parade your boats, babes and baubles?

On our part, we will continue with change a life, and our many unorthodox, (we are not into the NGO and Foundation racket, we will work with already existing organizations that have substance and are true) life improving interventions as well as our multimedia shows, slowly learning lessons, building resources and capacity as we go along. Why? Because it needs to be done, because it is so frustratingly easy to do and because the results are unquantifiable.



Click here for the Pictures Gallery and video clips

27 comments:

Uche said...

WOW!!! U got me sitting here scratching my head in amazement!!??
That's not even up to $100??!!! My heart bleeds.

I commend you for the good work you are doing. I wonder why these corporations don't want to help out, i guess charity work is not a part of their coporate culture.

As an individual i want to help. I wish i can help. I feel helpless.

Nigeria needs prayers seriously.

t said...

Dear Funmi Iyanda,

Sorry I'm not in Nigeria to watch you on TV, but I do know that you're famous. Please keep doing everything WORLD-CLASS! May all your dreams come true.

About Corporate giving: I was thinking about the same issues this weekend. It seemed to me that somehow people have to be "trained" to give some of whatever they own/earn to someone else. Corporate entities, individuals, everybody, should have this idea that once or twice a year, they make a well thought-out gift to someone less privileged (directly, or by funding other people's ideas.) It seems the way to make this culture change is to communicate that it's expected - to talk about it, have people model it, and so on. Muslim zakaat/almsgiving (for people and companies alike) has a long history; in Nigeria, strong advertising is how some Christian people started tithing religiously; also, somehow diners in many Western countries consistently add 15% in tips to the cost of a meal.

YOU have the power to spread the word, "5% to help somebody who has much less" - every person, child, worker, office, bank...
By this standard, I don't give enough.

I don't envision a law that aims to enforce this, just a guideline. It would really go a long way, because in Nigeria, as in most parts of the world, one person's leftovers are another person's feast. Am I preaching to the choir?

Sincerely,
T
http://www.UPNAIRA.blogspot.com

Kunbi said...

Hi Funmi, I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and first I must say thank you for all your hard work. I can only imagine. And truly there must be a higher power supporting you, and may He continue to grant you His grace. I am very interested in your Change a Life program. I live in New York and I've been looking for a way to get involved in making a positive change in someone's life in Nigeria. I am most keen to further someone's career and truly place him/her on that road to a better life. I have a multitude of questions and I'd love to discuss this further. I believe I can get you some fundraising help from here. What's the best way to reach you outside of the blog?

laspapi said...

I speak from the heart. The things God has used you to do are truly mighty, and humbling to those (like me) who might think they have made impact in their chosen spheres. If it had been only one life affected, it would have been worth it, but so many everywhere... concentric waves forming around the world.

I do not know why it is so in Nigeria, why our corporate "giants" think they can get more mileage from orgies of booze and marijuna-soaked concerts, still I say thank you for going on alone.

I have stood shoulder to shoulder with some you have affected and I know lives have been changed forever.

bhookey84 said...

wow, a lovely thing u r doing, im doing my masters in social work/international relations and had to write a paper today about why.....but when i hear about such instances as uve talked about here, it keeps me going.....

Anonymous said...

hi Funmi, i would like to commend the good work you are doing. i missed this year's change a life show and i was really cross with myself cos i already planned to watch it wherever i was. i have followed the chnage a life show now for about 3 years and i must say a big God Bless you. you see the 'little' you are doing is not going unnoticed and God in heaven sees it and it will count for you when it matters. i want you to be encouraged and to contiune the good work. Tinubu 's exist will not mean that support will no longer come. God will raise another person who He will use to bless the children thru you. i'm particularly impressed by Seki. its like i know cos i hear you refer to her work so many times on the show and in this blog and i also think she is up for an award in the Future Awards which one of your prodigies Chude and co are putting together. we need more people like you Funmi and you know what? What Oprah is doing is minute compared to that wch God will do thru your hands for the Nigeria girl and woman. i know it without a doubt in my mind and i know God will bless you with the resources that you need to actualise all your laudabe DREAMS(including winning a Pulitzer) God bless you.
PS: finally there is an INEC registration zone in my area and i intend to go there and try and register even if it takes all day.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe the flak that Oprah got from her $40m school. It seemed, among other things, that the inclusion of a yoga space and hairdressing salon was too good for poor African orphans. So much meaness in some, so much giving in others..
Funmi, I'm sure your many fans around the world would be glad to pledge to your annual Changing Lives drive. I personally have a lot of admiration for your stupendous efforts and would be delighted to chip in to a trustworthy and fruit-bearing venture such as this. Pls keep us informed - and God Bless Gov. Tinubu.

Anonymous said...

nice nice nice !
how do i get to donate 10,000 to change someone's life pls to go have a general email i can send my details and how best to reach any of the recipients .
~emini

cleo.kelvin said...

biethanks for having a heart in a country were everyone believes e dont cos de poor getpoorer wit no future about sponsors dont mind dem but if beyounce is coming de wud all pay to watch abi na babe de wud payevebn higher cos even underaged ashi don shine eye o. so continue de good work cos u are setting up an asset in those kids and dere future. hey u sure ur criteria was good i mean non lied or took u for a ride and if any ,like ur spirit of not letting it get to u emotional and in giving but na only lagos pooor de {teasing} but extend ur hands.
bravo well done

Dammie said...

"Nigeria buys hype, not substance" <-- This statement is too true. Maybe if ppl started a hype about giving we will be able to see a change in that aspect!

I find it very suprising and SAD that co-operations are not suppoting your cause, I don't believe there is any other show in that Nation {Nigeria} doing something as positive, this really really makes me sad.

The only thing I can come up with is you getting your audience abroad interested and well informed, I personally can spare 100$ a year?!...{I still can't believe that's all it takes *sigh*} ....and can think of atleast 10 ppl that will be down for this cause {LoL, maybe we should start a support funmi in her cause, cause {LoL}.....excuse me for i'm about to be a little biased but as a fortunate girl in America, GOD's own country {truly}...We see and understand the power of giving coz of shows like of course Oprah and just young ppl giving, it's basically part of the culture here and we truly appreciate it, and I notice it becoming a part of Nigerians {in America atleast}

examples r www.fusionigeria.com, Generation For Change {who I'm actually supportingg thru sales from my magazine}

forget about those co-operations, there r ppl that r willing to support the cause, when they see enough "hype" i'm sure they'll join in too...for now just put ur mind to it, and you will be able to make it happen!!

Pilgrimage to Self said...

Well done! I admire your efforts are trying to make a change in peoples lives. How I wish there were more Nigerians like you out there.

This is a fantastic post which many of our so called CEO's should read. They should be bloody ashamed of themselves. In fact, I should be ashamed of myself, afterall what have I done for someone else lately?

Ade said...

Hi Funmi,

I would love to become a donor. How do I go about becoming one?

DeKoRe said...

funmi funwon you are too much. and i like to work with you this year so i can be a BOND guy.

DeKoRe said...

oh funmi funwon whart can i say , you are too much and i'm loving you every moment. and i 'd really want to work with or for you this year. may be i can be a BOND guy.
whatchuthink?

shakiru said...

funmi GOD will bless u.you know there are few good people

Anonymous said...

I am one of those cynics who thinks "our oprah" is a typical nigeria hype. i think thats probably because i dont access to nigerian tv and the works you do.

after reading all these im totally ashamed of myself!

I hope you get eternal happiness and strength to continue your good works.

Dami said...

wow!! may the almighty continue to bless you

Please get Nigerians abroad on board you can have charity dinners and stuff loads of people will definitely get involved

You can also do celebrity auctions/date; celebrity personal items to be auctioned off
There are so many people that would love to be part of these great works that those "elites" would be begging for the usual big-boy publicity from your work

c0dec said...

nice going.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ all, l have tears in my eyes to see your responses, l hadnt replied because of server problems and having to do so much by myself. Thanks laspapi for being a joshua. l will digest is all and get back to you all. l believe we can start a movement frm change using our collective talents and resources. thank you.

Everchange said...

Unfortunately the human psyche is such that if you are stingy before you were rich, you will be stingy afterwards.

It may be that Nigerian Execs have not yet embraced the idea of corporate charity, unlike people in other countries. Yet it may also be that they are just acting like typical lagosians- prioritizing the latest clothes and gadgets over human wellbeing.

I'm somewhat curious about your influence among the "big boy/girl" crowd. I see your picture in the fashion pages, and understand that you are considered a Lagos celeb. Isn't is possible to leverage your celebrity status to create more awareness of charity amongst rich nigerians? I commend you on your outreach to the poor and destitute. Though, I sometimes wonder if the materialism of the CEO-boatclub people isn't just an extreme version of Lagos celebrity culture of which you seem to be a part of.

Ms. May said...

Funmi.....have u ever thought of perhaps doing a fundraiser in the States for your initiatives.....sort of a tour of major cities with a large Nigerian population? DC/Maryland, Houston and Atlanta come to mind. You give a talk, we pay $50 for a plate and an audience with you, you raise some money kind of thing. Like Dami said, there are so many young Nigerians here who understand the value of giving back to the community because whatever else can be said about America, there is no shortage of examples of human beings trying to lift each other up on a daily basis. I think an extension of that is why so many young Nigerians are moving back home as well. Please let us know how we can help. I'm sure you have numerous connections in the States so maybe this year you can take changing lives global?

abiodun said...

DEAR funmi
i am really proud of your work
i live in the states and i was in nigeria in dec
i spent my bday which is the 31st of dec at the little saints orphanage in lagos and the joy i felt cannot be measured
the level of poverty and neglect in nigeria is appalling yet we have a society that is only worried anout material and mundane things
i plan on moving home next year and i want to be actively involved with the less privileged i really admire your work and would love to help in whatever little way i can .
i believe every kid should have a dream and good education. My email addy is tobiadeniyi@hotmail.com.
pls let me know if i can help your work in any way
may god continue to promote you and enlarge your coast.

M.O.T said...

I'll have to be honest and say that until I read your blog I had pre-conceived notions about you from stories before & after I moved back home.
Then I read your blog... U are talented & very intelligent. I'll admit it & say I am one of those Nigerians who does not watch local TV save for the news @ 10 every nite.
I am home now I would very much like to give not only my resources but my time as well to your cause. It is one that is close to my heart & I could go on and on about how wonderful u are & how much of an angel on earth u are but I think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so will look forward to details from u... so I can imitate u and DO SOMETHING!
Well done Funmi!

Mrs Somebody said...

God Bless you Funmi!Keep up the good work.

bibi said...

nice work , funmi..helping the less priviledged goes a long way..If you were planning to bring jayz or akon for a concert the corporates would have jumped @ ur idea..shows where our priorities are..and the funny thing is some bigwigs came from less priviledged backgrounds...but have forgotten their roots..

bitchy said...

You're so right Funmi - What is a city without a light rail, train or metro doing with an elite helicopter service? The poor man is being slapped in the face every second in Nigeria.

Please keep up with the work. Its so heartening to hear of the difference you're making.

I do have a question though - did you go straight to the top when you approached these corporates? It is often a lot easier to get help from oga himself than from Mr. Agindigbi in the budget dept. I've started a Charitable Trust with some friends and we are incredibly optimistic, perhaps a little naively.

Another thing I must say is that I love your approach. Rather than spending 5 million naira to organise a grand event like the Fusion, Dammie mentioned, you're putting the money right where it matters, with immediate effect. Effort like this is what really makes the difference.

Here's wishing you all the best and all the grace to see it through.

Anonymous said...

Funmi, I just found out about your blog and I really commend you on your efforts. God will continue to reward you.

I really want more from the Governor than just appearing on the show. He needs to answer tough questions.I go to Lagos from time to time and I don't see any improvements at all.