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ASI Game Changers: Meet Queen in Nigeria

In our new series “ASI Game Changers” we will be introducing the people who make our work possible and learn about what drives them in their quest to create lasting impact in some of the world’s most challenging, complex environments. In our first edition we are speaking to our colleague Queen Nwokonneya in Nigeria.

  • Name: Queen Nwokonneya
  • Role: Project Manager
  • Location: Lagos, Nigeria

What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve?

I think my cultural background and childhood experience influenced my ambition to work in development – I am from the south-eastern part of Nigeria. Our culture is very enterprise-oriented, hard work an important value. Growing up I watched my father’s commitment to his side hustle – most Nigerians have side hustles! – and what difference the extra income from that work made in our lives. It really uplifted us economically, allowed us to go to good schools and so I know first-hand how supporting businesses to thrive can really make a difference for families’ livelihoods. That is why I got into development and why I am so passionate about championing policies for enhancing competitiveness and fostering business innovation – because I know how successful businesses can lift people and whole communities out of poverty and create lasting change.

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be?

Oof, tough one! (laughs) – It would probably be something along the lines of master juggler or jack of all trades because different days bring different tasks. I like the opportunities ASI’s model presents, where you really have room to chart your own path. Obviously, on a day to day basis it is stuff like project planning, reporting, budgeting and contracting that I do, but more than anything I am a relationship manager that brings so many different people from various sectors together including our clients and government partners. I think that’s where the crux of the work lies: managing people, being diplomatic and making things work from behind the scenes. Another exciting part of my role is working on business development, generating new business engagements, and setting up new projects (which usually feels like starting a new company from scratch!). A project manager needs to have a lot of patience: I’ve learnt that it is important to first understand the programme you are working on, why you are working on it and always remembering the programme’s purpose, so you don’t get bogged down in details but focus on bringing the team back together and steer them in the right path to deliver real change.

What do you like about working in a global development company?

What I like about working for a company like ASI, is that it combines global perspectives and local knowledge together to develop rich, custom, and impactful solutions. I love the diversity within the company: I can reach out to people all around the globe and exchange ideas, best practices, and lessons. Having to learn how best to work together across different styles and cultures can be challenging at times, but it’s also really enriching. It creates opportunities: I’ve been seconded to Kenya and Sierra Leone and learned so much from colleagues there. It’s great for personal growth and development!

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now?

My current project, Future Cities Nigeria, has a lot of great things going on! It’s part of a wider global programme in 10 countries and so it feels very exciting to be at the forefront of this initiative in Nigeria. It is timely too – urbanisation is at the core of Africa’s development and is becoming increasingly important for governments to strategically plan for their cities to unlock economic growth. I work on the Lagos Urban Intervention helping this megacity develop guidelines for urban renewal so that it is done in a participatory way involving the most vulnerable and marginalised people. We are employing an inclusive approach by fostering discussions among slum dwellers, government officials, private sector, and civil society organisations and that is exciting in its own right. Working on something so tangible is fantastic: Lagos traffic can drive you mad, so the potential to solve the city’s issues through for example developing its water transportation is huge and being able to work on it and see the difference it makes first-hand is very rewarding. My background is in investment promotion, so exploring possibilities on how to attract investment in key social sectors for a city like Lagos is incredibly engaging.

What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now?

Firstly, and on a more technical level, the recent Africa Continental Free Trade Area is a big and exciting deal. I am inspired by its potential in unlocking regional development and I am currently researching strategic trade corridors in the region. Secondly, I am also encouraged by the new development finance agenda and innovative approaches to mobilise resources to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. My favourite Goal is SDG 17 because it is about partnerships. You cannot achieve significant progress without SDG 17, and I am always thrilled to read about excellent partnerships that elevate whole regions. Thirdly, I have been following numerous discussions in Nigeria around gender equality. In a country where cultural realities can impede the growth of women in society and economy, seeing increased awareness and debates around gender equality is hugely promising.

What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?

I am part of the “Global Shapers Community” an initiative of the World Economic Forum led by young people committed to improving the state of our world. I recently concluded my tenure as Deputy Curator for the Abuja Hub co-creating and leading impactful community projects across climate change, governance, education and employability. For example, we started an urban reforestation project in Abuja and have planted over 4,400 trees in two months despite a global pandemic. We couldn’t have done it alone of course – that’s SDG 17 again! – so we partnered with 10 local organisations and also came up with a “Befriend your Tree” campaign that encouraged communities to name their trees in order to create deeper relationships with their surroundings and nature.

I am passionate about mental health awareness and so during my tenure, we created virtual spaces to support young people to deal with anxiety and loneliness due to COVID-19 and offered trainings on psychological first aid, counselling skills and dealing with trauma. In addition, because we noticed a lot of fake news circulating, we created COVID-19 awareness videos in Nigeria’s major local languages and are collaborating with the national agency coordinating Nigeria’s response to the pandemic on information campaigns for health workers who are at the most risk of infection.

What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one?

I really want to be a game changer and whilst I hope I already am one, I know I still have a long way to go. The qualities that I believe are important in a game changer are firstly empathy: it encourages you to understand the value of others and that’s the only way you can bring people together and achieve a call to action for transformational change. It also helps you understand how your action and inaction can have an impact on others. Secondly, I think passion is important and goes back to your overall “why”. There will be a lot of challenges along the way, but passion is what will drive you forward and help you remember why you are doing the things you do, even when you face resistance. Lastly, courage is essential. The world is tough and many problems you are trying to fix exist because it is tough to change them. Tackling these challenges despite the obstacles one will encounter along the way needs bravery and commitment to do so successfully.

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