I came up with the International Development Initiative in Africa (the IDIA Project), an initiative that will capture good things people are doing across Africa
Idia Aisien holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a minor in Business Administration from American University, Washington D.C. She also has a Master’s Degree in International Public Relations and Global Corporate Communications from New York University.
She has worked in various international media including ARISE TV and Fox5. Aisien went fully into the entertainment industry in 2015 after she quit her job and kicked off a career as a TV presenter.
However, none of these were fulfilling until when she recently unveiled her initiative, the International Development Initiative in Africa. The IDIA project is an NGO with a main objective of changing the negative perspectives about Africa.
Idia Aisien spoke to Daily Sun recently in Lagos
What exactly is this project about?
None of the things I ever did in my life before now made sense to me if I couldn’t effect any positive change in my country and continent. I had all these big dreams of things I was going to do around the world. But I when heard people say that we are hardworking but there are no good roads, bridges and schools in your country, I got so frustrated. It became imperative that I needed to go to Africa and see what we have there. They also tell me that when they search for Africa on Google, all they see are children who don’t have clothes, poverty, death, terrorism and war. I am quick to tell them that is not Africa.
When I say that I am from Nigeria, people often think about it as Ghana. African is not a country. It is a continent.
I think people should endeavor to learn about different countries in Africa because amazing things are happening there. Organisations, advocacy groups and individuals are doing great things and breaking new grounds, every day.
We have a lot of Africans in the diaspora that do not want to come back because of the negative things they see in the media about Africa. We all know how in the negative light Nigeria and Africa, at large, are depicted in the eyes of the world. As a result of which many people around the world feel that Nigeria is a bad place to be.
It is true that we have our issues as Africans but there are also parallel stories. As many of these issues are arising, governments in various countries are still breaking barriers, every day. There are l people still doing amazing things. But if you keep spreading negative information, it will only incite more negative stories. The way they depict negative things about us, we also need to depict positive things about Africa by telling positive stories about ourselves.
Why this initiative now?
I came up with the International Development Initiative in Africa (the IDIA Project), an initiative project that will capture the good things people are doing across Africa. Through this project, we are determined to change all the wrong narratives about Africa through the media. Instead of concentrating on the bad and terrible aspects of Nigeria and Africa, we are concentrating on the positive aspects of the happenings across the continent.
One of the most amazing things about IDIA project is that it links the media aspect to impact. Most times, these two parts are often broken. We either have people documenting stories about Nigeria but not doing it right, and have negative things pushed out to people. Now, we are about shifting away from the negative perspectives and documenting great features in the continent, especially in the areas of social entrepreneurs that are doing great works in education, for start-up in businesses and also the part of giving back to their society.
We would be looking at how to ensure that we multiply the amount of solutions that are in our custody but beyond that, we are portraying these stories so that we can get more investors on board to expand and help those already doing great works to stay. That’s what the media aspect is set to achieve.
What is your primary focus?
This project is to motivate ordinary Nigerians and Africans that for a particular person to walk through a successful journey. You also can walk through it. So, every episode is so rich that it took us about three months to shoot each one. We are documenting successful people in Africa. For example, we have an episode on a farmer that started with just subsistence farming, for his family and himself. And from there, he started expanding and got a huge plot of land.
Now, he has started farming commercially. He has started training other farmers and they are able to buy their own plots of lands. In addition to that, this farmer also has one of the largest juice companies in Nigeria. So not only has he created jobs and help his community and family. With this, he has not only changed the narrative but has also changed the way Nigerians think. He has a story because he started very small. This now speaks again to someone that can relate to him that every single person has a part to play.
In another episode, there is a girl that took 60 hawkers off the street. She didn’t take off and started giving them money because she didn’t have it. What she did was basically connecting them to different people that would train them in various skills so they won’t have walk on the streets again. And of course, when they are trained in those skills, they would also train and hire hands. The beauty of it is that we target individuals at various levels.
What is the reception so far?
I know a lot of investment bankers and a lot of people that work in banks from New York as well as in London who are saying that they would love to give back but they don’t know credible organisations they can work with.
Now, that I have started this, they would be very willing to partner with me so that they could fund various groups. I think that is very interesting and exciting. However, with regards to what my peers are doing, I don’t look at what others are doing. I am hoping that this will challenge and awaken the spirit of giving back in everybody because a lot of people don’t like to give back, not until they see progress being made. That is why this initiative gives back sustainably. Rather than just carrying a carton of Indomie or whatever it is to you. We are interested in training and partnering with people in order to create an opportunity that will help them fend for themselves. We are looking at sustainable developmental programmes.
What inspired you to go into this initiative?
I have been inspired mainly by my family. They were always very keen on giving back to the less privileged. I have a lot of people in my family including those that are well to do and those who just have enough to take care of themselves, will go out of their of ways to help people around them and I thought that was very important.
So, when I was growing up, we had always done some projects just by ourselves to the communities. My mother was president of the Lions Club. My father was always trying to figure out what young businesses or entrepreneur he could help or fund. So I took a note from them as they were huge examples for me.
What are some peculiar challenges you have encountered while doing this?
It has really not been easy. The first challenge was just getting things done because in Nigeria something that is supposed to take one week, can take three months. So registering the organisation and dealing with people has been a challenge. Another challenge was getting people to open doors for us. Nonetheless, persistence has kept me going. I kept writing to organisations and if they didn’t answer me, after two weeks I will write again and on and on, till they answer me.
Unfortunately, there are many people in between that would always want to stop you from doing what you are doing. A lot of people are cynical and there is lots of apathy. That’s another reason for this project. So, getting things done was another big issue.
In the beginning, I had money in dollars because I was being paid in dollars when I first came to Nigeria but when you start paying for things and yet you don’t achieve anything from it, it gets frustrating.
For example, after you transport your entire team to Bauchi State, and the person you had booked an appointment and was supposed to interview was not available for the interview. It is crazy. I had to get a hotel in Bauchi for myself and the six people that flew with me. We were in the hotel in Bauchi for two days before we could get the man to interview. So because of little things like keeping to time of appointment and unpredictable nature of people as well as other unforeseen circumstances, you spend more than you had budgeted for.
It even got to a point where funds that were set aside for shooting other episodes were used for the episodes that we were still shooting. That was when I had to reach out to family and friends. Now, we are using crowdsourcing platforms to expand on this initiative all over the world. We are opened to a wider audience and to people who are into investments and are looking for something like this to put their funds in.
Also, starting this was very difficult because from the beginning I had a lot of capital from the Investment banking but I also know that it is important to find a way to generate funds.
How soon is the programme airing and where?
The TV episodes start from next year. We couldn’t start it this year because my bosses have said we need to launch the project first, before it starts airing. Apparently, we have to start showing in the new quarter. So, it makes sense to just start from the beginning of next year. We would have 13 episodes a year. We would have one episode every month, and the final one which encompasses all the episodes for the year.
What makes your project different from others?
Our unique selling point is that a lot of people are coming up with initiatives that are geared towards helping various sectors and fields in the society but this one is not just measuring those initiatives. It is also documenting those initiatives.
I am not necessarily giving back. I am documenting people that have given back to the society using the media as a tool. So, it is completely different.
What lessons have you learnt during this process?
I have learnt that it is not easy to do anything. It is very easy to get discouraged along the way. I have learned that if you are persistent and focused on your passion, it is easier for you to stay.
And this has definitely changed my life because rather than go partying and shopping all the time, I finally feel that I have a purpose. I have something that I have been given to do, where I can help other people.
My focus and priorities have changed. I have scaled down on lavish vacations because I feel that I have to save a lot of money for my project and I have got to learn a lot along the way.
What is your advice to young people?
I would advise them not to give up on themselves and their dreams neither should they be discouraged because anything is possible. It is hard but it is achievable. Life is hard and has hit me but my goal is to make a difference.