Dr. Jacob on how to lead a student team to victory: give students freedom with ideas to “go and make a difference”
EdVenture Partners estimates that around 25 percent of P2P teams around the world have continued their work beyond the competition period. By pushing back on online hate, prejudice and extremism — the goals of the P2P program — some of these student teams have become so compelled with their work that they have gone on to form permanent organizations on their university campus, and some have formed NGOs. Some have gone on to receive grant funding and are still developing educational curriculum, mobile apps, games… and the list goes on.
In this blog series, students and faculty from award-winning teams share advice and lessons learned, in their own words, about how to move a P2P campaign to the next level.
This edition features Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, Faculty Adviser and, at the time of the project, was Interim Dean in the School of Arts & Science at American University of Nigeria. He helped to lead “I Am A Believer” to a first-place finish at the P2P Africa regionals in fall 2016, followed by a second-place finish at the P2P finals in spring 2017 for Women Against Violent Extremism (WAVE).
(1) What was it like to return home after winning P2P?
It was great, particularly for the students. It took a few days for it to dawn on the entire team that we were actually champions of Africa. But when we got back to the university and were received by the President, Dr. Margee Ensign and her entire executive team, that is when it actually dawned on us that this is indeed a huge achievement, not only for the students in the course but also for the entire university.
(2) What were your next steps?
After winning, the next step for us was to follow up on the many interests generated. We had several very loyal followers on social media and a couple of local NGO partners so it would have been rude for us to simply walk away from all that we had created. We had created a very authentic campaign that had gathered lots of interest. We had to keep posting on social media, particularly Facebook to keep the campaign going. We also had to consolidate on interests we generated from local NGOs and faith-based organizations. There were also the many media engagements. It was important for us to continue appearing in the media to talk about not just our victory but also the campaign itself. Basically, the next steps for the team were to expand the message of the campaign as far as possible, so Nigerians (who are extremely religious people) can see themselves not just as summations of their religious identities but also as humans of various, even variegated identities such as mother, sister, father, uncle, brother, artisan, etc.
(3) Since I Am A Believer’s work has continued and even evolved since last term, can you share with us if the original effort still exists as well? Are the original students / team members still involved or active in any way?
The I Am A Believer campaign has morphed into I Am A Believer 2. The first campaign had a very profound message and was well-established on campus. The next set of students wanted to build on that, however they initially struggled to find their own voice until they were able to anchor their campaign on #SchoolGirlsNotSuicideBombers while still maintaining the concept that we are all believers, too. It was initially tough to continue with the part two of I Am A Believer without mixing the new message with the old, but eventually they were able to find their own distinct voice. As soon as that happened, the campaign took on a life of its own. The original team members remain engaged, to an extent though, with the new team.
(4) Any successes establishing long-term partnerships or programming that you could share with us?
One of the most outstanding successes of the I Am A Believer campaign is that after our “stories for peace” workshop in Mubi (a town of about 400,000 inhabitants previously occupied by Boko Haram), the community-based organization we had partnered with there took up the campaign and created a program on the local radio station, and called it “I Am A Believer.” Each episode of the show features Muslim and Christian survivors of the Boko Haram invasion as guests. The guests share experiences of how they survived the invasion, their losses and their lingering pains. This has grown to become a very popular program in Mubi, helping to create that shared communal space for Muslims and Christians to come together. There had been simmering animosity between Christians and Muslims after the invasion, as Christians generally believed that they were the only ones targeted by Boko Haram during the invasion. The program has helped to show that Muslims equally suffered several losses during the invasion. This shared space, created by true personal stories, has really helped to heal wounds and mend broken relationships in Mubi.
(5) What advice do you have for other teams who have become passionate about their work and would like to follow in your footsteps to continue their projects? (Advice may be directed to faculty, students or both.)
Simon Sinek wrote the bestseller book, “Start With Why.” And, I believe it really does start with WHY here. Why are you into this campaign? The reasons must be far greater than the P2P Facebook Global Digital Challenge. It must be a cause that the students are truly passionate about. It doesn’t really matter what the campaign issue is — be it global warming or female genital mutilation, its raison d’être must go far beyond merely winning the competition. The ultimate driving force should be to achieve social change. That is what provides the consistency, the passion, the commitment and even the creativity. So every team must find their own WHY?
Secondly, and this is most relevant to faculty, the students should be allowed to roam freely. The ideas must come from them, or at least they must be co-creators of the ideas. As faculty advisers, the temptation is always there to direct the campaign and “midwife” the ideas, but I strongly believe students will be more committed and passionate when they own the creative process.
(6) Any time management tips that allowed you to pursue this in addition to your other many responsibilities?
Our objective from day one was to start a social movement and allow it to take up a life of its own. But you know, as with all social movements, it takes a lot of work and commitment. It was demanding for me quite frankly. I was teaching the course Public Diplomacy & Strategic Media Intervention in addition to my administrative responsibility as Dean. So it was quite an extra load to carry. However, I had an excellent teaching assistant (TA), Zamiyat Abubakar, who helped to work directly with the students. This was critical to the team’s success. She provided a tremendous amount of support in working directly with the students, ensuring that deadlines were met and that all deliverables were fulfilled.
(7) What is next on the horizon for you / your team (professionally and as it relates to goals you’ve set for your P2P team’s continued work)?
In my two seasons of participating in the P2P program, I have seen students walk into the class without any idea of what they want to campaign on or why they are in the course. It is such a pleasure to watch them grow from that place of emptiness to a place filled with passion and assuredness. Some of my past students now want to take their campaign up as a long-term career. That gives me an incredible sense of fulfillment — much beyond winning the competition.
The goal for the team is simply to go and make a difference, and in making that difference, discover their true passion and their distinctive selves.
After coming second in the global competition, the team is committed to taking their campaign much further.
Learn more about the winning I Am A Believer campaign at https://beliepedia.org/about-us.
Read an article written by Dr. Jacob that explains the conflict in Nigeria in more detail.
New York University’s Center on International Cooperation invited Dr. Jacob to join the Center last summer as a Visiting Scholar on their Countering Violent Extremism and Crisis Diplomacy work stream. As NYU stated in their award letter to him: “…based on your expertise with regard to issues of peace building and preventing violent extremism among young people in Nigeria, we believe you will make a valuable contribution to the Center’s work on a range of issues.” At NYU he started a new research project on Religious Identities, Belonging and Violent Extremism. Jacob is currently at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he is a Visiting Professor in International Studies.
We look forward to continuing to follow his and his students’ important work.