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Sheila Ochugboju

Futurist Profile

 

Sheila Ochugboju

Chief Communications Officer: African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)
TED Fellow: Technology, Entertainment and Design community
Co-founder: TEDxNairobi
Co-founder: Stock photography website - www.africaknows.com

 

Education:
Bsc (Hons) Medical Biochemistry - Royal Holloway, London University
Ph.D Plant Biochemistry - Royal Holloway, London University
Daphne Jackson Trust Research fellow at St Hilda's College, University of Oxford

Sheila answered a few questions about her perspective and on being a futures thinker.

ABOUT YOU AS A FUTURES THINKER / PRACTITIONER

You identify yourself as an African futures thinker or practitioner. How would you describe to the woman or man on the street what it is that you do in this regard?

In scientific terms, I would say that we try read the signals on the ground today, link them to evidence based methodologies and begin to make outlines or projections of the futures in key sectors, across the African continent.

In lyrical terms, I would say that an African futures thinker creates roots to the inherited truths which our ancestors held, passed on or relinquished. We try to connect them to present realities, taking care to filter the evidence through the experience of a complex continent. Then we offer a vision of emerging themes cast by the shadows of our imagined or preferred futures.

How many years have you worked as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I have perhaps only earned the right to call myself a thinker, not a practitioner. In that sense I can say that after leaving Oxford in December 2000, I cast my destiny squarely to that of the African continent and in so doing started to imagine how that future would look like.

In which countries or places have you had working experience as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

1. THE UK

My first real moment of clarity came when I was asked to draft the Millennium Lecture on The Future of Science & Technology in Africa for BBC radio 4 - Westminster Hour, aired on Jan 4th 2000. Then on Africa Day - May 25th, 2000 - I spoke on a panel on The Renaissance of African Science & Technology, at Lancaster House. This was part of the African Embassies annual celebration sponsored by the Foreign Office and the keynote speakers included Professor Ali Mazrui and then deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Much of my career after leaving research science then involved science communication projects and science policy implementation work across African countries such as Nigeria. It also involved working with African communities across eight European countries, dealing with health and development issues. At the time my focus was on the variations of access to healthcare policies for African communities affected by HIV/Aids, e.g. Kenyans in Sweden, Ghanaians in Holland, East Africans in East London and Nigerians in Spain etc. We had to examine present realities, reflect on cultural and ethnic issues and then project forwards to help public health officials develop long term policies to plan for future provisions.

2. IRBID & AMMAN JORDAN

I have worked with women entrepreneurs involved in micro-finance projects funded by the Queen Noor Foundation in rural Irbid, Jordan. My role was to write up some of the success stories from there. This came about because of my role as the Director of Science and Innovation for The Global Women's Inventors and Innovators Network in the UK (www.gwiin.com). Innovative women are incredible wherever you meet them. In the scattered rural outskirts of Jordan, I met women whose strength, kindness, compassion and tenacity truly humbled me and I recognize that the future for African women is perhaps brighter than we imagine, those internal resources that helps women to survive may shatter those glass ceilings despite our present challenges.

3. NAIROBI, KENYA

My role as the Senior Communications Officer for the Science Policy institution - The African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) - brought me into contact with very inspiring futures thinkers across 24 African countries, mostly looking at the future of Technology in Africa. I contributed a chapter to a publication by that name. Edited by Jasper Grossruth. http://stt.nl/futures-of-technology-in-africa/

I am also a TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) fellow, which is an incredible network, www.TED.com particularly dynamic in Nairobi, with so many brilliant young techies. I became an Africa Ted Fellow in 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania, then an inaugural fellow in Long Beach in 2009. This community is choc-a-bloc full of futures thinkers who are imagining new possibilities for Africa every day. With my friend and business partner Joshua Wanyama, we started TEDxNairobi. www.tedxnairobi.com and a stock photography website - www.africaknows.com.

I also worked with the Aga Khan Foundation, on "Imagining Futures East Africa", where they are developing a curriculum for a new university for East Africa, which will have an arts and science curriculum. A true innovation in education because it will encourage the very creative and dynamic youth of East Africa to take courses like - digital business and expressive arts. They provide more transferable skills to adapt to the future job market.

4. ACCRA, GHANA

My work at ACET now involves working on the West Africa Trends newsletter with colleagues, where we report on future trends across the region and their possible impact on the lives of the poor and vulnerable in the near future.

In what languages have you undertaken futures / foresight related work or research?

My French is rusty, but I did use it for projects and workshops with francophone African communities in Portugal, France and Madagascar.

What is it that motivates you to work or participate in the foresight / future studies / related field

I am a biological scientist at heart and therefore I relish the discipline and skill of changing dimensions from the microscopic to the macroscopic. When I looked at the viruses in the laboratory and worked with them to engineer bio pesticides, my scale of vision shifted and the realities which I imagined then were vastly different and their impact on the larger world taught me that you can never underestimate the power of small beginnings and small changes.

Africa is like a continent growing up to realize its true scale. These shifts in realities and perspectives are very exciting and I feel privileged to live on the continent at this time.

What goal/s would you most like to reach with your work as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I would really like to be part of a major infrastructure building project and leave a tangible legacy for communities to share with children for generations to come. Our ancestors left us the pyramids and through them we see that they were men and women of vision and genius. These legacies help us to stand taller today.

Who or what most influenced your thinking as a futures thinker / practitioner, and how?

Activists: Dr Martin Luther King, Mandela, Ruth First etc. To live a life in submission to a cause that may not be realized in your lifetime.

Philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral: To imagine a future so powerful that it speaks truth to power and even costs you your life.

Freedom Fighters: Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Ruth First, Yaa Asante Wa, Boadicea: To take on a cause that is not always your own, but to make it yours and live accordingly.

What is your main disciplinary background? (i.e. your primary training / qualification)

Biochemistry, I trained as a research scientist.

How do other people describe you and how do you describe yourself?

Others describe me as… complex

I describe myself as… connected

 

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What is one of your favourite quotes about the future?

"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed" William Gibson

How would you describe the state of African futures thinking right now?

Positive, vibrant, evolving.

What is, in your opinion, the main barrier to uptake of futures knowledge by African institutions and organisations?

Lack of archived information. Lack of attributable sources and the oral tradition which encourages implicit rather than explicit knowledge.

If you were to give advice to someone who wants a career in African foresight / future studies, what would you say to him or her?

Foresight/futures studies is just a respective - a way of looking at things and may be applied to many fields. Try to know at least one thing really well, one discipline where you can be a master. Then turn your back on institutional boundaries, throw caution to the wind and become a brilliant generalist, the state of unknowing, again, is very humbling - a creative disruption.

Ultimately, you must buckle down and decide where to make a tangible contribution. Choose a field, country or sector and focus on adding value there.

What are your recommended readings for every African futures thinker / practitioner?

Classic literature helps
1. 1984. George Orwell.
2. Brave New World. HG Wells.
3. African Futures Project 2025. Ed, by Alioune Sall

What are your recommendations for other favourite futures resources: websites, newsfeeds, mailing lists, associations, etc.?

  • www.ted.com
  • Join any military intelligence network or mailing list that gives updates on Africa e.g. international institute of strategic studies. www.iiss.org

 

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