Mathias Yashim

Ashoka Fellow
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Nigeria
Fellow since 2013
This description of Mathias Yashim's work was prepared when Mathias Yashim was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .

Introduction

Mathias Bodman Yashim is providing young people with the skills and opportunities for practical leadership experiences in order to create a generation of entrepreneurs who generate jobs for themselves and others, instead of endlessly searching for employment.

The New Idea

Mathias is partnering with educational institutions to provide practical training to hundreds of students and train lecturers to be monitors, mentors, and future trainers of the entrepreneurship program. To create an enabling community environment and provide opportunities for practical leadership and entrepreneurial experience, Mathias partners with community leaders and organizations to identify student needs and collaborates with students to find solutions. He also uses these partnerships to identify and support physically disabled and at-risk youth to realize their dreams, by obtaining training and mentorship and seizing leadership opportunities to serve their communities.

Since 2012, Mathias has trained almost 6,000 students in four northern states. He is looking to expand his university program to all educational institutions. Mathias is formalizing the creation of entrepreneurial centers at the universities he works with. He is developing educational policy that will embed an entrepreneurial focus in all schools and is building consensus for a bill that will effectively do this at the state level. Mathias is developing a curriculum to train teachers and students to implement his program, thereby enabling it to be sustainable. In secondary schools he is creating enterprise clubs to offer a similar practical leadership experience to young children.

The Problem

It is estimated that 60 percent of Nigeria’s 160 million people are under the age of 24. 70 percent of young people are unemployed though many possess high school diplomas and/or university degrees. This alarmingly high unemployment rate is intricately connected to the state of Nigeria’s education system.

This system has failed to produce employable graduates with work-ready skills appropriate for today’s changing world. Although many graduates possess content knowledge in a particular field, employers indicate that graduates lack the practical experience, sense of initiative, analytical-thinking, and problem-solving skills they desire in employees. Students who do not show early promise often dropout and join a growing number of restless youth. Thus, jobs go unfilled and youth are left idle. In addition, young people are focused on securing employment in more traditional fields. With a focus on securing existing and limited positions, there is a lost opportunity for them to create employment options by responding to the needs in their communities. Without an attempt to cultivate drive, practical management, and problem-solving skills, it is not surprising that millions find it difficult to find or create meaningful employment.

Although the government has taken action to increase access to education and improve funding for public schools and universities, these solutions do not address the problems of content and curricula. There is no practical focus to teach young people how to apply their knowledge, take action, and lead. The current curriculum does not nurture creative leaders. Thus, a new focus needs to be introduced from primary school to university which is practical and prepares students to address challenges and initiate potentially life changing opportunities.

Mathias believes that the primary purpose of education should be to enrich the individual and, by extension, society. He is helping to create a generation of young problem-solvers and entrepreneurs by leveraging the existing structure of the education system and school communities.

Hope Builders is also creating a program for enterprise clubs in secondary schools and designing a training curriculum for teachers and principals to become the custodians and implementers of this program in their schools.

The Strategy

Mathias believes that everyone has the right and responsibility to participate in making positive change in their community. Young people are vital in the process of development, democracy, and change. Thus, given the growing population of restless unemployed youth, Mathias chose to focus on young people in tertiary education and those who had recently entered the labor market. His organization, Hope Builders, was established in 2010 in Kaduna State. Rather than create a parallel or alternative structure, Mathias uses the existing school system to his advantage, since it offers the best leverage point to reach large numbers of young people. By partnering with universities, Mathias offers his entrepreneurship training program to hundreds of students. The training provides information about local and global market needs, professional environments, and the skills students’ need to successfully compete in their fields. The double advantage of working with public universities is that Hope Builders then trains lecturers to monitor progress and assist the students on a daily basis. Students are paired with mentors to ensure they have a resource for encouragement and advice. Three schools Hope Builders works with have entrepreneurial centers for students.

Mathias understands that entrepreneurial training alone will not ensure a new generation of quick-thinking, self-employed young people. He believes it is essential to create an enabling environment for young entrepreneur’s ideas to thrive and be supported. Thus, Mathias partners with local communities to create opportunities for participants to apply their new skills to real community challenges. He attaches students to projects and they work with community leaders to create and implement solutions. Through this practical work, students’ learn to be leaders while working on teams and gain a sense of their own agency and ability to create positive social change. Mathias partners with community leadership, citizen organizations, and women’s groups to appropriately embed students with communities. Hope Builders monitors the students to ensure that all work is completed in a timely manner and meets their objective. Mathias also uses these partnerships to identify and work with at-risk youth and those physically disabled. He strongly believes that all young people have the right to find their passion, gain skills, and meaningfully serve their communities.

Mathias’s goal is to establish his program in all the country’s higher education institutions, and he is beginning to work with secondary schools and at the policy level. He is building momentum for an education bill to pass in 2015. Hope Builders is also creating a program for enterprise clubs in secondary schools and designing a training curriculum for teachers and principals to become the custodians and implementers of this program in their schools. By 2012, 86 lecturers signed on as mentors, monitors, and implementers. He is confident that within five years, these students will create jobs for themselves and others. The team building and inclusive aspects of his program are particularly suited to building tolerance and cooperation in the divided North, but two other West African countries have expressed interest in his program and he is planning an advocacy visit to Sierra this year.

Mathias hopes that within a short time, young people will be proud to manage their own enterprises rather than search for employment or wait for government employment and support. The economy and community life would prosper and peace and development could be sustained.

The Person

Mathias was born into a family of 16 in Fadan Kagoro in Kaduna State, Nigeria, and their livelihood was farming. He was upset that other children were able to go to school but he and his siblings could not. Mathias changed the course of his life by enrolling in school at age 10. He desired a better life and a good name for his family, but that came with the challenge of going to school, while still completing his daily farm work. Mathias devised a means to meet his farming responsibilities as well as go to school by influencing young people from similar backgrounds, and they helped each other meet their responsibilities. At 15, Mathias worked on other people’s farms for a fee, which he gave to his mother to support their family. He engaged in various agriculture businesses that paid his way through school and enabled him to sponsor his siblings and some of his colleagues.

Mathias’s involvement in the literary society at school exposed him to different life issues and problem-solving methods, which he used to influence young neighbors. He soon became a role model both at home and in his community, having mastered the skill of positively influencing people. Mathias put this to good use and at a critical moment, was able to dissuade his brother from committing suicide. This brother later became a university lecturer in Nigeria.

In 2006 Mathias joined the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and quickly rose to the position of Chairman. He had a turning point when he learned that young people in the program attributed their success to the moral, technical, and entrepreneurial camping curriculum he provided. Mathias resigned from YMCA and took a course on psychology and counseling; deciding to focus on developing young people’s abilities. He believes every young person has something to contribute to society, and since then, he has organized entrepreneurial trainings for young people in higher institutions of learning.