Benjamin Chigozie Mbakwem
This profile was prepared when Benjamin Chigozie Mbakwem was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Benjamin has established a community of urban youths to negotiate life in the city and reduce the risk of HIV transmission. He uses traditional rites-of-passage to reach young people and their mentors with an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, reinforced by a system of economic rewards. By reaching local entrepreneurs through formal and respected paths like trade associations, Benjamin gains businesspeople's trust and offers them technical assistance and trainings for their apprentices. In exchange, he solicits their time to conduct education programs and workshops on sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment, leadership, and counseling techniques. To keep the apprentices engaged, he helps them set up traditional credit unions in which participants contribute to a common pool and rotate the capital among members for private investment. Through his initiative, Benjamin effectively spreads the HIV/AIDS message, provides middle-scale entrepreneurs with quality training, and ensures the availability of financial and non-financial resources for apprentices to set up their own enterprises.