Sinclair: What is SustyVibes and what inspired you to create it?
Jennifer: SustyVibes is a social enterprise making sustainability actionable for young people in Nigeria. I was inspired to create SustyVibes when I realized the gap disparity between the number of youths interested in sustainable development in Nigeria and the availability of opportunities to work and learn in the sector.
Sustainability simply means treating the world like we plan to stay; it’s in how we use our natural, human and financial resources to live our best lives now and also for the people coming after us.
At SustyVibes, we are making Sustainability cool and easy to relate using five pillars that focus on education, community outreaches, pop culture, business and women development.
Sinclair: That’s dope! What’s the importance of making “sustainability actionable in Nigeria”?
Jennifer: Nigeria, one of Africa’s most resourceful countries with over 180 million people, still suffers from so many interlinked development challenges – challenges that have been passed on from one leadership to another. This needs to end and we need to have a plan to achieve that. Sustainability offers an ideal pathway to promote a person/country/organisation’s social, environmental, and economic well-being. If we believe this to be true, then we must show people who to practicalize it and make it work for them, their businesses, and the country at large.
Sinclair: Tell us more about Her Dreams Are Valid.
Jennifer: Her Dreams Are Valid is SustyVibe’s women development project that involves series of programmes helping more Nigerian women achieve their dreams through innovative ideas. These ideas often come from their interests and experiences. Our flagship program, Street Dreams, equips brilliant young women in the Niger Delta – which is part of Nigeria – with cameras and training in documentary photography, to help them earn income as photo-storytellers.
These brilliant women often come from vulnerable communities that have been negatively impacted by pollution and corrupt practices. With a camera in hand, we are co-creating strong stories that show the living conditions of these marginalized people and their environment, while providing more girls with valuable skills and freedom from financial dependency.
Sinclair: What was one of the biggest challenges when trying to launch your the social enterprise?
Jennifer: Hmmn…one really big challenge that I now look back at and laugh at was getting my mother (who has sacrificed so much for my success) to believe in my vision to start up my own organisation; questions like: “who will pay you?” “How will you cope without a salary?” “When will it scale up?” kept springing up. And, while these were big and important questions, I struggled to convince her that I was very passionate about this cause for youth inclusion in sustainable development in Nigeria.
Sinclair: You call yourself an Ecofeminist? What does this mean to you?
Jennifer: Being an Ecofeminist means that I see the world and issues around sustainable development from the eyes of a woman. I believe that we have oppressed the environment in just the same way women have been oppressed and this interconnectedness allows advocates like me to protect the environment and women as two sides of the same coin. This recognition of social and environmental injustices from a unique and often forgotten perspective allows for solidarity and solace.
Sinclair: Thinking about how media has skewed the perceptions of many, what do you want people to know about Nigeria?
Jennifer: Nigeria for a long time has suffered from bad leadership and this has resulted in several development challenges, but the country’s most potent resource, her youths, are rising. Young people are dominating the tech and fashion space despite the obvious odds, and have moved to disrupt agriculture and government. It’s very beautiful to watch and more people need to know that this shift is happening faster than we ever anticipated. What a time to be alive and a young Nigerian!
Sinclair: What advice would you give to others looking to build their own social enterprise?
Jennifer: Be passionate but also be strategic. By strategic, I mean understand who your target audience are and set out a plan to engage with them. There will be many trials and errors but just be sure that you’re working smart and not just hard.
Sinclair: As someone who is out here crushing it on many things, how do you know when to say “no” to opportunities?
Jennifer: I know when to say no to opportunities when they threaten my peace of mind. For someone who is spiritual, I understand that every opportunity is potent and achievable but not all are beneficial, so I weigh in my goals with opportunities. If they don’t align, I don’t try to stress myself over it. This is how I know I love myself.
Sinclair: Have you ever felt like a fraud while on your journey to where you are today?
Jennifer: Yes! The imposter syndrome creeps up a lot: questioning my qualifications, my passion to serve, and my ability to provide solutions to challenges we encounter on a daily basis. It comes sometimes, but I am always prepared to show up for myself and pat myself on the back even when no one is able to.
“If you have a dream then you are one of the most fortunate people on the face of the earth.” – Jennifer Uchendu
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?
Jennifer: In 2015, I had planned to get a masters degree in Sustainable Development from England. I was optimistic and excited that an education in line with my passion was finally happening. I had resigned from my day job and ready to begin this new journey. But my study visa was denied. I was hopeless and uninspired for many weeks. The confusion and void led to the idea of SustyVibes and that one situation has ushered me into the life I have now.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Jennifer: My unshakable values are trust, authenticity and altruism.
They individually contribute to the woman I have become. I became clear on all of them in 2017. I realised that I cared a great deal about my identity and legacy. I genuinely care about people and the planet and this has to reflect in the way I live my life, that intentional consistency will make people trust me.
SInclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Jennifer: If you have a dream then you are one of the most fortunate people on the face of the earth. A lot of people are only just existing and have nothing to dream of. Write your idea of this dream down and work your way up to achieving them in very small steps. Constantly show up for yourself and affirm that you are here to thrive and giving up will never be an option.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?
Jennifer: I would tell them that God is real and there is no escaping His love for us. We must act in accordance to that revelation.
Jennifer Uchendu is a sustainability communicator, analyst, and founder of SustyVibes, a social enterprise making sustainability actionable for young people in Nigeria. She holds a bachelors in Biochemistry from Covenant University with experience working with the Nigerian government, FMCGs and consulting firms. She is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow and the co-author of an e-book titled: A Guide to Business Sustainability in Nigeria.