Grace Ihejiamaizu, a Nigerian alumna of the 2010 Study of the United States Institute for Student Leaders (SUSI) program on the theme of Social Entrepreneurship, is the September State Alumni Member of the Month. This honor recognizes Grace’s leadership in developing the next generation of Nigerian leaders and entrepreneurs.
Hosted at the University of Connecticut, Grace’s SUSI experience allowed her to examine how business techniques and entrepreneurial skills can be used to address social issues, while also developing her own leadership and problem-solving skills. Motivated by her knowledge and following her passion for helping young people, Grace returned to Nigeria after her exchange program and launched Raising Young and Productive Entrepreneurs (RYPE). This after-school youth development program aims to educate, engage, and empower Nigerian youth between the ages of 16 and 24 with skills to become transformational leaders and entrepreneurs. The program offers skill trainings, internship placements, volunteering activities, and a peer mentoring club. Since its inception in 2011, RYPE’s services have impacted more than 150 Nigerian youth.
As a young social entrepreneur, Grace has won considerable national and international recognition. In 2010, just after her return from the SUSI program, Grace was recognized by SIFE Nigeria, the local chapter of an international non-profit organization, for her outstanding contributions toward a better society. In 2011, she was named one of Google’s 12 Brightest Young Minds in the World and was invited to attend Google’s prestigious event, Zeitgeist Minds 2011. Also in 2011, Grace received funding through a Michelle Obama Young African Woman Leaders Forum small grant competition in support of her RYPE initiative.
Most recently, she was one of 60 young people selected from more than 2000 applications to attend the British Council’s Global Changemakers event, Euro-Africa Youth Summit 2012. She is currently partnering with three fellow Global Changemakers to implement the Heels to Heights Leadership Project, inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s quote, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can change the world.” As Grace explains, “The Heels to Heights Leadership Project aims to directly impact young women in Africa through mentoring. The idea is to get successful women leaders from across Africa to donate a pair of shoes to a young woman who would in turn become their mentee. The shoes are a symbol. We want the ladies to step into the shoes of the donors and take action in their communities as social and business entrepreneurs, community activists, and change makers.”
In addition to leading these various youth initiatives, Grace also promotes exchange opportunities to other Nigerian youth. She organizes outreach activities at her local American Corner with her fellow alumni. She also facilitates pre-departure orientations for out-going exchange participants, giving them tips on what to expect in the United States and how to be great ambassadors of Nigeria.