How I Strolled Around the World With My Mobile Phone
Once upon a time in April 2013 I started an interview series, ‘The Stroll’, with my java (not so smart) mobile phone to share stories and ideas from great minds around the world whom I had spent about 2 years reading about and studying their work. It was just my naïve or selfish attempt to make myself relevant in the blogosphere and also follow my passion to lead a conversation about the global agenda; the UN Observances, the MDGs (at the time) and currently the SDGs.
Who would take a young person from Port Harcourt, Nigeria without any ‘media experience’ and a crappy blogspot blog serious? 3 years and over 1,500 emails after — with more than 80% of potential guests saying NO — I have now interviewed (or “strolled with”) more than 120 guests around the world. And really anyone can walk on the street and interview 120 people in one day, one of my guests; Pavlina Osta interviewed 347 people in 24 hours and broke the world record in the process, so interviewing 120 in 3 years is clearly no biggie. However, the guests on the stroll have not just been anybody anywhere. They have been drawn from almost every sphere of life and every continent — besides Antarctica that is, the Penguins seem not to reply emails much!
Many people have asked me in the past, “How do you do it?”, “Where did you know these busy people from?”, and whenever I say, “Uhmm, I just send a mail and they reply!” No one seems to believe it. The concept of frugal innovation (doing more with less) has been a guiding principle for my career so far. Mobile Journalism is quickly becoming trendy in the global media space, but for me it wasn’t like I had any choice when I started ‘The Stroll’ — that java mobile phone was all I had, and it wasn’t very convenient but it turned out to be more than enough.
In this piece I’ll take down the curtain and give you an idea of how some of my favorite strolls were produced as well as share some lessons I have learned in course of these 36 months. Purpose is powerful. As a result of working consistently on this project, I have been given the opportunity to volunteer online for the United Nations (again following my passion for diplomacy and the media); organize West Africa’s only TEDxYouth event in 2014; be recognized by one of the largest International Journalism communities (IJNet); become a member of the prestigious Global Shapers community, and even be invited to speak on media consumption at the 25th Anniversary of the World Economic Forum on Africa. What I have learned is, when you find something you are really passionate about, follow it consistently and start where you are with what you have. That’s all you need to get the magic happening. It can get discouraging, very very discouraging. There were nights I couldn’t stop crying because after spending up to 4 hours typing 3 A4-pages-worth of work with my small phone — everything just wipes out when the phone’s memory gets exceeded and I have to start all over again. But this is where passion helps you hold on.
This piece is also a testimony of God’s faithfulness. This is a sign that if everyone in Africa gets access to some form of internet many great miracles will happen (This is what the Global Shapers Community is advocating for with #Internet4All). I also see this as a challenge to anyone out there who doesn’t know they can do more than pinging and chatting with their mobile phone or laptop — technology opens up a lot of possibilities for us, and I pray this piece opens your eyes. Globally, we are already in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as described by Prof Klaus Schwab, and in this era power has changed hands. You now have the power in your hands; Use it!
The CNN Freedom Project
Where do you think a Nigerian secondary school leaver in Port Harcourt, Nigeria can get the chance to interview CNN? In his dreams of course (Haha!) and on Facebook! So what happened is, I was searching through Facebook as a fan of the show and this was few weeks after I started interviewing. I thought to myself, what if I ask the guys at CNN a few questions and promise them I’ll publish it on our very unpopular and very wacky — at the time — blogspot blog. It was just one crazy random idea, and many times I asked myself why would they even listen? But that’s the first lesson and I’m sure you’ve heard it many times; there’s no harm in trying. Just give it a try. You never know sometimes. The worst you’ll get is a NO.
So, I sent them a message on Messenger. The CNN Freedom Project team is made up of so many wonderful individuals and besides allowing a very inexperienced lad from somewhere in the world ask them a few questions. They even sent me a Thank you note after it was published and that just blew me away — I’m sure I didn’t eat dinner that night.
Ndaba Mandela & Wanjira Mathai
Late Nelson Mandela and Late Prof Wangari Mathaai are both African legends whose legacies have lived long after their exit. In 2013 I got the chance to speak with Nelson’s second eldest grandson, Ndaba. I remember searching contact page after contact page looking for his email address. In course of our conversation it was obvious that he wasn’t banking on the fame and influence his surname brings but he was also ready to fold his sleeves and work towards the Africa of his dreams.
Wanjira, Late Prof Wangari Mathaai’s daughter, and I discussed the historic Paris Agreement from COP21 and what it means for Africa. We also talked about her Mom and her decision to follow the same path her mom trod.
Robert Swan & Lee Swan
Don’t mind the surname they are not family, and what even freaks me out more is the similarity in their life’s work. Robert is the first person to walk to the North and South poles; a feat he completed in May 1989.
Lee also left her footprints on the sands of time (or should I say ‘snow of time’) when she completed the world’s toughest race in 2011 becoming the first African woman to walk to the North Pole. Both fearless and determined individuals, speaking with Robert and Lee inspired me to see obstacles as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.
Nkechi Azinge & Nkem Azinge
Unlike Robert and Lee, Nkechi and Nkem are related! They are founders of SCAF — Sickle Cell Aid Foundation — and their work has gained them recognition in the White House and Buckingham Palace. Nkechi was recognized as one of the Queen’s Young Leaders in 2015 and in that same year, Nkem was also recognized by President Obama as one of the 2015 Mandela-Washington Fellows. I call them #PowerTwin, and their love for each other is just so beautiful. I’m very confident that the world will hear more from them as they continue the fight against the sickle cell disorder.
Babatunde Osotimehin & Amina J Mohammed
I haven’t met many of the United Nations Diplomats whom I have interviewed around the world, but I’ve had the wonderful privilege of meeting both Uncle Babatunde and Aunty Amina. They’re both Nigerians who have made it to the zenith of UN Leadership and they inspire me to view the world with a global perspective, and also not turn down any opportunity to serve my motherland, Nigeria — seeing that they have both served as Ministers in Nigeria’s Government.
Milliscent Nnwoka, Jake Effoduh, & Chude Jideonwo
Award-winning Nigerian Broadcasters and Lawyers, Milliscent, Jake, and Chude are three individuals I gladly call mentors. Milliscent took me under her wing back in 2013 and monitored my growth in those early blogging years. She was the biggest fan of my work, and I still seek her opinion and advice today on many professional issues I’m confronted with.
Jake inspires all of us!!!! Where do I even start from to talk about him? He’s a fellow World Economic Forum Global Shaper who takes the art of multitasking to another level with his involvement in many global-shaping activities.
Chude is just the dream for many young people. Chude and his Co-founder, Adebola Williams built their media conglomerate, RED Media Africa into a force which they are using to reshape many narratives in Nigeria and Africa.
Malala Yousafzai & Zuriel Oduwole
Ah… Malala. Her story is just remarkable. The girl shot by the Taliban in the head for advocating for girl-child education in the SWAT valley. Actually we didn’t have an actual stroll like the usual Q&A sessions I have with guests, but I always brag that I am the first person she tweeted at when she made her twitter debut in 2013. My friends on facebook celebrated with me when I broke the news to them as if I had just won the Nobel Prize.
Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and shook the world becoming the youngest recipient of the award! Her foundation is called Malala Fund.
Zuriel Oduwole makes me proud to be a Nigerian. She has engaged more than 14 Presidents and Prime Ministers around the world to discuss issues relating to children’s rights in their respective countries. Zuriel, just like Malala, also advocates for girl child education in Africa and her foundation is called “Dream Up. Speak Up. Stand Up”.
Sam Bird & Garrett Mcnamara
I am a huge Sports fan, and when I think of the future of motor sports and Formula One, I think of Sam. He came third in the maiden race of the future, Formula E; which is a race for electric cars emphasizing on the need for sustainability and green thinking even in sports.
Garrett is one of the world’s greatest surfers. He keeps breaking records everyday; he has surfed everything from 100ft waves to melting glaciers to everything.
Richard Saul Wurman & Sir Ken Robinson
Richard Saul Wurman created the TED Conference in 1986 and has written over 83 books. He embodies creativity and futuristic thinking. I was lucky, very very lucky to eventually get him to answer a few questions from me back in December 2014.
Sir Ken Robinson gave the most popular TED talk of all time, and the day I got a call from someone saying, “Hello Ebenezar, this is Ken Robinson speaking, thank you for having me on The Stroll”. I just ‘fainted’. (Lol) I was excited because I had to wait for three years to hear that! Ken’s concepts about learning resonate strongly with me.
Both of them inspired me to apply for a TEDx license and in 2014 my friends and I organized TEDxYouth@OrdinanceRoad — the only TEDxYouth event in West Africa that year.
Elsie Kanza & Crown Prince Hakoon
Elsie and His Majesty, Crown Prince Hakoon, the crown prince of Norway, are two Young Global Leaders who have touched the lives of many people around the world. Elsie is currently Head of Africa, World Economic Forum and due to her policy and push for increased participation of Global Shapers at Africa Meetings I was given the opportunity to represent my Hub and country, alongside other shapers from Nigeria, at the 25th Anniversary of the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Prince Hakoon, UNDP Goodwill ambassador, co-founded Global Dignity Day, a day which is now commemorated annually all over the world. I was so honoured when he agreed to make out time from his Royal duties to chat with me.
Nathaniel Bassey & Hosea Isaac
Nathaniel Bassey and Hosea Isaac are worshipers. The sound Nathaniel makes when playing the trumpet is something you just can’t hear anywhere. I was excited to share his story and thoughts on World Music Day 2014. Hosea is my bestie (as girls call it *rolls eyes*) and thus you can imagine how difficult it would have been to become serious with him to do an interview. We really had fun though talking about music and his plans for the future.
Stephen Sackur & Owen Benneth Jones
Stephen is just the coolest guy ever. I’m usually wondering how he manages to look tough and hard on BBC HARDtalk. I download a podcast of the show almost every two days and I am usually just thrilled at how Stephen manages to keep the conversations with public figures on controversial issues very tensed yet not confrontational. Owen’s melodious voice was the first voice I heard when I tuned my newly bought short wave radio to the BBC World Service back when I was 9 years old. I still bump into him reading the news every now and then, and he always gives a stellar performance.
Femi Oke & Nancy Groves
Femi hosts a show on Aljazeera that combines New and Traditional media technologies on “The Stream”. She’s also such a wonderful person who doesn’t joke with her family no matter how busy she might be. Nancy is the UN Social Media team leader. She explained how massive her job is and shared some practical advice for young wannabe-diplomats like me.
Ahmad Alhendawi & Siamak Sam Loni
A UN Youth Envoy who rides a bicycle to work, plays basketball, and watches the Premier League and Spanish League is a youth indeed! Mr Alhendawi was my first audio interview and it was such a blessing having to speak with him and eventually having our conversation blogged on un.org.
Siamak Is Global Coordinator of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network-Youth, and we had a very insightful conversation as well. Sam didn’t let his background hold him back from dreaming and achieving global targets. We have become good friends since after our stroll
Ralph Nader & Suli Breaks
Marching band and poetry are two aspects of my growing years that if I take away, my story will not be complete. This story will not be complete without Ralph and Suli.
Ralph greatly inspired Hosea, I and the Royal Drill Squad — a marching band Hosea founded in the Royal Ambassadors of Nigeria during our teen years. BYOS (Bring Your Own Sticks) has taken marching drums to just a whole new level.
It’s that same level Suli has taken Spoken Word Poetry to. His flawless delivery and punchlines inspired me while I was a member of the Seaview Poetry Club and recited poetry every Tuesday morning on radio (Rhythm 93.7FM Port Harcourt) between 2011 and 2013.
Suli’s “school of thought” on the educational system also resonates strongly with me as I have so far had what I can call an irregular education after my Primary and Secondary School days.
Director-General Michael Moller
When I walked into the United Nations Office, Geneva for my one-on-one with Director-General Michael Moller, anyone who saw me wouldn’t think I was just about to stream an interview to over 5,000 people around the world. All I had was my smart mobile phone and my hat to cover my uncombed hair — because I forgot my comb in Nigeria, Lol.
Using Facebook Live and with help from Alessandra (a UN Geneva staff) who helped to act as my tripod because my selfie stick broke one day to the interview. I streamed the interview LIVE and subsequently produced it in audio, video, and text. Mr Moller is such a warm soul, and we exchanged gifts after the stroll! I got a honey made by UN Bees! I’m not kidding!
My conversation with Mr Moller was also published on the UN Geneva website.
Of course you know that this little space is not enough to share all the 120 unique experiences I’ve had in the past 36 months but the good news is, you can read all of it in your spare time here on → Bit.ly/Strolls
Also, I rebranded ‘The Stroll’ to ‘The Stroll Live’ which changes the conversation from Ebenezar interviewing big people to young people given the opportunity to be mentored virtually.
Thank you for reading. I hope this inspires you to create your own luck!