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A passion for food wins contest on innovative thinking

Winning an award was never part of Sylvie Ogoudedji’s expectations when she joined the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) as a fellow in 2019.

It was during her induction that she learned of ECA’s Innovation Challenge for the first time. What got her “really excited” was a new understanding – after a Google search – that “innovation does not necessarily mean invention” and that “it could simply be a new way of approaching existing matters.”

“I knew right then that there was something I could offer,” she said.

The Innovation Challenge is part of ECA’s Innovation Accelerator Programme that aims to recognize staff contributions to the success of ECA’s programmatic achievements as well as foster a culture of innovation within the think-tank.

32-year-old Sylvie Ogoudedji saw the Challenge as an opportunity for her to “talk about something that really matters to me: food.” She noted (with a smiley) in her email response to this reporter’s questions – that, “after seeing my picture, you would realize that I love eating.”

But her love for food is not selfish. She yearns for an Africa where everyone has access to healthy food. She is concerned about the roughly 300 million people suffering from hunger in both rural and urban areas in Africa.

“These are the kind of statistics that make me feel that we are still far from the end of the journey towards a prosperous Africa,” she lamented.”

Her project proposal to the Innovative Challenge is titled “Building Africa’s New Farmers.”

She makes the case for why “agriculture should not be for unskilled labour and rural areas should not be the place from which Africans run away.”

Among her recommendations was a stimulus package for urban agriculture whereby farmers are equipped with land, modern agricultural skills, access to credit, modern climate-resilient houses with rooftop gardens, and other services that can attract young people to agriculture.

The output, she noted, is to “provide poor people with decent work, the happiness of being owners of the houses they live in, the opportunity to eat the food they produce, sell the surplus, and live in a safe place where they have access to needed services.”

The Benin born ECA fellow who holds a PhD in Applied Agricultural Economics and Policy argues that government should create a ministry in charge of this specific program, and that good land policies and good governance are the cornerstones of her initiative.

The contest awarded two grand (first position) prizes in the categories of substantive innovation and operational innovation – won by Sylvie Ogoudedji and Bineswaree Bolaky respectively.

Bineswaree, an Economic Affairs Officer at ECA’s Southern Africa Office, focused her project on ways to “Enhance how ECA as an institution delivers its support to member states on AfCTTA.”

A total of 18 submissions were received for the Innovation Challenge. The second and third winners in the substantive category are Rachael Nsubunga of ECA’s Office for East Africa and Maame Paterson of ECA’s Office for West Africa respectively.

In the operational category, Ermias Wondie and Kelemwork Kejela (ECA HQ) won the second and third prizes, respectively.

The Grand Prize winners will receive direct mentoring from a member of ECA’s senior leadership team, who will contribute to developing and bringing the winners’ ideas to fruition.

Winning the grand prize is a “dream come true” for Sylvie who is also “very happy to see how ECA, in addition to all the incredible work it does for our continent, opens a wide door to new ideas for a prosperous Africa.”

Ms. Ogoudedji credits her success to her “very supportive colleagues and director” of ECA’s Office for Central Africa who gave her the necessary assistance to emerge victorious.

Having bagged the material and intellectual rewards from the contest, Sylvie continues to flaunt her love for food, stating “as human beings, nothing unites us more than our universal need for food.”

Dele Fashomi
Dele Fashomi, seasoned journalist and communication teacher, is a holder of Master of Arts degree in Communication and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan in 1992/93.Earlier, he had bagged a Bachelor degree from the same university in 1984, after which he proceeded to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, in 1990, for a postgraduate diploma in Journalism.He had done many courses in communication, including the EU-BBC Editing Course in 2002.Mr. Fashomi combines effectively the practice, research and teaching of communication. And to date, he has published two academic works in communication: Issues in Communication Technology and Policy (2010) and Economic and Social Issues in Advertising and PR (2013).He had his first break in the Nigerian media in Concord Newspapers in 1990 and today, he has over two and half decades experience earned in several newspapers.He has been part of many start-ups, such as The Republic (1987), The Comet (1999), The Anchor 2001 - 2002; Sun Newspapers (2003); Westerner newsmagazine (2005 - 2010) as Editor; National Life (2011) as Sunday Editor, and Newswatch Newspapers (2012- 2016) as Daily Editor.Dele Fashomi is now the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of newspaper online, which he started in July 2015. He is also into biography writing, with many books in his trail, some of which he wrote alone and one he co- authored with his mentor, Mr Dare Babarinsa, entitled:  Olabiyi Durojaiye - DARE TO BE DiFFERENT. He also guided and collaborated with Pa Olatunji Odusanya in writing his autobiography - AGAINST ALL ODDS. There are many other books in the works under his pen.