13 September 2016

My Stroll with Jennifer Uchendu, Founder, SustyVibes

Credit: Anny Roberts
Born on the 10th of August 1992, Jennifer Uchendu hails from Umuopara in Umuahia, Abia State. She is a graduate of Biochemistry from Covenant University and has developed herself to a sustainability analyst passionate about improving sustainability action amongst African youths, an unapologetic ecofeminist who continues to relate women development and empowerment to Sustainable Development via the work that she does.

She is the founder of SustyVibes, an organisation positioned to change the conceptualisation of Sustainability in Africa especially amongst Youths, via innovative features and projects like Susty Parties – where she hosted a gathering with over 60 youths to discuss major sustainability issues over movies, food and games. Her Susty Schools campaign has till date trained over 350 school children on the SDGs, her Susty Places project promotes African Ecotourism. Jennifer has experience working with government, NGOs, Farms, Multinationals and E-commerce companies.

I take a stroll with this beautiful young woman to share her story so far, and look forward to the bright and green future ahead!!

I hope you enjoy our conversation. Happy Birthday Twinny :)

SustyVibes’ Secret Formula

Jennifer: We launched April 22nd, so it’s less than 6 months. I think that the Success is based on my network; I think I know a lot of people in the industry, and it has really helped me basically. This one thing I’m trying to do with SustyVibes; to increase the whole sustainability network—when you work with people of the similar vision and people who have Nigeria and Sustainable Development at heart, it becomes easier. They help you do stuff and go the extra mile because they are not doing for themselves or for the grants. So, yes, I think it’s my network and obviously God has been really faithful in my life, I’ve just been really favored. 

Life before SustyVibes and Why Did you start?

Jennifer: Before SustyVibes, I was working in an e-commerce firm. I was in the fashion department. Although before I resigned, I started doing small sustainability work for them. I had proposed a sustainability department for them with very good proposals, and that’s what I was doing before I started SustyVibes. 

Why? It was just about time for me. Sustainability was basically everything for me; it was what I was eating, drinking, etc. I was sneaking out of work to go for events, and I’m talking with my CEO about sustainability and he’s asking me, “How far with your core job?”, and I’m like, ‘We should go green sir!”.

Funny enough, my CEO at the e-commerce company I worked is actually the one that pushed me to start in one way or the other. He’ll always tell me, “You need to build your profile, if this is what you want to do…I want to see you in 2 or 3 years being a top person in sustainability in Nigeria”, and when I was ready to leave he was so excited for me. So, it was just about time and everything aligned for me at the right time basically. I was ready to leave work, and I had people willing to help me set up a blog, do web design, graphic design; it was just perfect for me. Also, with the SDGs launching at the time I decided to leave, I had a platform or something I could readily do. 

The plan for SustyVibes was actually t just have a website or blog where I keep all my Susty things—the events I attend, the way I feel about different issues, etc. But now the plan is so big it has turned into an organization with different departments and I’m just really excited about how everything had turned out. 

Youth2030: How young People can Jump on the SDGs

Jennifer: As much as I love to talk about the SDGs, I don’t see them as a separate entity; I think the SDGs are everything related to development; everything that should be done basically. So it cuts across various professions because it’s not just sustainability in terms of environmental protection we also have things like gender equality. 

For young people, I always say they should find a goal that they are passionate about and run with it. When I say run with it, I mean, you can start thinking of ideas for how these goals will work. There are indicators that show what we expect by 2030. That’s what I’m doing with grassroots engagement and community engagement with young people. Just sit down and think of how best these goals can work.

So we say something like, “No Poverty”, we should start thinking of ways to even save ourselves, improve our financial lives, and our financial knowledge. Basically young people are very good with advocacy, awareness, making things trend and getting more people to know about a particular thing. For the SDGs, I feel like, for the first few years, what is critical is awareness and advocacy and this what young people are very good that. Using social media we can spread this thing like wild fire. Young people need to ‘carry the SDGs on their heads’, because it’s basically for us. I keep saying in 2030 we will no longer be youths, and the world we’ll have then is based on what we do right now. The success of the SDGs is dependent on young people. 

Summary of SustyVibes’ Work so far…

Jennifer: To be honest, I don’t think we’ve done so much you know? We’re just starting out! So far I feel like we’ve entered the market or the industry with this idea or this force that sustainability is not supposed to be something so rigid and serious. It cuts across every aspect of life. It cuts across our daily lives and affects us in different ways—we need to think about it in the different actions we do.

So with SustyVibes, I know that people are starting to see sustainability the same way I see it, and they’re beginning to link it to different aspects. I’m talking to people about movies and we’re saying, “Oh, this is Climate Change”. We’re talking about Fashion and they’re talking about women who make these clothes in Vietnam and how they are not paid well, and there are just these different things that young people are beginning to see. They’re bringing ideas and they are excited to share it with me, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do with SustyVibes. 

Create a platform for young people to always bring up ideas and run with it. Where we might have a challenge is how to translate the ideas, how do we get the right people to know about them? And that’s what I’m currently working on right now, trying to get a lot of Government backing and endorsement so that they know what we’re doing and they actually listen to young people because it’s so critical.

We started Susty Schools where I go to schools to talk about the SDGs, and it’s fun because when ask for feedback from both the management and the students, they are so excited. Students are asking me if they can do their Masters’ in the SDGs. 

Because I’m mixing it with different aspects of life, I mean, we’re doing Eco Tours, Susty music, etc, people can now relate with it. With the tour I did with Social Prefect, we planted a tree, we saw animals, and people are now asking me, ‘when is your next tour?”, or “when are we planting trees again?”…it’s just so exciting for me. So far I can see the impact, and I can see my social media followership increasing. I can see a lot of people trying to engage asking me what project I’m working on, and it goes beyond awareness and advocacy, I’m now seeing implementation happening. 

#MySDGs: What is your favourite SDG(s) and how will you contribute to its achievement by 2030?

Jennifer: My favourite SDG is Goal 5. I keep saying it that women are the keys to sustainable development. If we get Goal 5 right, the way women will drive sustainability, you won’t even believe it. 

No offence, women are very forward thinking and we appreciate nature in a very different way. We’ll drive environmental protection; we’ll drive the economy in a very prudent way. If you empower a woman, you have empowered the community; you have empowered her family. So, Goal 5 is so critical. It is so critical. And for me what I am doing with Susty Vibes is trying to give more women the opportunity to work with me. My volunteers are mostly women, and I’m looking for female graphic designers… 

I want my own life to be an inspiration basically, how I started Susty Vibes and started just doing something I like, and people could just get inspired just like that and start up their own thing. I’m also thinking of starting a foundation where I help girls go to school. No matter how little or how small, I already have one little girl whom I have started supporting with school. It’s just so important for me.

Hon Mrs Toru Ofili, Special Adviser to the Rivers State Governor on SDGs, commending Jennifer after her presentation at a Youth SDGs Seminar held in Port Harcourt, August 2016
I just keep imagining, what If I can’t read? All the things I’m currently doing now would just not be possible and it affects a whole line—it’s not just my life now. There are other people whose successes are tied to my own success, and so it just trickles down. 

I also love Goal 13; Climate Action, because Climate Change really scares me. I don’t know why it doesn’t scare other people. Perhaps I read too much as a Science student, but it’s just crazy because it is affecting us from different angles. We have oxygen depleting, we have methane locked down in the bottom of the sea and it even scares me more because when this thing happens, we might be really old and it’s our children it will affect. If we don’t work towards it now, we’ll just be setting ourselves up—and that is just so scary for me!

This is why I want to get more people on the train, let do something. Let’s advocate for the little actions, the big actions, and let’s talk about it more.

Jennifer Uchendu: 5 Years After

Jennifer: In 5 years I will be 29, almost 30. I will be a big woman oh (Hahaha). I will be a big woman God help me and God keep me. The way time is happening now, 5 years is not so long. It is dependent on the kind of things I do right now and how I live my life right now, every day. 

In 5 years I would have furthered my education, hopefully. I want to go to school, I want to invest in myself to become better in my sustainability work. I hopefully would have married! (Hahaha) and generally just working towards practicing sustainable development in Nigeria, in the political realm; because I’m looking at going into politics later on in my life.

SustyTwins: Ebenezar and Jennifer
That’s why I’m advocating for the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill. We need to support it and it needs to fly so that people like me can be on campaign posters! So that’s the plan. God helping me I will be a big woman (Hahahah)


Food for the Soul: “Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, MSG)

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