Can you briefly introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Gusi Tobby LordWilliams and I am a social impact strategist. I am also the founder of Nigeria's largest all-female volunteering network, Girl Hub Africa. I manage volunteers and train them. I am a volunteer management consultant. I train and equip volunteers for various organizations in the private and public sectors. I also create technical assistance for non-profits.
What inspired you to the Humanitarian field?
My parents have actually been in the space (of humanitarian work) for a while, in and out of Nigeria, and it was more or less like a lifestyle for us growing up. It was more or less that we had to volunteer as kids and it didn’t seem like volunteering, it just seemed like this is the way to live, this is the way to do things, giving back – random acts of kindness, being selfless - it was like a lifestyle to us, so it didn’t feel like volunteering. It was growing up that I realized that ‘you’re different from every other person’ – every other person sees (volunteering) as a co-curricular activity.
That is why I had to create a platform – GirlHub Africa – so that people can start seeing it as a lifestyle - something you do effortlessly and can do on your own. And when we talk about humanitarian services, people always feel that you must be a part of an organization or a group before you can do something. On your own, you can be a humanitarian worker to your neighbour, and to your friends. Humanitarian work doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to travel or go to a specific community.
It is about being good to one another, showing care and concern, random acts of kindness - those go a long way.
So that’s what inspired me – my family inspired me and taught me the way, and it’s basically a lifestyle for me now.
In one of your earlier interviews, you mentioned your aim is to encourage African women in rendering selfless services until it becomes a lifestyle. Why is volunteering important for young women and what impact do these young women bring to society through their volunteer work?
When we talk about volunteering, I would like to, first of all, reiterate that volunteering is beyond community service and social impact. Unpaid internships can be a type of volunteering. Volunteering means rendering your service without expecting anything in return, but most of the time we attribute it to just community service. A lot of the young women that render these services, most of them are always looking for something – it’s either they don’t have a job, or they’re looking to gain meaningful experiences by volunteering in organizations and companies that align with their area of interest. For example, somebody studies mass communication in school and comes out with no job, so you’re willing to volunteer your time and your skills to gain meaningful experiences and harness your skills to apply for a job. So various people volunteer for different reasons. That is why we say that our volunteers have various areas of interest.
To answer the impact these women have on society - A thousand and one. Firstly, you reduce the number of idle young women out there. Then for us at Girl Hub Africa, service is leadership, which means that by the time you’re serving, you’re also learning leadership skills. So, we are also improving the rate at which women are learning leadership skills and we are increasing the human capital of the economy.
We are grooming women who will not depend on anyone because they are willing to serve and do something for the community
We’re grooming women that will be selfless. Having a society where we have at least 80 people who are selfless, the world will be a better place.
Some people think that it is only when you take a leadership course or you are in a position of leadership with a title that you can be considered a leader. These women are leaders in their various industries and spheres of life. So, when they volunteer they learn leadership skills and harness their skills, they get to meet mentors.
Would you classify volunteering for the prospect of gaining experience for a job as selfless? Is that considered volunteering?
It is volunteering because if you equate it the person’s time alone is not paid for. The person’s service is not paid for. The person is willing to give all of that up just to learn, so the only thing the person gains in return, which is not guaranteed, is experience and that experience can never be taken away from them. Experience is the most important thing for most people, but some people do not see it as important - in the long run, they realize the importance.
Different people have different reasons why they volunteer, and everyone has a reason. There are people that would tell you that they volunteered because it made them feel good – so there is always a reason and it’s okay for you to be selfish by saying you want to get experience. Nobody is paying you physical cash or paying for your time and service. When you are learning something in return that’s a big deal, so it is absolutely okay.
What restrictions are in place for young female volunteers in Nigeria, and what advice do you have to overcome these restrictions?
There are restrictions owing to the lack of structure around volunteering in Nigeria. When it comes to volunteering in Nigeria, which is what we are trying to do in Girl Hub Africa, there is no structure per se with regard to volunteering. You hear people say they are a volunteer, but there is no structure, no set rule or guidance, or code of conduct, which is absolutely okay. But if you were to go to some first world countries, they have a structure when it comes to volunteering. They have integrated into their curriculum from elementary to secondary school, community service. Going through the system, you see volunteer work as a lifestyle, and that is because there is a process that you have to go through in your life. So, if there is a structure, there will be fewer restrictions.
Secondly, a lot of organizations do not understand the concept of volunteering - that somebody is volunteering for you does not mean you don’t provide a stipend. A stipend is an out-of-pocket expense. While a lot of people like to leverage the definition of volunteering with the aspect that says a volunteer is not expected to receive any monetary remuneration, this does not mean that if I have an out-of-pocket expense, for example, you’re sending me to go and volunteer at an event, you pay for my t-fare. The t-fare is the out-of-pocket expense and stipend you have to pay. This is where my own personal work as a volunteer advocate comes in, where I like to expose and enlighten organizations.
There is a stipend that is mandatory - not necessary - it is mandatory for organizations, NGOs, private sectors, and government parastatals to give volunteers out-of-pocket expenses and stipends.
If you’re sending me to do something for the office, it’s that out-of-pocket expense that I would use to achieve that.
This lack of understanding of stipend restricts a lot of volunteers because they burn out. By the time they are doing everything the burden is on them, meanwhile the company is supposed to handle a few things. And in the volunteer’s mind you are not supposed to request for any money, so they burn out and the perception becomes that volunteer work is something bad to do.
There is also the restriction that comes from the volunteers themselves. Most of them don’t know how to reach out to organizations. Most volunteers do not prepare and plan before reaching out for volunteer opportunities.
Asking questions such as - does the organization’s vision and area of interest align with mine? What is my skill set? What skills do I want to offer? - helps one plan and go in with a purpose.
Many volunteers do not do anything and are content with just posting pictures on the gram wearing the organization’s t-shirt, meanwhile the volunteering experience is not beneficial to them. This also hinders and restricts them because in the long run they feel that they have wasted their time whereas they did not do their due diligence and SWOT analysis.
Would you say that some young women do not know their skill set, or what their strengths are? Do you think that could also have an impact on this as they don’t understand what they have to offer that could be of benefit to the organization?
Yes, that is one of the problems. Another angle to that is that most of the young people that are undergraduates or fresh graduates are also in denial of what they know they need. For example, you know that you need to gain experience in a certain skill set, but because of peer pressure – your friends are doing social media marketing, they’re doing PR, and it’s like it is the main thing happening now – you follow them and volunteer somewhere that you know your fire does not burn.
You need to first of all identify and know yourself – What can I do? What can I offer? – there is nobody without a skill. So first thing is to identify that skill you can offer and would offer wholeheartedly without feeling bad for not getting paid. Everyone has a skill, even people tagged as lazy are only lazy in the things you expect them to do, but are hardworking in some areas you do not see.
Your work has been recognized by the United Nations. You were also listed as one of the 100 most influential African women. How does it feel to have your work recognized by such a body, and what impact has this had on your work?
Firstly, it has given me so much credibility because it’s not everyday that the United Nations wakes up to say they want to award and appreciate this person for their work, and especially in my space. Not a lot of volunteers get that kind of recognition for their work. So yes it has increased my credibility, it has increased my visibility as well. Now a lot of people want to align and work with me because of the kind of organizations that have aligned with me. And in turn it has encouraged me to do more and given me the confidence that what I am doing has an impact and is something that I should keep doing.
These kinds of recognition make you keep going, motivates you, and inspires other young people out there, because believe it or not there are other young people that have this volunteering dream and want to be volunteer advocates and activists. They are out there, but they need to see somebody, so we need to increase the number of role models in this field who young people can aspire to.
What advice do you have for young girls who would like to begin the journey in the humanitarian field and volunteer?
You don’t have to jump on the trend of starting your own organization. Volunteer with organizations - you can have a passion for women’s Rights, you might have a passion for education, you can have a passion for whatever it is in the social and development space - it is okay to have a passion for it but make sure you volunteer. Everybody must not be a founder, and everybody must not have a title. You can even be more than a founder by being a part of an organization. It is not a must that you go and start your own organization, which often than not is Instagram-run organisations that are not registered. Make sure that you are not just running to do your own thing.
make sure that you identify an organization that has a proper structure, and proper leadership and partner with them.
Let your vision roll with that organization. It is always bigger and better to run with something that already has a structure and you amplify the work there than going to start your own. It is better we all work together to achieve more because the goal of having NGOs is to eradicate some problems and not create more problems. So, when you go and do your own thing, we work in silos, we don’t work as a team. The goal is for everyone to work as a team, so identify an organization and make sure that that vision that you see in your dream aligns with them and you amplify the work.