Onyinye Omenugha is a Nnamdi Azikiwe University law school graduate, currently studying to join the Nigerian bar. She describes herself as a social innovator, a passionate SDG 4 advocate, and a committed changemaker. Her social impact work has earned widespread recognition, including the National Changemaker’s award from the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Networks, 30 Under 30 Rising Stars of the Legal Profession in Nigeria, 25 Under 25 Awards in Education, SuperWoman Under 30 Awards and Leadership Icon of the year award. She has also been recognised as a Queen's Commonwealth Trust Young Leader, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, and most recently, a Princess Diana Awardee. This award is established in honour of Princess Diana to recognise young people working to develop and inspire positive change in communities worldwide.
‘I hope to inspire other young people, particularly Millennium Fellows, to make them see all that is possible when they passionately pursue their visions’.
Onyinye shares that she has been interested in social activism since she was a young girl.
"I've always been that girl. My first act of activism happened when I was about 11. I studied at a remote community primary school in my village which did not have a culture of recognising and rewarding outstanding students. When I graduated and moved to a missionary secondary school, I realised how much positive reinforcement meant to young people who showcase potential for excellence in academics, sports and more. It was clear to me that students generally perform better when they feel seen and appreciated. So during my school break, I returned to my primary school and worked with teachers and students to establish an award-giving day, a tradition that continues till today. I’ll always remember how proud this minor act of initiative made me feel.”
At Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Onyinye served in multiple leadership positions, including as Zonal Director of the Law Association Students of Nigeria. While serving in this role, she had an experience which she says set her down the path of SDG 4-centred, social impact work.
“As Zonal Director I coordinated projects for law students and hosted regional conventions where key players in the legal industry mentored university students. While doing this work, I met a law student with a disability who confided in me all the challenges he faced in law school, ranging from lack of resources, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and more. We appointed him as the first zonal representative for law students with disabilities, enabling him to advocate for other differently-abled undergraduates. But I still felt that I needed to do more. Around that time I learned about the Millennium Fellowship. Something about the social impact training and support in implementing a community impact project deeply resonated, so I applied and created the Fellowship project, ‘LawsanAid’.”
Through Lawsanaid, Onyinye and her team work to ensure law and aspiring law students with disabilities in Africa enjoy quality education in line with the UN SDG 4. They provide support in law school applications, advocacy for inclusivity, and tuition scholarships. The initiative has since been registered in Nigeria as ‘Law Students with Disabilities Aid’.
“What we’ve been able to achieve since the Millennium Fellowship is beyond my wildest dreams. The training and mentorship I received during the Fellowship were crucial, from the social impact speakers, my incredible cohort and program alumni. We convened a continental network of Lawsanaid ambassadors across Africa, from Ghana, Zambia, Morocco, Kenya and more, all of who are helping advance our mission of making law schools equal access areas for students with disabilities. We also collected data on law students with disabilities across various campuses, organised competitions and training, and hosted webinars, seminars, and more. We also provide free legal lessons to students in the network as they prepare for their final exams (Called JAMB in Nigeria)."
Asked about her proudest achievement through the Millennium Fellowship project 'Lawsanaid', Onyinye pinpoints two which are particularly close to her heart; “Over the last two years, we had to learn the ropes when it came to fundraising because we knew the most major challenge differently-abled students were facing was a lack of resources to take themselves through law school. We’ve since been lucky to secure several modest grants, enabling us to pay one student’s entire law school fees and provide them with a reasonable stipend. We’ve also secured a sponsor who supports another student through his studies.”
As a result of this work, Lawsanaid won the Global SDG innovative challenge hosted by the Dubai Government last year. Onyinye sees this as just the beginning of a long career in social impact.
“I am thankful to the Millennium Fellowship because if it wasn’t for the platform it provided me, none of this would have been possible. As a Fellowship applicant, I was challenged to create a Project idea, think critically about my SMART goals and formulate an actual plan.
During the program, the open-door style of leadership inspired me. There was a lot of support from the network, and interacting with the leadership and other campus directors helped me sharpen my leadership and organising skills. Overall, just being within an ecosystem of youth change-makers helps spur you to action. Fast-forward two years and now we are present in multiple countries, solving a niche problem, and helping young disabled Africans apply for and go through law school.
After receiving the Diana Award, Onyinye hopes their work will continue expanding and supporting differently-abled students in need. “This work is far from over. According to the WHO, out of 8 billion people in the world, 1.3 billion people experience a significant disability. The question now is what will we do as young people to make this the most inclusive generation? I hope to be at the forefront of that conversation.
Connect with Onyinye on LinkedIn.
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