From Nigeria to the World: How We Brought a UN Award Home from Bonn

Chambers Umezulike

On 30 April 2019, two of my colleagues and I began our trip to Bonn, Germany for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Global Festival of Action (GFoA) 2019. Our social accountability initiative, Follow The Money, had been nominated for the 2019 UN SDG Mobilizer Award. The Award recognizes individuals, organizations, government institutions, foundations etc. who are advancing the global movement for the SDGs in the most transformative, impactful and innovative way. Representatives of nominated initiatives in each category were expected to be at Bonn for the Announcement of the winners.

Chambers holding the 2019 UN SDG Mobilizer Award

The GFoA is an annual event organized by the United Nations (UN) SDG Action Campaign, an initiative of the UN Secretary-General. The festival celebrates, empowers and connects the global community driving Action for the SDGs. It provides a space to showcase the latest innovations, and approaches to SDG implementation, while linking organizations and individuals from different sectors and regions to build partnerships. The SDGs Action Campaign aims to advocate and engage the public on the SDG implementation, while empowering and inspiring the world to achieve the SDGs. To operationalize this mandate, the SDG GFoA came to life. This year’s GFoA was slated from 2 – 4 May.

As we waited to board our flight to Bonn, I had mixed feelings. I was excited about the festival and at the same time, my mind was racing – We had been shortlisted as a finalist for the UN SDG Action Award  from over  2,000 applications from 142 countries of the world. It still feels a little surreal.

Personally, I knew we deserved the  recognition and had to bring it home. Such an award is a commendation of our team’s back-breaking efforts in mobilizing communities to hold the government to account and facilitate the implementation of SDGs 3, 4 and 6 in their communities. As the one leading the programmatic wheel since 2017, I was sure the recognition would inspire the team  to keep reaching communities and impacting lives. And if we did not bring it home – haha, this part kept my mind racing until the winners were announced on day 1 of the festival.

Sharing the methodology of Follow The Money with my colleague, Zaliha

We touched down at Bonn in the afternoon of May 1, checked into our hotel rooms, had a quick shower and hurried to the World Conference Centre Bonn, venue of the festival. We registered for the big event and attended a 2-hour on-boarding session for the award finalists.I barely slept that night. I was so anxious to hear the announcement of winners of the SDG Awards, the next day.

On the first day of the festival, the grand opening plenary caved way for showcasing excellent initiatives from across the globe delivering solutions for the SDGs. The day was full of sessions on intellectual discourse around global issues and solutions that seek to eradicate poverty, through sustainable and inclusive human development (many of which Follow The Money team was on the stage to speak about). Later that evening,  the UN SDG Action Awards Ceremony started.

Founder of Follow The Money International, Hamzat Lawal, giving his acceptance speech on receiving the award.

The winners for each of the 7 categories were announced. I could not contain my excitement when Follow The Money was announced the winner of the Mobilizer category. Follow The Money emerged winner of the 2019 UN SDG Mobilizer of the Year! I was so overjoyed, that I would not stop screaming for a long time. Our team Lead, Hamzat Lawal received the award and gave an acceptance speech. On that same platform, he launched the Follow The Money 2018 Report to the world. It was indeed a remarkable evening. We received so many accolades on many media platforms both home and abroad. Our twitter account was bursting with notifications of congratulatory messages. At Bonn, we were celebrated- people shook our hands, hugged us, asked to take pictures with Follow The Money team, asked if they could know more about our cause, expressed interest in tracking government spendings in their localities, the accolades were endless. We were overwhelmed and interestingly so. We exchanged business contacts with many other outstanding initiatives, had meaningful chats with SDG Global Fest delegates, and  received a warm DJ reception at the cash bar.

The second day of the festival was also splendid. We had several sessions, networked and met with potential partners that could drive the Follow The Money Movement in other parts of the world. The day also featured a festival walk to the Rhine river. On the third day, we had an hour session where we shared, in details, the methodology of our Follow The Money work, we also rubbed minds with other finalists in our category, answered questions about Follow The Money movement and were receptive to comments.

At the front of Dom Kom, in Cologne

Everything about the Global fest was mind blowing–from the impressive brand messages, aesthetics, calibre of panelists and discussants, quality of intellectual conversations, presentations, and most importantly, learning about other outstanding initiatives across the globe.

The festival afforded us a great opportunity to explore collaborations, learn, establish synergy and foster cooperation with several organizations. We built strategic alliances and  are currently discussing with colleagues from Canada, South Sudan, Catalonia, Malawi and Philippines who are interested in starting Follow The Money in their countries.

Bonn was so beautiful and had a green landscape. It was inspiring to see that Germany is taking the lead on environmental sustainability and sustainable growth. We also touched down Cologne to visit some awesome tourist sites. Thanks to the Chinese restaurants in Bonn – hahahahaha 🙂 if you know, you know.

This was a remarkable experience and I believe with this UN SDG Award, Follow The Money can do more to ensure people hold their elected representatives and governments accountable for development projects and this will ultimately bring more people, especially at the grassroots, out of poverty, making it possible to achieve the United Nations SDGs before 2030.

Follow The Money movement is growing, with citizens signing up to hold their governments to account, ensure judicious spending of government and international funds to improve service delivery and eradicate poverty.

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