When Ishaku Lemu Haruna left Nigeria for Australia in 2013—as part of Northeastern’s Global Leadership Program—his wife, Washina, was eight months pregnant with their first child and Haruna had never before traveled outside of Africa.
Haruna knew the two-year dual master’s degree program would challenge him academically, socially, and emotionally—moving to a different continent to pursue dual Master of Science degrees in biotechnology and leadership will do that. Also weighing in the back of his mind was his own family history, which those close to him feared would set an ominous precedent.
Through stories from his mother and others, Haruna learned that his father had been away, studying and teaching in a different part of Africa, when Ishaku himself was born. Tragically, his father died in an accident on his way back to see Ishaku, and the two never met.
“Now here I am, going off to study, and I’m going to miss the birth of my son or daughter,” Haruna recalled. “People who knew me and my family were connecting these scenarios and it was a bit heavy. But deep down within me, I knew, if I take on this scholarship I was going to learn a lot, and that would benefit me, my family, and the community at large. I was looking toward the end to find the strength.”
Their fear turned out to be for naught. Haruna met his healthy baby boy, Ishaku, Jr., not long after he was born. Today, he and Washina also have a nearly 6-month-old daughter, Semaiah, and Haruna says his experience in Northeastern’s Global Leadership Program chartered a new course for his life.
Opening doors of opportunity
In 2013, Haruna won a prestigious AUSAID-funded Australian Award in Africa scholarship, setting him up to be eligible to participate in Northeastern’s Global Leadership Program, conducted in partnership with the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. The program is designed to prepare students to be global leaders through a rigorous lineup of accelerated coursework and real-world experience. Students earn both a Master of Science degree in leadership from Northeastern and a Master of Science degree in another designated field from Swinburne in just two years.
Haruna said the opportunity was too good to turn down.
“The first time I saw this dual master’s program, I thought to myself, ‘If only I had the opportunity to study that.’ By the time I returned, it would say a lot in my city and open up a whole lot of doors of opportunity for me,” he said.
Haruna had been working as a graduate assistant at Gombe State University in Nigeria prior to winning the scholarship. He works there today as a lecturer.
Between a language barrier presented by the mix of Nigerian and Australian accents and pure culture shock, Haruna’s move to Australia brought significant challenges from the start.
“One thing that kept happening at first was I would hear my teacher say to check Blackboard for announcements or assignments,” he recalled with a laugh, referring to the online academic management system. “The only blackboard I knew was the conventional blackboard that you write on. I didn’t know it was also the name of a computer program.”
Haruna quickly overcame these obstacles, though, and excelled in the program. In 2014, he served as a delegate to the G-20 Youth Summit in Germany, and later to the Swinburne University’s Scholars Leadership Symposium in the Philippines.
I see leadership now through the lens of service to humanity, as opposed to occupying a political position. I see it as an activity, and not just a position. And in that case, anyone, anywhere, can be a leader at any time.
—Ishaku Haruna, Global Leadership Program alumnus
He graduated from the program at the top of his class with an impressive array of awards to his name, including the Council of International Students Australia 2014 Excellence Award for International Student of the Year.
Seeing leadership ‘through the lens of service to humanity’
The Global Leadership Program, he said, redefined for him what leadership could be.
“It changed my whole understanding of leadership,” Haruna said. “In Australia, I was able to engage myself in volunteering, something that we don’t have a whole lot of opportunity for down here [in Nigeria]. I see leadership now through the lens of service to humanity, as opposed to occupying a political position. I see it as an activity, and not just a position. And in that case, anyone, anywhere, can be a leader at any time.”
That new understanding fueled a fire within Haruna to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable in his own community upon his graduation and return to Nigeria.
“A lot of thing were going on in my community for so long, but nobody talked about them because it seemed normal,” he said. “But your eyes open once you’ve been overseas.”
For example, he said, Bello Central Primary School, the elementary school in Dadinkowa, Nigeria, had not had proper furniture for decades. “Kids sit and place books on their lap to write, and I thought, ‘We could give them a better learning environment at least.’”
And so he did. Haruna said he appealed to well-respected clergy members to mobilize their congregations around this issue, and the community worked together to provide furniture for the school.
His work didn’t stop there, though.
While he was still in Melbourne, Haruna developed a proposal that would “cushion the impact of poverty and joblessness” in his community, as he described it. He submitted the proposal to the Rotary Club International, which awarded him a grant to establish the first Basic Literacy and Vocational Training Center in Gombe.
The center targets the vulnerable in the community—women and youth—and equips them with educational training and vocational skills, and Haruna said they are looking at ways to expand the center, due to its overwhelming success.
Creating a sustainable revitalization
At the Global Leadership Program pinning ceremony in 2015, Haruna’s cohort chose his nonprofit organization, the All4One Educational Trust Foundation, for its annual pledge of support and fundraising. Global Leadership students, faculty, and alumni raised roughly $1,000 for the foundation, which takes a grassroots approach to improving education in rural Nigerian communities. The money raised in particular went toward establishing a library in a secondary school in Billiri, Nigeria.
I always knew I had this thing within my heart to reach out to the less privileged, but I just never had the confidence, the self-belief, the knowledge and understanding that I as an individual—not a politician, not someone occupying government office—could do it, prior to this whole experience.
—Ishaku Haruna, Global Leadership Program alumnus
Haruna knew that creating a sustainable revitalization of Billiri would take more than outside funding, however, and mobilized the community to donate as well, ultimately matching the Global Leadership contribution dollar-for-dollar.
“That was big. The mentality of people here generally is that it is not our responsibility to contribute to projects like this,” Haruna said. People instead generally wait for government intervention, he noted.
“But these are problems I passed through in school two-and-a-half decades ago,” he said. “If the government were going to help, they would have helped by now.”
The community input on the library project “goes a long way in showing people that it is our collective responsibility,” Haruna said. “It lends a sense of ownership to that project, a sense of human dignity. That’s what will make it sustainable.”
Providing a platform to help
For his next project, Haruna and members of his foundation identified a school in another rural town in Nigeria that had no roof, windows, or doors.
“The students had been struggling for over a decade,” Haruna said. “When it was about to rain, they would have to send students home.”
Haruna again partnered with the Global Leadership Program, this time appealing to the 2016 cohort. Members raised roughly $1,500 for the construction needed on the school. And again, Haruna looked to community volunteers for help. And again, he succeeded.
“I was able to mobilize young people from the community to go into these villages and provide direct labor—that’s the first time the word ‘volunteer’ has come up, as far as these young people were concerned,” he said. “The importance was not really in the roof, the doors, the windows we’re providing—though those were important—it’s really the impact of that activity on the whole community. This tells me there are a whole lot of people out there willing to dedicate time, resources, and energy to others, they just don’t have the platform to do that yet.”
The platform, or perhaps, the right leader.
This summer, Haruna won a prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a program created by President Barack Obama that brings young leaders to the U.S. for academic coursework and leadership training.
Haruna said more than 50,000 people applied for the fellowship. Only 1,000 were selected.