‘….it is the countless deeds of unknown people who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history’ ― Howard Zinn
Laura Claus is a PhD Candidate at Cambridge Judge Business School working on topics around social movements and social innovation. As part of her research, she has traveled countries including Tanzania, Indonesia, and recently Nigeria.
Nowadays, everyone seems to want to create impact. Yet, in the face of challenges, as individuals we sometimes feel that there is considerably little we can do.
Impact as in changing the world
Many people seem to believe that ‘achieving impact’ equates ‘changing the world.’ That means that real impact translates into eradicating poverty, curing deathly diseases, or ending world hunger. And without doubt, these are noble causes to be committed to: one in five people in developing regions still live on less than $1.25 a day, millions of which suffer from hunger, limited access to education and social exclusion – until these statistics become the only benchmarks for impact creation.
Because as these numbers rise and potential solutions appear inaccessible to us as individuals, our hands often feel tied. This not only opens up space for cynicism but also ultimately gives way to a sense of resignation.
Impact in a different way
But impact can mean different things. And I’ve become increasingly aware of those during my travels to Nigeria not long ago. During my time in the capital Abuja, I met the most wonderful, inspiring members of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) activist group. The group formed after the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, a poverty-stricken town in the North-East of Nigeria by Boko Haram in 2014. Everything the group initially demanded was (and still is) the rescue of the kidnapped girls out of Boko Haram’s hands.
Boko Haram is – ahead of ISIS – the deadliest militant Islamist group in the world. Every year, the terrorist group abducts hundreds of children and women in Nigeria to make them their sex slaves, child brides, or turn them into suicide bombers. Boko Haram has made over two million Nigerian citizens homeless, of which nearly 60 per cent of the so-called internally displaced persons (short: refugees) are children.
BBOG is an eclectic group of affected family members, famous national activists, and young citizens that feel compelled to fight for social justice. Every day from 17:00 to 18:00, the group comes together at Unity Fountain, a little park in the centre of Abuja where they demonstrate for the return of the abducted girls. Many activists travel hours to attend the daily protests. Since the abduction of the Chibok girls two years ago, it has not passed a single day that the group has failed to meet.
I arrived in Abuja on day #683 of the daily protests. I will let Jeff, one of the activists I have come to meet in Nigeria, tell their story.
Jeff Okoroafor is one of the Bring Back Our Girls movement members and a Nigerian-based civil rights activist. He is the founder and president of OpinionNigeria, a platform that covers today’s most pressing issues and which won the United Nations World Summit Award in 2013.
Impact as a ripple effect: The story of Nigerians’ fight for justice
Laura arrived on day #683 of our daily advocacy and day #698 of our Chibok girls’ abduction – right at the zenith of our movement, but also a time of exhaustion from consistent daily advocacy, which, of course is expected when a struggle stretches too long without results.
Our first protest happened on 30 April 2014 – under heavy downpour – exactly 16 days after the abduction and after we had contacted the Goodluck Jonathan administration to act swiftly but instead were met with stiff resistance and denial. From April 2014 to March 2015, the government did absolutely nothing. Maybe not entirely true, in fact, what we did see was an orchestrated effort to malign us and look for reasons to indict several of our members.
On 8 July 2015 we met with our new President, Mr Muhammadu Buhari, and while collaboration seemed initially promising, promises did not turn into actions and we were struck by disappointment again. We had put a lot of work into developing a variety of tools (e.g., Citizen Solution to End Terrorism, Missing Persons’ Register, and the Verification, Authentication and Reunification (VARS) system) to help rescue our girls and fight Boko Haram. Nothing happened.
Over the last two years, we have experienced all kinds of resistance, deceit, denial, as well as verbal and physical attack during the Jonathan-led government, with no result as to the rescue of our girls. But for us in the BBOG movement, we made a vow – Not Until Our Girls Are Back And Alive, Not Without Our Daughters – meaning we will demand until all abducted Chibok girls are rescued, even if it means just one of us left standing. Because as I often say, it would be catastrophic for history to record 276 abducted teenagers by a militant group of twisted religious ideology – and that it would say that we stood by and did nothing.
Bundles of joy were brought to us yesterday, Wednesday 18 May, as the news of Amina Ali’s discovery reached us. Amina was one of the 276 Chibok girls taken by Boko Haram on 14 April 2014. Amina was found precisely on day #765 since the abduction and day #750 of our daily protests.
19 May news of the second rescued Chibok girl. More to be confirmed.
We believe that this unfolding miracle – you have to imagine these girls were held captive for over 2 years by Boko Haram – is the result of 765 days of protest and resilience, with more days to come. It is sometimes tiring to show up and has been painful at times. Many people had given up on us, told us to stop.
When we come to Unity Fountain every day, we often do not see the immediate results of being there. Now, these 765 days are coming together. And that is when impact becomes visible.
What impact can also mean
by Laura Claus
When we think about the generation of impact or social innovation more broadly, we often tend to think about the most immediate fixes; those solutions that promise to get us to our intended goals the fastest. And admittedly, directly observing the effect of our actions is probably the most rewarding form of impact creation. But as the BBOG movement shows, making an impact can mean many more things, such as coming out to meet for 765 straight days (and continuing) with nothing but the hope that these daily actions will aggregate into impact one day.
Without the pressure and daily public visibility of the movement in Nigeria, it is fairly questionable whether the abduction of the Chibok girls would have been remembered, let alone the girls – slowly starting to – be rescued.
What’s more, the movement has achieved many more – initially unintended – milestones in the process. Besides improving the accountability and transparency of Nigeria’s government, contributing to the fight against corruption, and many other aspects that would be for another blog, BBOG has become a symbol for the fight against terrorism. And that not just nationally but, with supporting advocates like Barack and Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Malala Yousafzai, a global statement against terrorism all over the world.
To learn more about BBOG, please visit http://www.bringbackourgirls.ng
From left to right: Fatima Abakakar, Bukky Shonibare, Jeff Okoroafor, Aisha Yesufu, and Laura Claus
References: UN Database 2016
 Global Terrorism Index 2015
 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, UN High Commissioner for Refugees 2016