Diana Awards: A Conversation with the Next Generation of Leaders

As far as awards go, the Diana Award is as good as it gets for young people aged 9-25 in the social impact space. Handed out by the youth charity eponymous with the Princess Diana, the Diana Award seeks to honour her legacy and preserve her memory. Thus, the panels (20 in all) are global in reach with the central factor for selection from the nominations being the quality of youth social action and humanitarian efforts. Now entering its 25th year, the award honoured 180 young people world over in 2023 and we had two of our own go all the way.

Running the remarkable projects: ‘My Belle Digital, Maternal and Child Health Organisation’ as well as ‘Students on LinkedIn, our award-winning colleagues joined this year’s cohort, representing for their families, our association, our university, all their networks and communities, our country and the continent.

The UIMSA Press had a roundtable sitdown with Messrs Abdulhammed Babatunde(AB) and Covenant Odedele(CO) to celebrate their success, glean from their experiences and try to connect with them on a personal level. Here are excerpts from the interview:

“… there is no better time to do anything. Try to do everything you have to do, whichever way time presents itself.”

Describe Yourself (Including your Background and Profile)

CO: I am Covenant Odedele, a third-year medical student at the University of Ibadan. I am very passionate about social entrepreneurship, civic engagement and leadership development and it has reflected heavily in the decisions that I have taken up, over the years. I founded Students on LinkedIn, a community and resource hub that provides resources on career development and professional networking. I also founded a platform for conversations on Nigerian campuses on how we can take functional steps to develop our dear country, Nigeria.

Upon gaining admission, I knew that I wanted to be a different medical student, not just spend the entirety of my student life studying and doing nothing else. This was thanks to the examples I saw in the people that I looked up to. I also went through the PRIMUS list which strengthened my resolve to not just be a random medical student but to try to also build myself and get engaged otherwise. 

I was quite well known for writing, upon resumption and also nursed a keen interest in leadership, including politics- which informed my decision to seek information, reading up on people who were medical students, at the time, and what they were doing, discovering the PRIMUS list, which was very inspiring.

I had an idea for what I wanted but it was not very clear, so I started going to events, doing some volunteering; considered joining some organisations(which I didn’t eventually do), gaining some level of exposure; working with the Press as well as the Literary and Debating Societies. These formed my first foray into extracurricular activities in my first year.

I picked one of my friends with whom I attended secondary school, Fawaz Bello, and we tried to do something different. We tried to start up a community where we could discuss interesting, innovative things but it didn’t eventually work the way it started but the Students on LinkedIn idea started as an offshoot of that.

After 100L, I wanted to host a physical LinkedIn optimisation session for my classmates as a number of us were uninformed had little information about it.  We tried to secure a venue and all that but it could not work because a lot of us had to leave for the year-end ( December) break and then, considering the fact that it was a general issue- extending beyond my class, we considered coming up with a solution for as many people as were faced with that problem.

That was how we came about Students on LinkedIn and we started developing resources, documenting ideas, and sending out content on our page. Over the past 18 months, we have morphed into a platform that hosts events, helps secure internship opportunities for students and a couple of other things.

From then till now (100L-300L), I have touched on other things- campus journalism , civic engagement ( hosting an event in October; an echoing concourse of the elections- at the time), looking at how to raise serious Nigerians who look beyond politics to proper governance and leadership and how personal transformation can go on to change things in the national grand scheme of things

AB: I am AbdulHameed Babatunde, a final year medical student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. 

I am a social innovator, global health innovator and global health researcher and I have over 20 research publications in credible international journals,have attended some conferences and co-founded My Belle Digital, Maternal and Child Health Organisation as well as The Innovation and Design Thinking Academy(TIDA)– which focuses on increasing access to knowledge that will make young people (especially students) create human-centred, sustainable solutions to our problems and I have also volunteered with several organisations, mostly healthcare-focused ones like Smile Builders, AsidoFoundation, among others.

My social impact work started in 2018 when I volunteered for the Panacea Project in the Feed-a-Child Initiative(FACI) at the Sabo Market. From then, I volunteered for other organizations e.g. UIMSA for the World HIV Day, then I joined Smile Builders and served as member and Director of Graphics and currently serve as Director of Research and Innovation.

Through that, we have been able to carry out different outreaches  impacting a number of people within Ibadan especially, then ASIDO, FAMSA and in 2020, we started the Healthy Africans Platform, as a project when I was with the Clinton Global Health Initiative, trying to improve access and promote health education digitally among young people and we carried out a project on ‘Substance Abuse’ where we went to schools in Ibadan and talked to them using model designs about prevention of substance abuse.

After that, I worked with some other teammates to start My Belle, a digital innovation for pregnant women in Nigeria, especially.

Our mission is to reduce preventable causes of maternal and child mortality by increasing access to information and services that will improve antenatal care that will reduce mortality in the long run. So far, we have made some progress and been involved in some projects in Anambra and Oyo States, partnering with other agencies to distribute vitamins to pregnant women and children, outreaches to Primary Health Care centres in Ibadan and currently trying to promote the mobile app in the Adeoyo Hospital where we have someone to talk to pregnant women everyday and get them to use the app which tries to improve their education with content in the English and Yoruba languages and also helping track their pregnancy over the weeks.

   At TIDA, although it’s a for-profit social enterprise, we try to make our services affordable and bridge the connection gap among young people, organising design-a-thons, etc.

“I really recommend volunteering which is done alongside learning, not just being dormant volunteers…”

Describe Social Impact, in your own Words(Including Skills Required, Long and Short-Term Gains and Setbacks, Advancement Potential and Typical Pathway)

CO: Social impact is basically every endeavour that is devoted to a social cause, trying to solve a particular problem whose solution would change the social context of the problem.

It is not a one-size-fits-all approach and there is really no single way for it. However, there are a couple of things to take note of, in the journey.  For one, it seeks to solve problems that makes people’s lives the better for it. It could be for profit but mostly, social enterprise endeavours are not for profit.

However, there are social enterprises where people gain money and still make impact. When it comes to young people taking up social enterprise roles, one of the things I recommend is that you are true to yourself because, as much as possible, the idea is to ensure you are making impact and getting better, yourself( not being detached from the process).

I believe it’s important for people to volunteer genuinely as AbdulHammed said when he began volunteering with FACI. Similarly, the springboard for me was when I began volunteering with the FAME Foundation, where I gained most of the hands-on experience I needed for my social impact journey that eventually helped me in other things that I did.

I really recommend volunteering which is done alongside learning, not just being dormant volunteers which is why I, in most cases, recommend volunteering for projects, not just organisations, unless in cases where the organisations handle a lot of projects.  It is also important to grow into the process. Most times, you can trace people’s transformation and growth when you see them. So, try to learn by doing, as long as you’re interested.

It is a chain reaction and in your social impact journey, try to be as committed to growth as you would any other thing, as it would  be very rewarding, long-term.

AB: I agree with all that Covenant has said and I think it’s important to add that it might be a lot difficult to identify what you are interested in from the start but, in the long run, one should know their interests and passions. For instance, I have been with Smile Builders since 2019 and I can easily trace what I have done and that is very important, not just shuttling between places.

In all of these, please, also consider your capacity, especially as a student- taking on things you can handle, taking breaks as needed and committing to the growth that comes with it.

There are lots of opportunities e.g. travel scholarships, programmes on training and development, access to certain important personalities when potential is demonstrated.

Nowadays, people are mostly particular about pictures and do very little in terms of measuring the impact- the number of people they received, making links to the work so that people can see the patterns and trends when drafting personal statements, CVs, etc.

Efforts should also be made to improve skills to enjoy the benefits, using Progress Agboola and I as pointers to the benefits.

Who are the Biggest Names in the Business and who is/are your Biggest Influence(s)?

AB: When I started out with the Panacea Project, everybody on the team was inspirational to me, Doctors FolajimiAdesanya, Olaoluwa Olorunfemi, Olanrewaju ( Founder, Smile Builders), Pharmacist Adebisi Yusuff(global health research and impact) who I saw and worked with closely.

There are a couple of other people that I observe and understudy from a distance e.g. Mr OlugbengaOgunbowale (whose organisation I volunteered with in December, 2018, going to orphanage homes).

Currently, I try to mirror doctors Isaac Olufadewa,Adejoke Lasisi, who have been consistent in their line of work for the past five years, with their names regularly being mentioned in international rooms of young Nigerians that are making impact having built sustainable social enterprises.

CO: I would start by saying that the list is inexhaustible. I have realised how different people inspire you at different stages of your journey. A lot of people contribute to the energy that keeps one going.

To the best of my knowledge, I can remember the members of the 2k15 class who were leaving just as I got here- doctors Bolu Aderohunmu, Chinedu Nwaduru, Tofunmi Omiye, Segun Afolarammi. They were like ‘gods’ to me, then as they had strong extracurricular profiles and were still solid academically. They did so much in six years… you would wonder. So inspirational.

When I resumed school, doctors Olaoluwa Olorunfemi, Folajimi Adesanya, Esther Ajari, Titus Adekunle, Semiloore Peace Atere were so inspiring and supportive. My boss here with us, Abdulhammed Babatunde, as well as Gladys Ibrahim, similarly so.

Looking across the board, in other medical schools- Dr Seyi Animashaun (Ilorin), I have also worked with the founder of the FAME Foundation Raphael Stephen), Jesudamilare Adesegun David, a good number of people that I might not be able to mention now and my friends doing very inspiring things and it has been a pleasure learning from them and using what they have done in the past as a standard.

What are the Best and Rest Seasons in your Line of Work? 

CO: Not all days are good, not all days are bad. The fact that we are in medical school can be a very unique challenge to how one approaches extracurriculars.

Looking back, I have had some very good times, even when school was in session and similarly so when school was on break. During the strike last year was a very good time when I consolidated on the things I knew and made some decisions on how I wanted to approach any social impact journey.

When school resumed, it was quite difficult to keep up because it was a different phase entirely because I was beginning preclinical school and could not continue with the way it was during the strike. At the point during the year when I felt like I got my balance better, I felt that I could continue. This time, with some rhythm.

Around that period, we organised LinkedIn Local, Ogbomosho. I was not directly involved but I would have been more difficult if the timing was at the beginning of the school year. So, it has been a mix for me, both ways.

During the last break we had in July/August, it was a good time for me to catch up on things as it was quite favourable, too. The idea is to not give up whatever one is doing for very unreasonable reasons.

Draw inspiration from people, and leverage your community of friends; let me add that there is no better time to do anything. Try to do everything you have to do, whichever way time presents itself.

“If it does not work out well, evaluate. If it does, replicate.”

On good days, we thank God. On bad days, we try not to make it obvious.

AB: For me, my best seasons are after completing a particular project. Nothing stands out for me, in particular, but it has been very good, so far.

The big wins like winning challenges, and attending the OneYoung World Summit. The rest seasons, perhaps, will be getting some rejection emails.

How do you Combine Academics with Work?

AB:I get this question a lot and I always say that I would prefer to answer when I am done with medical school. Currently, I will say that I have been able to combine to some extent because I cut out some things e.g. some draining recreational activities.

During the breaks and strikes, I try to maximise the time, too. There are some places where you would hardly find me, so I get to use the time for other things.

To an extent, I think it has affected my academic capacity as one might not be at their top performance levels so there is the need to make some personal sacrifices. I also try to use my strengths well and manage my time properly. For instance, I study quite quickly and when I, say, have to write papers, I do so as quickly as I can too; gaining speed to do quite a lot in the shortest possible time. We thank God for good health, too.

CO: AbdulHammed set a good precedent by saying all of that and they work for me also. When he made the final statement, I realised just how much of a role good health plays in how things turn out, so we thank God for good health.

Basically, the answer stems from knowing oneself. I can only tell you how I have been able to work things and my schedule and how it works for me, as a person. So, my first recommendation will be to identify how one reacts to things, manages stress, the fear of failure, uncertainties and so on. It reflects heavily on decision-making which eventually helps one manage time.

Like he said, I cut down on a lot of excesses. For academics, I try to make sure I’m not detached from school work and make sure that school work is central to everything that I am doing. Literally what ‘extra-curricular’ applies; taking on other things, while staying in the ‘curriculum’.

I also ‘sprint’ ( like times when you have to do a lot of stuff outside school, so you cover a lot of ground in your schoolwork). Now that I think of things, some of the most daring things I did were during breaks. However,  I know that there will not always be that privilege and one has to do some things during school periods, too and it all boils down to adequate planning and preparation.

Do you Have any Ongoing Projects not Featured by the Award?

CO: Thank you very much. The Diana Awards recognises only humanitarian efforts with social impact done at no cost to the beneficiaries. Due to the caveat, you would not expect them to cover all of one’s endeavours save for the ones that fit into that context but spotlight just one ( Students on LinkedIn).

Some of my other engagements include The Congress in October, last year, volunteering with the FAME Foundation, and taking up leadership positions on my campus that do not necessarily feature due to the context and nuance that do not necessarily fit in.

AB: For me- Smile Builders, Asido FoundationFAMSA constitute the other organisations that I have engaged with.


1. How did it Feel to Win the Award, joining Pharm. Adebisi Yusuff Adebayo as recipients from the University of Ibadan?

   CO: I should also mention Dr Fawaz Oyebamiji from the graduating class of 2019 ( 2k15) who also got the Diana Legacy Award in addition to the Diana Awards, after graduation. It was a proud moment for me, as it is quite a prestigious award; in the UK, more so. I participated in some US exchange programmes and began to fully understand the import of it and it is such a huge privilege, for me.

Pharm. Yusuff got his’ in-between leaving school and COVID.

The Award brings with it some benefits one might not really pay attention to and brings with it some level of leverage. It has given me renewed drive and impetus to want to better this. Interestingly, I had not met Pharm. Yusuff until recently and it was just a great moment. 

I ran into him somewhere around the campus. He referred to me as ‘Diana’ and it was such a humbling moment that perfectly encapsulates my response to the question. I count it a privilege to share this platform with people like them and AbdulHammed.

AB: I am surprised that Covenant still used this opportunity to ‘whine me but it is a great privilege and I am so glad.

Pharmacist Adebisi Yusuff is my mentor and he was the one who nominated me for the awards so I was glad when he nominated me for the award and later informed me that he got an email that I had been selected.

He is a very inspirational and humble person that a lot of people look up to. He had over 50 publications before graduation, along with his great international strides.

I have always been following in his footsteps from secondary school ( which we attended together) and I am glad that I have been able to adapt them to my own peculiarities. It is an honour and I hope that more students follow through and get the award.

Comment On the Recognition by Mr Peter Obi and the Circumstances Surrounding it.

CO: It is a very dicey question when you explore the context of what happened and I just feel like it just reflects one of my strong stances on personal leadership and I still stay true to that. I asked the lady in question and from my engagements with other Diana Award recipients, here’s what happened:

First of all, Nigerians could be very sensational beings with our sentiments tending to be very obvious, as we portray them loudly. The lady in question was not even aware because of the way the Award works, recipients are encouraged to get a lot of features to get people talking about it in the print media, broadcast media, new media or what have you.

She was an MCN fellow when she was on campus as she is a law graduate. The MCN featured her and she got some publicity that made someone who I presume to be a handler on PO’s media team want to spotlight her. Of course, the obvious sentiment is the tribal one so I understand the reaction.

Strong lessons that I have learnt are that it is very important for people in public service to get their fact-finding correct.

I really love the idea of what PO did. He is one of the few people who come to mind apart from the former vice-chancellor, Prof. Idowu Olayinka who does as much as possible to spotlight students and Nigerians doing great stuff to encourage people and showcase Nigerian excellence and it made me see how, however good-intentioned, information should be accurately sourced because you can do the right thing the wrong way. The apology fell back on someone like me and other award recipients.

Interestingly, PO is the one who says ‘Go and Verify’. Thankfully, it was well managed and all that is behind us, now.

AB: For me, I try to shy away from controversies. I did not know about it directly but one of my friends was tagged and he told me about it.

I did not really see it as important because he could just have congratulated the person that he knows but people took it personally because a presidential aspirant so I did not really see any fault on his part, especially since the post was edited.

Recently, he congratulated the best WAEC candidates and he tried to mention everybody. It was not a major concern, for me.

2. In your Opinion, What Gave you the Edge in the Selection Process?

AB: The way it works is that you are nominated by someone after assessing about 6 items on the checklist. What I imagine it would be is the relevance of what we were doing, the potential, the eligibility, the impact, the consistency, the visibility and a bit of fact-checking.

CO: believe AB has touched on how it works. As he said, it is not something that you apply for by yourself but that you are nominated for, having met the criteria of being aged 19-25, having been doing the project for over a year and one must be doing something worthwhile even when it is not so convenient so that they can see the effort you are making to improve the lives of other people, one’s growth journey in the experience, the motive that led one to try to solve the problem and the practicality to one’s community.

“You cannot solve a problem that you are entirely detached from…”


3. Talk us through your Initiatives and Projects (My Belle Digital Maternal and Child HealthOrganisation, Students on LinkedIn)- Initiative to Finish-iative

– Did You Have this(or any other) Award in Mind?

– Touch on the User Research and User Testing You did for your Programmes

CO: I have realised that human-centred design thinking is so important. Whatever solution that is being mooted is one that must have been discovered from interactions with other people who encounter that particular problem. You cannot solve a problem that you are entirely detached from.

It was as I said earlier for the Students on LinkedIn and then, there were no LinkedIn events. We partnered to do LinkedIn Local Oyo which is now 2 editions in. Then, the Lagos and Ogbomosho events followed.

Seeing loopholes and trying to plug them makes the whole process much easier and progress gets made. These days, fragmented communities are being created on topics even beyond LinkedIn to general social and digital media leverage, and career pathways, with others seeing the promise in it and trying to chart a different course for themselves- creating a ripple effect.

AB: For MyBelle, there is no finish-iative because we are constantly working and initiating. We started in 2020 during the pandemic. We have been using the design thinking approach and even during the lockdown, we were able to interact with pregnant women in the State Hospital in Oyo.

We are going to publish a paper on the entire process. At each phase, we carried people along, trying to shape perspectives. We launched it last year and we are still open to making modifications on the mobile app.

Regardless of the challenges, we are still trying to push through.

4. What Do you Enjoy Most about your Work and What were the Contributing Factors to your Success?

AB: It is the fact that we are trying to innovate and solve problems. I have been interested in this from a young age. People have often said that Medicine might not be my strongest point and I have been able to adapt my problem-solving skills to solve healthcare-related problems.

People that I look up to, programmes that I have participated in, my seniors, friends and family have also contributed to my success. In a way, I consider myself to be lucky with human resources and experiences.

CO: For me, I find myself doing the things I do over and over again because I particularly enjoy it and derive fulfilment from it. It always feels like I am living the kind of life that I should be living and it is so nice to see that my actions and decisions have gone on to improve a whole lot of people to start doing things.

People had doubts when I started in year 1, but now my class is on a winning streak and I can say that one way or the other, we have inspired each other to believe there are no limits to what we can achieve. The beauty of growth, the conversations with friends in UI and LAUTECH, including Praise Ogunleke, Oladotun Ajayi, John Eriomala and others which last for hours and it is inspiring to see what we discussed coming to life while looking forward to having others fulfilled.

Contributing factors include human resources, providence, support, shared opportunities, mentorship, family, evaluation and periodic assessments. We look forward to more interesting days ahead.

5. What were the Challenges you Faced in the Projects and How did you solve them?

CO: Across board with the projects that I have done, one major problem is resources. I am a very pro-Nigeria person but I also believe that it is quite difficult to dream in Nigeria. Not just survival- but trying to thrive.

The structure of things, bureaucracy from parastatals, getting the right team to work with, studentship demands, fundraising, timing. We need it all to come together for a successful outcome. Basically, time and chance.

AB: I agree with everything that he said. Getting approval and support from government ministries for grants has sometimes proven to be difficult or even impossible.

“For me, the trend should be Impact—Posturing—Visibility…”

6. What are your Thoughts on Visibility v Posturing v Impact and How do you Measure Impact?

AB: Visibility is not necessarily one of my strongest points but it is very important. My thought is that one tries to work on impact the most and trusts that the work will speak- and it most likely would. It is also important that one builds their brand in a manner that is consistent with their ideals and interests.

The Diana Awards gave me the most impressions on my twitter, to date. For me, the trend should be Impact—Posturing—Visibility, rather than the other way around.

Measuring impact could be short-term or long-term – the number of people that you provided the information or services to, the online reach and then, follow-up to assess the impact and gain feedback.

CO: I am of the opinion that it is based on personality and personal choices. There are people who believe in online presence and photo ops. I am not necessarily moved by that and for most people that I follow,  the best of their achievements are not featured in the public space and I only found out on close access.

Like AB said, I believe in focusing on honing one’s craft, improving oneself as over time, it would tell. For us founders, it is more important to put visibility on the enterprise, rather than self.

     Eventually, they would seek out the brain behind the idea and put them out. My followership also soared with the Diana Awards and the acknowledgement saga.

AB spoke on the long and short-term levels, and I would speak on the personal and corporate levels. Impact, for me, is how people draw from my actions to want to also make an impact and do things better.

What’s the Impact of the Diana Award on your Future Social Impact Work? Please, touch on the Opportunities it has opened you up to.

CO: The Diana Award is not a monetary award, prestigious as it is. It is more of opportunities and a network of people. UK/US networks and programmes come with a high priority for previous award recipients in that mode.

AB: They are organising events for winners and we are aware of the benefits when applying for programmes in the UK/US so it provides credibility and visibility.

The Future

7. What does the Future Hold for you on a Personal Level, on a Professional Level, as Regards Social Impact, Nigeria and her Youth?

   CO: The future holds so much promise. I want to learn better, gain more exposure, explore partnerships, meet people, scale my social impact work(in location and numbers) and get global platforms.

AB: I hope and pray that things get better and I hope to be able to lead more projects,  particularly in Healthcare in African countries to improve health and well-being.

1. What Advice do you have for People Struggling with Establishing Start-ups and What are your Recommendations for Social Impact Hopefuls and Prospects?

AB: I also struggle with that but I recommend starting early, having a great team, being diligent, being ready to make sacrifices, being consistent regardless of challenges and prioritising collaboration rather than competition.

CO: To recap, stay true to the process. A very good launching pad is volunteering, so do so and go out for events that interest you to learn, meet people, and get exposed to opportunities.

2. As a global young leader and role model, What are your final words for UIMSAites, students, young people and the world at large?

CO: I would use my favourite quote from Margaret Mead which says: ‘Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it is the only thing that ever has’. Keep learning, keep developing yourself, you would get on the grandstand someday and it will work.

ABIt is very important to be consistent and to persevere with the cause that one believes in.

Thanks for your time!

INTERVIEWERS: Daniel Akintayo, Victoria Aladi, Akinbobola Ayinla and Tolulope Odueko.

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