NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil Launch New Initiative to Engage and Empower Nigeria’s Youth

Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, former NBA player Obinna Ekezie and WNBA All-Star Swin Cash tip off “Power Forward,” a program to foster life skills and build health knowledge through basketball in 10 Abuja schools

The National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Africare and ExxonMobil today announced the launch of “Power Forward,” a youth engagement initiative that will use basketball to develop health, leadership and life skills in Nigeria. Nigerian native and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, fellow countryman and former NBA player Obinna Ekezie and three-time WNBA champion Swin Cash joined leading Nigerian government officials in tipping off the program today during a two-day launch event in Abuja.

“Young people are the future of our country,” said Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Nigerian Minister of Sports and Supervising Minister for Youth Development. “The Power Forward initiative will teach young Nigerians teamwork, communication and persistence—the same skills they need to grow into future leaders in their communities.”

“Power Forward” is being introduced at 10 public and private high schools in Abuja and will engage 300 students, with equal representation of boys and girls. The NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil have worked with local school and education officials to develop the innovative program. Africare collaborated with YEDI (Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative) to create the initiative’s comprehensive life skills element.

This includes a curriculum that teaches leadership skills and builds health awareness through a combination of classroom and athletic activities. Students will progress along a clear path, and be evaluated at different stages, so they have goals to strive toward during the program. Each school will have a coach assigned to oversee the curriculum, guide students through lessons and monitor progress. The partners have committed to ensure each institution has the supplies, support and basketball facilities it needs to make this program a success.

“Nigeria’s vibrant youth and sports culture makes the country an ideal place to launch this new initiative to equip tomorrow’s leaders with the skills they’ll need to thrive,” said Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Vice President, Development – Africa. “The NBA and WNBA are committed to working with our partners across Africa to use the power of basketball to positively impact social change. Together with ExxonMobil and Africare, we will promote the core values of our game to help young people learn how to succeed both on and off the court.”

The launch was marked by a two-day “tip-off” event held at the Government Secondary School in Wuse and the Old Parade Ground in Abuja. Olajuwon, Ekezie and Cash joined 100 youth participants on the court for a series of basketball drills. Basketball is Nigeria’s second most popular sport with increased interest at the grassroots level across the country following the national team’s first-ever qualification in the Olympic Basketball Tournament in 2012. Over 20 current and former players with Nigerian descent have played in the NBA, more than any other African country.

“The objectives of the initiative are at the heart of what our federation strives to achieve with the young people we work with: getting them to stay in school and be useful members of society, and cultivating a sound mind in a sound body,” said Tijjani Umar, President, Nigeria Basketball Federation. “This way, the future of the game is also guaranteed in our country. It is therefore natural for us to support this program.”

“We are proud to team up with the NBA, WNBA and ExxonMobil to bring this program to Nigerian youth,” said Darius Mans, President of Africare, the program’s primary implementing partner. “Each organization brings unique skills to this dynamic partnership, and the sum of what we can do together outweighs what each of us could have done alone.”

“Power Forward” is aligned with ongoing efforts of the Nigerian government, such as the Saving One Million Lives campaign, to drive economic prosperity and improve public heath, particularly among youth. This program will bolster these efforts by teaching crucial skills to Nigerian youth. The program is designed so that the initial participants, who will all be in their final three years of high school, can then mentor younger students, magnifying the program’s impact.

“This is an opportunity to help young people in Nigeria develop important skills they need through an innovative community-based program,” said Mark R. Ward, Chairman and Managing Director of ExxonMobil Upstream subsidiaries in Nigeria. “Nigeria’s young people want to make a positive difference in their communities. Our goal is to provide them with the tools to do so.”

In addition to the tip-off event in Abuja, the partnership will include additional milestone events in Nigeria and Washington, D.C. later in the school year. NBA and WNBA players, legends, coaches, and trainers will unite to call attention to the importance of youth empowerment and allow both boys and girls to meet positive role models. Through these events, the partners hope to raise awareness of the importance of investing in youth and galvanize new commitments for action.


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