Meet Opportunity Desk Impact Challenge 2nd Place Winner

Last month, Ayiba’s founder, Eyitemi Popo, judged the Opportunity Desk Impact Challenge 2017 alongside change makers from around the world. We would like to introduce you to the 2nd place winner, Timothy Undiandeye, an artist who creates from recycled waste.

I grew up in Calabar, although we are from Bedia, Obudu, Cross River State. As a kindergartener, I used to be fascinated by lines, shades, and colours. In secondary school, although I was a science student, I represented our school, Federal Government Academy, Suleja at art and literature competitions.

I’m one of those people you can say has a good eye for visual detail. Sometimes, I make art from observing everyday phenomena around me; at other times I just write about them on my blog. Back then in college, I particularly loved the paper mash lessons, more so, because of the prospect of creating stuff using waste paper. By the time we wrote WASSC (2004), I was the only student in the school, the State, and indeed, the entire North-Central region registered for Visual Art.

I would say I overlooked my artistic talent in the early on; art appreciation in Nigeria was still budding. My family and I wanted me to become a medical doctor; the plan was to go in for it after completing my Bachelors in Medical Physiology at the University of Calabar. Meanwhile, my love for aesthetics and the passion to create stuff was growing in wild proportions. I recall I’d once nearly missed an examination because I was consumed by a particular art project. However, I went on to graduate top of my class, bagging the Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award in the process.

During my stint with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), (a mandatory one-year course for Nigerian graduates to inculcate higher ideals of industry and selfless service), I stumbled on a problem which changed my passion and birthed a crucial milestone in my career. I served in a health center, what occupied me for the most part of the service year was Community Development.

While my colleagues lamented the “ruralness” of the Jaji-Maji, the community of our primary assignment, I saw it as an opportunity to make impact, and possibly, win the prestigious Governor’s Award for Community Development. Unfortunately, everything about the environment didn’t seem to encourage carrying out personal Community Development projects. However, one evening, while strolling to the “Gidan Corpers” (lodge of corps’ members), I beheld an inspiring sight. A trail of tailors’ waste was strewn all over the narrow footpath, several yards from the community waste dump. Some of the pieces were really sizeable, in vibrant colours, exciting motifs, and textures.

Then came this brainwave to create a style of art using waste fabric. So, over the next few weeks, I collected fabric waste from tailors. They were quite glad about the service rendered because I saved them the trip to the dump. I would then sort out exciting fabric pieces, cut them up into smaller pieces and create a “fabric palette.” Affixing the pieces was quite painstaking because I wanted detail. My first project was the NYSC brand, and it came out quite well. The piece accentuated my other CDS efforts, including a free Community Health Session, and a satirical currency note intended to buy back the confidence of Nigerians in the NYSC (at the time, many Nigerians called for the scrap of the scheme). At the end of the year, I was awarded the prestigious Governor’s prize for Community Development in Yobe State.

Timothy showing off his artwork

Because of the brewing insecurity in the region at that time (2011), I opted to return to Calabar. I started raking up my career options. So, for me, I found my niche – development work.

In August 2013, I gained employment with Cross River State Microfinance and Enterprise Development Agency (MEDA) as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. I also completed the CBN South-South Entrepreneurship Development Centre (SSEDC) training. All these helped to improve my entrepreneurship perspective.

I didn’t make much art from fabric till after I came in contact with The Bridge Leadership Foundation (TBLF). They helped me keep my visions alive and more passionate, through their Graduate Employability Training. I also had opportunity to showcase my weird fabric merchandise again; this time, a portrait of the erstwhile governor, Mr. Liyel Imoke. Thereafter, it was Sen. Godswill Akpabio and then Prof. Ben Ayade. Then, I heard the British Council was in Calabar and were sponsoring an art exhibition. I made some fabric-inspired pieces and paid for a stand.

I’d been following Opportunity Desk for some years, but it was until I saw the advert for Opportunity Desk Impact Challenge (ODIC). The deadline was a few days away. I considered my peculiar Waste-to-Value story, and I reckoned this is recycling, waste management, and value creation; impactful enough to win. So, I started working on the content of my entry. Both the video and the online application were made and submitted on deadline day.

After submitting my entry, I started thinking more seriously about the goldmines that lie untapped in waste management. Few days after, I watched a documentary on national TV about the environmental hazards of non-biodegradable substances such as used plastic bottles, water sachets, and polythene bags. The Niger-Delta region already is facing a challenge of land and water pollution, and recycling opens up a win-win solution. We’d be saving the environment, while creating several creative products.

Now, fabric art uses up only a small fraction of the total available fabric waste. So, in the weeks that followed, I started my research on recycling of fabric and plastic bottles. I found that several industrial, aesthetic, and educational products could be derived from recycling fabric and plastics. I fine-tuned the business idea and started writing a business plan.

About that time, the ODIC 2016 results came through and, by God’s grace, I finished second.

Most of the accolades I have received have come from that special innate ability to create stuff. Participating in ODIC 2016 has opened up a new frontier for my creative enterprise, Spectabilis Creations. With the burgeoning prospects for the environment and social enterprise, I’m set to pioneer a recycling campaign, Waste to Wealth.

Of course, I’ve had my challenges, but I know any venture without obstacles isn’t worth doing. Challenges will test your resolve and measure your grit. For instance, I wasn’t commissioned to do any of the fabric artworks I’ve made. The process is painstakingly grueling and requires patience. Initially, it would take four weeks to finish one fabric portrait. In that time, I could make about twenty regular portraits. It worried me that I could work only for high-profile clients. My marketing strategy, too, was inadequate. Getting access to these high-profile personalities took months, and I wasn’t exactly making profit commensurate with my level of effort.

When I started volunteering with TBLF, I found it really fulfilling, because I was in a position to positively affect the futures of these young people. We would travel to different Local Government Areas, and facilitate sessions in secondary schools on Personal Development, Leadership, and Community Development. Any time I share my story, I can feel my passion transferred to the young minds.

I think today’s youth need to be more involved in their communities. Pioneering community-based work may not appear altogether attractive, compared to regular paid employment. African youths should stop waiting to be served by the government and other institutions.  Volunteering holds several prospects. It’s like watering a tree, which will provide shade for you and/or your children later in the day.