The SEED Project’s annual fundraiser was the premier party for 2017 NBA draft week The program develops African basketball and academic talent and the importance of giving back

On June 21 more than 300 exclusive guests entered the Marquee New York dance and nightclub for the 5th Annual Seed Summer Party, a fundraiser that helps raise money for more than 2,000 students in Senegal, Gambia and the United States participating in the SEED Project.

The West African-themed upscale shindig has become one of New York’s premier summer pre-NBA draft events. The West African vibes, food from celebrity chef Pierre Thiam, and an exclusive private auction, were all in the name of fun and philanthropy.

The SEED (Sport for Education and Economic Development) Project is an international nongovernmental organization that uses sports, specifically basketball, as a way to identify, cultivate and educate leaders. According to its website, SEED works to maximize student potential in educational activities while emphasizing leadership and social responsibility. The organization is based in Senegal and serves 2,000 youths a year, ages 6 to 19, with boarding and after-school athletic, academic and leadership programs in accordance with the principles of education, life skills and responsible citizenship.

NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, said the event fared very well.

“It’s always exciting to, first of all, see those young men and women who’ve been through the program, the SEED Project in Senegal, as they move on to have an opportunity to pursue their education, get a college degree, and continue to play basketball,” Fall said. “To have them come to New York and share their stories with supporters and people who are interested in finding out more about what SEED is about. They [SEED team in New York] did a fantastic job, just a great location and a great turnout. We’re pleased.”

Since 2002, 92 percent of the Seed Project’s graduates have attended university or secured a job upon leaving the program. Fifty-nine percent of graduates have earned scholarships to attend U.S.-based universities.

Fall said the most important aspect of the SEED Project is for it to continue to be in a position to “provide opportunity for young boys and girls who have a passion and a desire to achieve big things, just a holistic approach in terms of using basketball as a conduit to really impact these young lives.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about motivating these young people to have an interest, to take on their responsibility in terms of what they can contribute to the future of Africa,” Fall explained. “I’ve always told them, if Africa’s ever going to have a chance of true development, it has to be able to rely on its youth, which are the biggest asset, more than 65 percent of the population, and it’s only going to get younger in the future. SEED’s mission is really to use basketball to empower and get these young people to focus on their education and learning to be good citizens and having a sense of responsibility towards their community.

“So the most important things for me is just to see them continue to grow as human beings. I think sports come third in bottom row there. Obviously, the values of the game of basketball teach them to be disciplined, to set goals, and learn to work as a team.”

In May, the NBA and SEED Project announced the official opening of NBA Academy Africa, an elite basketball training center in Thies, Senegal, for the top male and female prospects from throughout Africa. NBA Academy Africa is the first of its kind on the continent. Twelve elite male prospects will be selected following scouting programs conducted with local federations across Africa and elite skills camps hosted in Thies that started in May and will end in December. All 12 prospects will receive scholarships and training at NBA Academy Africa.

Besides NBA Academy Africa, the NBA and SEED Project also announced their plan to launch a new NBA Academy Africa facility in Saly, Senegal, for elite male prospects from throughout Africa, scheduled to open in the fall. When the new facility in Saly opens, SEED Project’s facility in Thies will house and train female prospects and younger male prospects.

Courtesy of SEED Project

According to a press release, NBA Academy Africa will employ a holistic, 360-degree approach to player development that focuses on education, leadership, character development and life skills. As part of the program, the students will compete against top competition throughout the year and will have an opportunity to be selected for travel teams that play in international tournaments and exhibition games.

NBA Academy Africa builds on the NBA’s existing basketball and youth development initiatives in Africa, including Jr. NBA programs for boys and girls ages 16 and under in Cameroon, Congo, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa. Basketball Without Borders (BWB), the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, has been held in Africa 14 times, with nine former BWB Africa campers drafted into the NBA.

Fall said he feels blessed to see the growth of SEED across Africa.

“The work we are doing at NBA Africa in some many ways dovetails with what I’ve started at SEED,” he explained. “It’s really, really an exciting time for basketball in general, but especially for us. Just humbled and blessed for the opportunity to work with such brilliant group of young people who, undoubtedly, all we’re doing is just provide the enabling factor for them to have a chance to be successful in life, first and foremost. Some of them, yes, will achieve big things in basketball, but that’s really the cherry on the top of the cake, I say.”

Fall’s journey plays out in the narrative of how the SEED Project began.

“It’s really my story, how I stumbled into basketball many, many years ago. I was helped by a generous soul, somebody who was with the Peace Corps who saw me play and helped me get a scholarship to come to the U.S. It opened my eyes to the power of sports, and also opened doors for me to meet unbelievable people along the way,” he said. “I found a career in basketball even after a short college career. I just endeavored from that point on to figure out a way to give back, especially replicating my story and we’re able to do that with number of other young people. Ultimately, we thought coming up with an organization which sole mission would be how to use sports as a conduit to socioeconomic development.

“That’s how SEED came about. SEED’s going to be 20 years old in 2018, so that’s an amazing … 20 years later seeing all the young people who have been imparted. We just want to make sure that they all continue to focus on having the duty to give back, to inspire the next generation,” said Fall. “It’s great to see now that people who are running the organization instantly are all young people that we’ve crossed paths with many, many years ago who are coming to basically carry on the torch. The mission remains the same. What is exciting is to see now people who have gone through the program coming back and taking it to even greater heights.”

WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike does it all The Connecticut Sun forward is getting a head start on her potential post-basketball career

There is one rule of thumb Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike continually abides by these days as a WNBA player: Don’t wait to begin your next career until after your current basketball career has ended.

It’s a mantra the 25-year-old repeats to WNBA rookies, and a sentiment that carries her through her many off-court endeavors, including her most recent announcement of joining ESPN as an analyst for its newly launched ESPN channel on Kwesé TV. The channel provides coverage and a unique sports experience to fans in Africa. For nearly three weeks, Ogwumike has faithfully rehearsed lines, shadowed on-air talent and attempted to correct her posture to ready herself for the new role.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, almost like playing in a game,” Ogwumike said. “You’re excited, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to win, you don’t know if you’re going to lose. I second-guess myself because athletes tend to be different in broadcast. It’s a cool challenge for me because I love sports, it’s an African audience and, to me, the most important thing is, I knew this was out of the realm of what I imagined myself doing, but I knew representation matters.”

As a Nigerian-American, Ogwumike understands the passion African fans have for sports. Physical activities have always served as a bonding experience in her family, and the love for sports is partially responsible for Ogwumike and her older sister, Nneka, turning to basketball after being told they were too tall for gymnastics.

Staying connected and recognizing the need for in-depth sports coverage not only in her home country but throughout all of Africa is something that has been a priority for Ogwumike since her days as an international relations major at Stanford University.

Growing up, Ogwumike would travel back to Nigeria with her family once or twice a year. While attending Stanford and becoming a mentee of former U.S. Secretary of State and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Ogwumike was encouraged to align her passion for giving back with her academic pursuits. For the first time, Ogwumike made solo trips to Nigeria before studying abroad during her junior year. In her free time, Ogwumike traveled the continent, working with nonprofits on basketball clinics and to help raise money to build basketball courts.

“I saw the country with new, educated eyes,” Ogwumike said. “It was a huge educational experience for me, and I left very optimistic because when you think about Nigeria, you tend to think of a place left behind. But the potential is there.”

After being drafted as the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Ogwumike immediately went to work. She completed her rookie season averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds before being named the 2014 Rookie of the Year. Shortly afterward while playing in Italy, Ogwumike suffered a right knee injury that required microfracture surgery. She missed all of the 2015-16 season.

“I think athletes tend to make the injury their narrative,” Ogwumike said. “Injuries happen in sports, but I never wanted to be defined by it, and I think that’s my motive. My mindset has always been I love basketball, it’s my passion, it’s opened doors, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for me. When I got injured, it sucked because I was worried about what would be my basketball future, but the injury also gave me time to step back and think and plan on my future. I know I can’t play forever.”

Thinking ahead, Ogwumike focused less on the pain and slow rehabilitation process and more on how she can continue to strengthen and develop relationships on a different side of the sports realm. During her downtime, Ogwumike took advantage of television time, including co-hosting opportunities on ESPN’s First Take and His & Hers, as well as serving as an analyst for NBATV during the 2015 WNBA playoffs. Ogwumike also partnered with NBA Africa to help launch Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that uses basketball as a tool to develop health, leadership and life skills in Nigeria.

The next season, Ogwumike returned to the court to finish second on the team with 12.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game, earning her Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year honors. In a situation similar to the first, unfortunate circumstances befell Ogwumike again — this time, in the form of an Achilles tendon injury in her left leg while playing overseas in China.

“The second injury in China was a heartbreaker because I knew something was off,” Ogwumike said. “But I always try thinking of the positive. I got home within three days from China and had surgery quick, because I had doctors on speed dial for my other injury. The situation could be worse for me. If I’m going to be challenged in my career, I’d rather it happen now than later. I also know that my worth is not just my stats. As women basketball players, our worth is not just how we play but how we represent ourselves. Yeah, I’m missing my WNBA season and it stinks, but I’m really excited about this opportunity with ESPN.”

Juggling her WNBA career while co-hosting SportsCenter across subSaharan Africa will present challenges, Ogwumike said, only because it’s uncharted territory for her. Yet, Ogwumike is keeping a positive outlook. As she looks forward to returning to the WNBA in the 2018-19 season, her focus also lies in finding a deeper meaning off the court and giving back to the countries that have given so much to her.

“It’s unique for me because being Nigerian, I know what our passions are, and it’s sports,” Ogwumike said. “If you look at who I am, I’m a Nigerian-American female basketball player. And this show caters to all Africans, especially Nigerians because that’s some of the higher viewership, and I think female sports are on the rise. Even though it’s out of what I perceive to be the realm of possibilities for my career, it’s perfect for me.

“I always try to think of my little sisters and young girls that want to do what I’ve had the opportunity to do. That outweighs the fear. At age 25 it feels like an avalanche, but at the same time it’s like that adrenaline rush that I get from playing, and it’s cool. No matter what your lane is, attack it, do it to the best of your ability, and that can be the thing that opens doors.”

Three friends are on a mission to bring reliable electricity to Nigeria Their company is pioneering solar microgrids for small businesses

An energy crisis has plagued Nigeria for nearly 40 years, leaving thousands of people without necessities while facing difficulties obtaining education and work, along with increasing criminal activity at night.

Nigerian-born Ifeanyi Umejei decided to do something and reached out to friends and fellow Virginia Tech alums Emmanuel Ekwueme and Cedrick Reynolds for help with his vision to bring reliable electricity to the West African country.

The three started a business, ICE Commercial Power, that develops solar microgrids. The project is in its pilot stage, currently serving 15 consumers in a commercial shopping center in Asaba, Nigeria. The majority of the businesses in the area operate for about 12 hours each day.

“There’s a real electricity crisis,” Umejei said. The country’s largest stations are only able to produce 2,800 megawatts. “If you think about what you’re able to do with electricity on a daily basis, that’s an opportunity that doesn’t exist for over half of the population [in Nigeria]. This is a significant population of humanity that does not have access to electricity. You can’t hardly do anything without electricity anymore. You can’t learn, you can’t work.”

The modular microgrids are powered by photovoltaic panels located on the rooftops of buildings. Consumers are connected to the microgrid via smart meters, which monitor and regulate power remotely via cloud access, according to ICE Solar’s business plan.

Umejei’s vision came during a trip back to Nigeria in 2016. He spotted two little boys holding hands, trudging in their worn sandals in the middle of a red dirt road in Asaba. Their faces held no expression in particular, but Umejei noticed that their dark eyes still appeared curious and hopeful. He paused to speak to them before snapping a picture and moving on.

Umejei couldn’t shake the impression the boys had left on him. He often looked at the picture and thought about ways he could give them a better future. Umejei also couldn’t forget the older people he met and their experience of struggle and heartache.

“It was sort of that coming-to-God moment,” said Umejei, who lived in Nigeria until he was 7 before moving to the United States and settling in Virginia Beach. “I saw the look of despair on people’s faces, and it was really heartbreaking to see the loss of hope. I’ve accomplished so many things in my life because I had hope. Without hope you really don’t have much, but these two kids still had that spark. For me, I felt I had do something to still give them a shot. I can’t allow them to turn into what everyone else is feeling right now. We all start out with the same level of faith, but conditions force some of us to lose hope along the way.”

These were the concerns Umejei took into account before devising his plan to help. Although Umejei studied biology with a minor in psychology before graduating in May 2007 from Virginia Tech, this project is one he feels is worth more than what his degree could teach him. But first, he’d need a hand.

“I wasn’t concerned about whether or not they would like the idea, because these were two high-quality individuals,” Umejei said. “With people’s lives and careers, the question was if they had the capacity to take on this task. I was pleased to discover that, despite everyone’s schedules, they jumped on board, and that’s such a great testament to who they are.”

Balancing their careers with this project was the most difficult task. Umejei works as a financial analyst in New York, while Ekwueme is a bioengineering postdoctoral research fellow in Massachusetts. Reynolds works as an executive director at an investment banking institution in New York, which meant the three ended up sacrificing their weekends and most of their free time to devote to the project.

With a population of about 190 million and a gross domestic product of more than $560 billion, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, but it also experiences the greatest number of power outages monthly. They have a huge impact on small businesses, which, on average, experience 239 hours of outages every month.

Although the project is off to a good start, Umejei hopes other corporations will help.

“For us to have meaningful impact, we need more than 15 consumers,” Umejei said. “So we need to figure out how to scale quickly and reduce the upfront costs to make it affordable for people. The grids and electricity is really expensive to produce in Nigeria.”

The company recently competed in a conference at Harvard University titled Partnering for Prosperity: Working Together for a Strong & Inclusive Africa. After presenting their business concept, ICE took second place and was awarded $5,000 to put toward the business. The company is in discussions with Microsoft to form a partnership for the smart meter’s cloud component. Umejei also plans to begin crowdfunding for those willing to donate to the cause.

“At some point, you have to stop complaining and you’ve got to start taking action,” Umejei said. “I looked at other people who were doing things and saw them as superhuman. But to be in this position and taking action, I want anyone who’s listening to know that they are absolutely capable of doing what they want and taking action.”