Asher Segun-Olasanmi, a young mental health advocate and aspiring Structural Engineer, is one of the 2022 Rise Winners from Nigeria who promote female participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). An initiative of Schmidt Futures and the Rhodes Trust, Rise is the anchor programme of a $1 billion commitment from Eric and Wendy Schmidt to find and support global talents.
Asher serves as Executive Director at Young Females in Tech and Creatives under YouthUp Global and works to promote equity, health and safety in the world through her work as a writer, volunteer and engineer.
In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the 2023 Rise Residential Summit in the United Kingdom and its impact on her.
Tell us a bit about the Rise Residential Summit and your experience?
This year’s Rise Residential Summit was a wonderful experience for me. The programme finds promising young people and provides opportunity for life as they work to serve others.
The programme starts at ages 15-17 and encourages a lifetime of service and learning by providing support that includes need-based scholarships, mentorship, networking, access to career development opportunities and the potential for additional funding as Rise Global Winners work toward solving humanity’s most pressing problems. This year was packed with exciting activities every day and we were involved in lots of trainings and workshops.
We visited the Francis Crick Institute in London and learned about human genome editing. There were also moments such as a boat cruise on the River Thames when we went on a tour of London. We had an open mic night, which was the highlight for me. It was interesting to be part of a cohort that was so diverse. People from different backgrounds were saying the same thing in different languages. Just getting to be a part of that was special.
In addition, I learned a lot from the summit concerning the project I am working on. It really helped me think outside the box. Having sessions on customer discovery or measuring impact really helped me get a good sense of what it is that I want to do. We also had two networking events, where I was able to make valuable connections.
What sessions were you involved in specifically and how did they impact you?
The session with Matt Clifford on “How to be a Founder” stood out for me because it went beyond the conventional. In fact, I remember his opening line was, “Not everybody should be a Founder.”
Another one that stood out for me was the session on measuring impact. It was memorable to me because I saw the importance of perspective and feedback when trying to solve a problem. Similar to that was a session about a question framework called “How Might I or We?” In this concept, a problem is broken down into bite-sized portions so that we can act and then scale that action to ask detailed questions.
We also had a session with Yalda Hakim, a former BBC chief presenter. As a journalist, she went to places like Afghanistan to speak with the Taliban, so it was really inspiring having someone like that with us to learn from.
You mentioned that you visited the Francis Crick Institute; can you elaborate on genome editing and why it is important to you?
Prior to our visit to the institute, we had a session in our base group, talking about bioengineering and biotechnology, and one of the things we talked about was Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), a technology used in genome editing. That was the first time I was exposed to that because it’s not my area of interest. The day we visited the Francis Crick Institute, there was a cut-plus-paste exhibition that the institute was featuring and there was a short film on gene editing. There was an opportunity for people to write or record their opinions so that others coming through would get to read them or listen to them.
What really stood out for me from the exhibition were the perspectives that different people shared. One of the points of view was of someone arguing in favour of the need for genome editing because it was unfair to have people suffering from certain illnesses. Several perspectives made me think more critically about what exactly we would consider a disease, an illness or a limitation, and it opened my mind to the importance of perspective.
There was a Lightning Talk on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in medicine; can you tell us about your thoughts around this?
The Lightning Talk was interesting. Personally, I have reservations about AI, but the tool is here to stay and it is not advisable to use the AI tool out of fear. The question I however ask is: Who gets to decide how this technology is used? Because it can be used for good and evil and we have seen cases of both. I am very interested to see how it will play out and how we can help people get better through AI.
Tell us about the Rise African Union and how this experience helped you as a team?
The summit gave an opportunity to all the unions to have round-table discussions where we talked about ourselves, our journeys so far, the kind of changes we would want to implement and our plans generally. So, we had a meeting during the summit to discuss what we wanted for the Rise African Union and what we wanted to do through the union. We will be meeting subsequently to put our plans for the union into action.
You mentioned that you are currently working on a Rise Project; what is it on and how are you using it to create change?
Yes, it is called the Light Week Challenge and it’s for higher institution students in the Diaspora. I started university in the United Kingdom in January, and I have interacted with students who have had their mental health deteriorate because of their relocation. I grew up quite independently; hence, when I was leaving my family at the airport, I did not think I would miss them that much when I left for school. However, after five months, I started to get homesick. Also, when I spoke to an acquaintance to check on her, she gave the impression that she was all right but later called me to thank me and told me how our conversation had helped her. I realised again, upon interactions with more students, that a lot of people feel that way. For some, it’s more severe, and some feel it earlier than others. However, at the breaking point, they get depressed, homesick or anxious. So, I came up with the Light Week Challenge, a seven-day well-being challenge for students, where they are given daily tasks to complete. Some of the tasks are to call someone they have not spoken to in a while, maybe cook a homeless person a meal or compliment five people in a day. The tasks are aimed at helping the students look beyond themselves. In addition to that, there are resources for students. For example, there are white-noise sleep tracks to help students whose sleep has been impacted due to the time differences. There are videos on adjusting to university life and guided mindfulness sessions for students who struggle with anxiety. The reason for the name “Light” is to strike a flame in someone else’s darkness and how that strikes a flame in your darkness as well. My hope for this Rise Project is that it will help students develop positive and lasting coping mechanisms.
How has the summit helped you in bringing this project to fruition?
From the summit, I understood the concept of customer discovery and the power of perspective. Secondly, I was concerned about sustainability since I wanted the light pack containing the letters, the daily tasks, and everything to be paper based because part of my hope is that students will look up from their phones into the real world around them. There are resources online, but those are obtained by scanning the QR code to watch the videos and listen to the audio. For the most part, though, it is paper based. It was however, through the summit, while talking to someone from my cohort, that I got the idea to make it a pass-it-on (i.e. when you finish with the light pack, you pass it on to someone else.) The summit made my Rise Project more robust. I now have a plan with my school to implement it once students resume for the new session.