Exclusive Interview: Christopher Riley, Executive Director and Founder at Progressive Global Growth Foundation (PGG)
The Executive Director and Founder of Progressive Global Growth Foundation (PGG), Christopher Riley, in this interview with Oil and Gas Republic talks about his organisation’s interest to assist in the development of Nigeria’s private sector, specifically the oil and gas sector by increasing the critical and cognitive thinking among need-based secondary, senior secondary, and technical students in Nigeria. NDUBUISI MICHEAL OBINEME brings the excerpts:
- Welcome to Oil and Gas Republic Christopher Riley. What was your first impression when you first arrived in Nigeria? Any surprises? And how has being your experience participating at West Africa International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference 2019 in Lagos?
Nigeria is ripe with opportunity! That was my first take away. We acknowledge the historical ties between the U.S. and Nigeria and the success of the Nigerian diaspora in the U.S. and other Western nations. I was privileged to grow up with Nigerians and interact with Nigerian academics while in University so I was able to form a strong understanding of the dynamics and complexities that comprise the country.
The West Africa International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference 2019 in Lagos was great! Part of our mission is to use targeted STEAM-based education to grow independent indigenous West African (especially Nigerian) corporations. We want to increase technical know how in Nigeria in order to encourage private sector growth and create more jobs in the country and abroad! Where ever there is oil exploration in the world, a Nigerian, especially a Deltan should be in the process. By fostering the mindset and tools needed to develop technical proficiency in the oil and gas sector at an early age, Nigerians will benefit both near and long term in the international oil industry, especially in down stream given the sectors growth in other African countries over the past decade. Having the opportunity to interact with executives and senior government officials in the Nigerian oil and gas sector at the Conference was great, we were able to form a partnership with a corporation seeking to provide unique educational opportunities for students in their local operating area through our exchange program.
- Please could you tell us about yourself and your organization, Progressive Global Growth Foundation (PGG)?
I am the Founder and Executive Director of Progressive Global Growth (PGG). PGG is a U.S.-based non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization that provides access to STEAM-based education for students from West Africa, specifically Nigeria and South Sudan. We officially launched last August 2018. Our services include academic exchanges to the U.S. and STEAM instruction for need-based students in Nigeria. Having worked on the continent before, I saw a need to strategically increase critical and cognitive thinking in order to encourage private sector growth and create jobs in Nigeria and abroad for independent indigenous corporations. In order for Nigeria to meet its potential and respond to the demand for jobs, the country must maximize private sector growth in Nigeria and create business opportunities for its corporations abroad.
- Please give us an overview of PGG’s major interests in Nigeria?
Our goal is to assist in the development of Nigeria’s private sector, specifically the oil and gas sector by increasing the critical and cognitive thinking among need-based secondary, senior secondary, and technical students in Nigeria. We believe STEAM education’s focus on critical and cognitive thinking will create employment opportunities and decrease poverty and reduce social inequality in the countries we work in.
- What are your plans about partnering with indigenous Nigerian oil companies, with emphasis on your action-plans to use your academic exchange program as a platform to create opportunities for Nigerian students to study in United States?
Great question Michael, separate from our academic projects in Nigeria, we strategically place need-based STEAM students sponsored by indigenous Nigerian companies at top U.S schools in our network at no charge. We aligns each student with schools related to their future career field. After the senior secondary school graduates from University, the sponsoring company will employ the student, placing them on a managerial track. This approach helps brand a particular corporation in the U.S. by showing its investment in its future and in others ways which we lay out for our partners. Take Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, separate from U.S.-based Dr. Kase Lukman Lawal’s (Chairman of CAMAC) acquisition of Pacific Asia Petroleum (PAP) in 2010, Nigerian energy companies or companies with ties to Nigeria like PAP are not listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The lack of publicly traded Nigerian energy companies on the NYSE means there is a lot of growth potential for the Nigerian oil and gas sector in my home country of the U.S. with the appropriate branding and relationships that our students have access to this can change.
- What are the success stories so far? What are the current partnership trends between Nigerian and U.S companies in the area of STEAM education?
STEM/STEAM education has grown tremendously over the past three to four years. As far as our approach toward using STEAM-based education to drive sustainable development we are unique. We have an amazing student from Abeokuta who is an aspiring engineer who enjoys art and structural design. He is one of our first students in the program, so he was not sponsored by a specific company. Given his passion for engineering and desire to build and grow industry in his hometown, he would be a great addition to Petrolex in the near future. I have met with the founders of a few for profit STEM companies that work with students in Nigeria on things like coding. This upcoming summer, we will enroll some of our FCT and Port Harcourt-based students in a coding program.
- From your experience so far, and in your opinion, what kind of opportunities does it offer to the students and interested companies?
For the companies, branding to a unique U.S. audience is huge. Unfortunately as you know Michael, many people around the world think negatively about Nigeria based on past stigmas and skewed media coverage of crime and other conflicts. The branding opportunity through education is huge in countering these negative stereotypes. The long term (4-8 year) benefit is the students with substantive international relationships and experience are returning to help run the corporations that sponsored them.
- How many Nigerian oil companies have been invited or showed interest? And how many have positively responded to confirm their participation so far?
We welcome all independent indigenous companies who want to grow and enable opportunities for Nigeria’s youth. Five companies have shown serious interest, and one company has agreed to partner with us over the past four months since the West Africa International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference on January 2019 in Lagos.
- What are the available services in your organization for Nigerian companies who have trade enquiries or seeking opportunities in United States?
We intentionally place students from the local operating area of a Nigerian corporation at elite U.S. schools with the appropriate network capable of assisting the company’s growth through various means which we discuss with our partners.
- Is there any project that excites you and you are particularly involved in?
Yes, in collaboration with local partners we have designed an eight-week computer programming and coding course for 35 need-based female technical students from Rivers, Delta, and Bayelsa states for later this year. Upon completion of the workshop, PGG and its partners will conduct a four-day small business course on how to market the participants’ services to Nigerian businesses.
- What can us at Oil and Gas Republic (OGR) do to assist your organization to achieve its goals in Nigeria? Since we share a desire to improve access and opportunities for Nigerian corporations, we are seeking relationships with OGR’s readership to best maximize my organization’s development efforts in the country. Separate from your amazing publicity, which is why we reached out to you, continued interaction with your senior private and public sector readership would be helpful.
PGG Student at School STEAM lab. Student is from Abeokuta, Ogun State