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Nicholas Okafor: Tackling Educational and Environmental Inequalities

Nicholas Okafor: Tackling Educational and Environmental Inequalities

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hi! It’s me, Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference for all of us around the world! Today’s rockstar is Nicholas Okafor, the founder and executive director of trubel&co.

Spiffy: Hi Nick, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through trubel&co?

Nick: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Our project tackles the challenge of educational and environmental inequities in underserved communities. By equipping youth with geographic information system (GIS) and data analysis skills, we empower them to map disparities, advocate for change, and propose solutions. Our work focuses on creating accessible, engaging learning modules that enable students to analyze social issues and drive community-driven innovations, bridging the gap between technical education and social justice. This approach fosters a new generation of informed advocates and problem solvers committed to equity and sustainability.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Nick: My motivation stems from a personal journey where education was key to overcoming societal barriers within my family. This belief propelled me to create spaces that diversify STEM and embed liberatory innovation into practice. My efforts have centered empowering youth with the skills to enact social change. Seeing students apply GIS to tackle real-world problems confirmed my conviction in education as a tool of liberation. Co-founding trubel&co was a natural progression, aiming to scale this impact by championing youth to use technology and data for social good. My drive is fueled by the potential of education to empower individuals and communities to challenge and change their circumstances, making the world more equitable and just.

Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

Nick: Our work impacts underserved youth (those facing barriers due to race, gender, or class) by equipping them with GIS and STEM skills, enabling them to tackle societal challenges such as environmental justice, educational equity, and healthcare accessibility. By fostering critical thinking and technical proficiency, we help students from marginalized backgrounds become agents of change in their communities. They learn to analyze data, visualize disparities, and propose actionable solutions, thereby contributing to a more equitable society and paving the way for future opportunities in STEM fields.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Nick: A recent milestone for our organization, trubel&co, has been the remarkable achievements of our alumni trubelmakers. Juliana Noreus, a standout Mapping Climate Justice alumna, exemplifies our impact by using GIS to explore social issues like the Great Migration. Her project, recognized nationally by NCWIT, leverages GIS for social change, highlighting systemic injustices and environmental challenges. Juliana’s journey from a student to a tech-savvy advocate showcases our mission to empower diverse youth with skills to address community problems, proving education's role in fostering future leaders dedicated to equity and sustainability.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Nick: Our work at trubel&co transcends traditional education, bridging the gap between technology and social justice. By empowering youth like Juliana, we're not just teaching GIS skills; we're nurturing a generation of changemakers. Juliana's success story is a testament to the potential of young minds when given the tools to understand and influence their world. It's a reminder that with the right support, youth can use technology to create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Nick—it’s been an honor!

Nick Okafor (he/him), a strategist and design researcher, is the founder of trubel&co, a tech-justice nonprofit that champions those proximate to inequity to innovate for social change. Nick is a PhD student at Stanford University, management science and engineering, where his research focuses on the practice and pedagogy of liberatory innovation. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 21, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Shikha Tandon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.