In Conversation With... Mfon Udechukwu, Community Coordinator Intern
February 22nd, 2022
WeRobotics is a diverse, global team. To spotlight their unique talents and contributions to WeRobotics and to Flying Labs, we asked them to share a bit about their backgrounds, their roles, and their interests.
Q: Please introduce yourself: who are you, where do you live, and what’s your role at WeRobotics?
My name is Mfon Udechukwu, and I live with my family in Rivers state (Nigeria's oil-rich capital), and I am the WeRobotics community coordinator intern. Before moving back to Nigeria, I studied in four countries, living with people from more than nine countries. This experience helped shape my career and my thinking to a global perspective.
How did you get started in your field? What were your academic background and critical work experiences?
After earning my bachelor's degree in international relations in Nairobi, I was very strategic about the kind of places I wanted to work. Driven by my desire to drive social change in my country and within Africa, I spent a significant part of my university days participating in model United Nations simulation exercises at the United Nations office in Nairobi. These activities exposed me to global issues, improved my problem-solving skills, and helped me realize my passion for international development. That motivated me to work extra hard as a student, and subsequently, I landed my first internship with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
After my internship, I began exploring the possibility of getting a master's degree in peace & conflict studies. I secured admission to schools in the United Kingdom and Spain in my desired field, but I wanted something new, different, and equally relevant. So I surfed the Internet and stumbled onto an exciting course in human rights and democratization offered in Venice. I loved the course structure and the many opportunities it provided students, so I applied. In 2014, after completing my master's thesis on the sustainability of resource exploration in the context of human rights, I graduated with a jointly awarded European masters' degree in human rights and democratization.
My biggest motivation from a young age has always been making a difference in people's lives. As a result, I was often led or participated in charity activities. For example, as an intern, I led many fundraising activities for orphaned children. During my graduate studies, I joined an advocacy group in Italy. The advocacy campaign aimed to raise awareness about the conditions of migrant workers and lobby for policy change to protect their fundamental human rights. In 2019, I joined one of the most prominent volunteer-run organizations in Nigeria, Slum2School Africa, leading the South-South region. Through Slum2School, I've been able to execute education-related projects, impacting the lives of over 10,000 children.
Before joining WeRobotics, the work experience that steered me towards the technology for good sector was working with an Austrian nonprofit called Artificial Intelligence 4 Development Agency (AI4DA). Even though I joined AI4DA as a communications officer, the organization allowed me to support their R&D team. This dual position exposed me to the possibilities of AI and other emerging technologies. As a result, I contributed to many research topics, including presenting my research papers on AI's ethical and responsible use in Africa at the World Sustainability Forum and AI Expo Africa.
While at AI4DA, I also noticed a considerable knowledge gap in the AI for good sector, so I introduced a brainteaser program to educate our online audience on various topics, like the contributions of AI, robotics, and drones to solving social challenges.
How did you get here? Why did you decide to join WeRobotics? What projects have you been working on?
While studying this emerging technology, I became curious about how organizations can maximize their potential use while respecting fundamental human rights. My inquisitive nature and prior experience running the brainteaser program at AI4DA led me to read a lot of research publications on emerging technologies. One day, I stumbled onto a research study by UNESCO, which stated that "Female workers account for just 22% of people working in artificial intelligence (AI) worldwide, although there are regional differences, according to UNESCO."
While this number was rather sad, it motivated me to accelerate my skills and join the workforce, hopefully helping change the narrative. So, I began exploring a new career path, possibly another graduate degree in ethics and AI. In my research, I came across the job posting by WeRobotics. I was particularly intrigued by how WeRobotics and Flying Labs use Drones to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. It's one thing to read about the potentials of new technologies, and it's a whole new reality when you see these technologies at work. So, I applied for the role and was offered the position.
I've been with WeRobotics for about four months and had the opportunity to work directly with Flying Labs, supporting their communications and overall day-to-day activities. One of my biggest highlights of 2021 was traveling to Senegal for a STEM training project. It was an excellent opportunity to meet my colleagues Uyangaa and Amrita and some Flying Labs members with whom I've only had virtual interactions before our trip to Senegal. WeRobotics also has a great work culture that allows us to grow in our respective roles, contribute ideas, and take leadership roles; I love that about WeRobotics.
Right now, there's an exciting project I'm working on with Flying Labs that will provide us with insights on their secondary impacts within their communities. Flying Labs work in various sectors, from agriculture to health. It's a study like non-other, and I'm happy to be working with Flying Labs on this project.
What are you most looking forward to this year in your work?
In my work, I'm looking forward to growing, learning, and contributing my skills to push the vision and mission of WeRobotics. I'm also looking forward to gaining new skills to facilitate my work within the NGO space, so I'll be taking classes to improve my French and ease my communication with French-speaking Flying Labs.
What are your go-to tools and processes for doing your job?
I love using Google Tasks to write out my tasks and prioritize them according to their levels of urgency. I also love the Slack reminder feature for setting reminders and its space to write out my ideas. I find that my best thoughts come at odd hours when I'm not close to my computer. When this happens, I quickly run to my Slack space on my phone to write my ideas. Another tool I use frequently is the DeepL Translator for translating texts. The nature of our work exposes us to people from various cultures and languages, which I love, so when I receive an email that isn't in English, I run to DeepL.
What do you like to do in your off time? How do you relax and unwind?
My go-to activity is to watch a movie or series on Netflix, but occasionally, lunch with family or my friends in a lovely space is always good therapy.