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Meet: Funke Smith

Funke Smith is the Founder and CEO of Skillcity Institute. Read the interview below to learn more about how and why she created Skillcity; her career journey; and how Skillcity has evolved through the pandemic!

1. How did you come to be part of Skillcity?

Before moving to Canada, I had a robust career working as an International Development Consultant. My international trips around the world afforded me the privilege to see and experience many systems and follow innovation trends across the world. When I moved to Canada, I found that there were gaps in the system, and I wasn't going to fold my arms and just mind my own business.

Well, my quest for a better, brighter, and more promising future for "generation next", gave birth to Skillcity. Motivated by my relentless passion for king-making; seeking out the young and most vulnerable, equipping them to become kings and queens of industries and leaders of the future. Every young person needs a champion, and we must ensure that our youth do not continue to fall through the cracks of socioeconomic inequities and systemic barriers that keep many from realizing their full potential. Skillcity was borne of my conviction that every child comes endowed with a particle of creative force. And my calling is to help them find their "mojo", and help guide them into their own pathways to success, fulfillment, and prosperity.

2. What is your favourite memory of your work with Skillcity so far?

My most memorable moments come from meeting someone who is at a crossroads in terms of what direction to take in their life and helping them navigate and the curves in their journey to self-discovery and self actualization. Having dedicated years of my life to mentoring in different contexts, I realize those moments where they find their "hidden treasures" and their life bulb comes on, and they feel like they can take on the world - those are the most rewarding moments of my work!

3. How has the process been for Skillcity in transitioning to online during the pandemic?

The pandemic has been a great learning curve for us, but we have been blessed with many partnerships and community supports. During the summer, Skillcity in partnership with the Family Centre and City of Edmonton, delivered Youthpreneur entrepreneurship skills program for youth in Edmonton; our first completely online program. Virtually "everything" had to be fully programmed beforehand. It wasn't a walk in the park, it was a learning curve, but we achieved it! At the end of the day, we delivered more value to the youth than we had envisaged; online delivery made us more innovative as we learned new creative ways to engage youth; and actually improved our programming efficiencies. We are better for it! This experience helped us realize what we are capable of and encouraged us to do more, online!

4. What factors and choices shaped your education and the path that you took in your career?

After high school, I got a scholarship to study Information Technology in Cuba. At that time, I did not know you could build a career on learning foreign languages, but I knew that I was not satisfied with simply working with machines, I wanted a people-focused career. I just love people! There was a fire inside me that kept me seeking, I wanted something more "me". Subsequently, I found a career in foreign languages and switched courses. Only then did I discover that studying languages is much more than just the translating words, it is an interdisciplinary field, a window into different worlds, cultures, peoples, civilizations - and even technology!

Thereafter, I went to the UK to do my Master’s in Applied Translation and majored in business, IT and humanitarian affairs. That kickstarted my international career. I have since worked as an independent consultant with the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS Commissions, the Canadian International Development Agency and other international development agencies. I have been blessed to work in several countries of the world and interact people from various works of life; a privilege I will always be thankful for. My exposure to many worlds and interdisciplinary work in international development, have shaped my life journey and broadened my horizons. All in all, the gift of education that I have received, is that which enables me to deliver value to the lives of those whom I serve today.

5. What piece of advice would you give to youth who feel uncertain or unsure about their future, especially now during the pandemic?

The pandemic might be a good opportunity to recalibrate, rediscover yourself and your purpose. It's a good time to rejuvenate and reignite your passion! Even in the face of the world's most challenging times, we can pick up the pieces of our broken existence, and rebuild stronger foundations for a better future. Now, more than ever, it is important to shift gears and equip yourself with the skills needed to participate in the technologically-driven post-COVID world. Don't get left behind. Sweet dreams are made of skills!

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