Courtesy of Tolani Yesufu

Tolani Yesufu '21 plans to use the funds to create a medical clinic in the Surulere area in Lagos, Nigeria.

June 23, 2021

Cornell Graduate Wins Prestigious Samuel Huntington Award

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After years of social outreach work, recent graduate Tolani Yesufu ’21 is one of three recipients of the 2021 Samuel Huntington Award and the sixth Cornellian in the history of the award to win. 

The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award provides a $20,000 grant to graduating seniors to pursue a yearlong public service project. Yesufu plans to use the money to create a medical clinic in the Surulere area in Lagos, Nigeria, as the latest project in the Ameliorating Health in Africa initiative, a nonprofit she co-founded.

Yesufu will sustain the Nigerian medical clinic through various other grants and subsidized medical fees, as well as through partnering with the Health Emergency Initiative, a local nonprofit that finances medical treatments to patients in need. The Lagos government is providing her with a building to begin her operations.

Treasure Nwokeleme ’21 was excited by the news of Yesufu’s win. The two co-founded the Ameliorating Health in Africa initiative in June 2020, an organization that hopes to build the clinic as part of its mission to provide affordable health care to 10 million Africans before 2025. The two learned of the Samuel Huntington Award from Dennis Nyanyo ’18, a previous recipient and fellow Cornell student who won the award his senior year.

Nwokeleme and Yesufu had also worked together on PPE distribution to frontline workers in Lagos and Osun State, as well as on a Office of Engagement Initiatives funded Violence Against Women project, a webinar program and social media group for survivors of sexual assault. 

Yesufu’s adviser, Prof. Bruce Raymond Johnson, neurobiology and behavior, called her one of the best Cornell students he has ever had and was pleased with the results of the competitive award process.

“I was extremely excited. This seems to be sort of the culmination and things kind of coming together for her, for the clinic,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure that there are many of us who have the kind of resilience that [Yesufu] has to pop back up, keep working and be a very friendly and personable person too.”

Yesufu’s experience helped prepare her for her proposal, having founded several social outreach programs throughout her time at Cornell addressing health and wellbeing in Lagos.

Yesufu has also taken entrepreneurial lessons to heart throughout her Cornell career, from classes such as Graduate Management Business Administration 3000: Designing New Ventures, Graduate Management Business Administration 5380: Business Idea Factory and Hotel Administration 4140: Corporate Entrepreneurship.

“If we’re trying to develop in whatever area and however form, entrepreneurship has to be at the center of it and then social entrepreneurship takes the profit motive from it,” Yesufu said. “As long as it’s solving that problem, and you can get it done, it’s gonna happen.”