Jennifer Uchendu

Jennifer Uchendu (Development Studies 2019) is founder of SustyVibes, one of Nigeria’s largest youth platforms for sustainability projects.

Portrait of Jennifer Uchendu smiling at the camera with her hands resting under her cheeks.

Jennifer's story

Jennifer founded SustyVibes in 2016 as an online blog talking about sustainability issues from a young person’s point of view. As the blog grew in readership, Jennifer formed a community of young people. SustyVibes is now a full-fledged organisation and has spearheaded impactful projects, including global youth dialogues on climate change and mental health, and planting over 5,000 indigenous trees in Nigerian communities.

Jennifer studied for her Masters degree at Sussex as a Chevening Scholar and since graduating in 2021, Jennifer has become a global authority in the field of climate change and mental health. In 2023 she was named one of the BBC’s inspiring and influential women worldwide and she recently won the Science and Sustainability Award at the Study UK Alumni Awards National Ceremony in Nigeria for her commitment to sustainability.

What made you choose Sussex?

I was really drawn to the ideas and modules – there was a lot of emphasis on things like participation and power. I already had a lot of experience with the environment and climate change, so I wanted to be exposed to other aspects like food, sustainability, leadership and communicating development.

I also knew a lot of people who had gone to Sussex, and they had a lot of really good things to say. They said, “it’s going to be tough, but you are going to learn lots.” You come out feeling very confident in your Masters degree.

Why did you decide to start your own NGO – SustyVibes?

I've always wanted to get a Masters in environment or sustainability projects. It took a long time to get funding and I was at a point where I was meant to go the University of Exeter and I had resigned from my day job and then my visa was denied. I had to decide what to do next.

I knew that I really wanted to focus on sustainability. I thought, “Why don’t I just start something?” I focused on making sustainability actionable, cool, and reliable for other young people by using things like pop culture research that is accessible and easy to read, as well as by bringing people together through spaces and community where they feel like they can be a huge part of sustainability and sustainable development.

How did you become a global authority in the field of climate change and mental health?

My thesis gave me the evidence, the platform and the right sort of relationships and networks I needed to build on that work. Before I went to the UK, we did host a small event in Nigeria around climate change and mental health, but we were really doing it from a place of curiosity, not knowing what was out there. It was not until I went to the UK that I became very exposed to the topic.

Jennifer speaking on stage at the SNF Nostos Conference in 2023. There are two other speakers on stage as well as a moderator.

Jennifer speaking at the SNF Nostos Conference in 2023

Can you tell me more about The Eco-anxiety Africa project, which seeks to understand and validate the experiences of eco-anxiety in Africans…

I started it because of my time at Sussex, and now it is one of our flagship projects. I changed my thesis at the last minute to focus more on the interconnection between climate change and mental health, writing about climate activists living in Brighton.

I knew that I definitely wanted to do something about this, particularly for Africa as we experience the crisis a bit more profoundly and intensely compared to Europe. When I went back home to Nigeria, I started the Africa project, based off everything I learnt throughout my Masters.

I focused on making sustainability actionable, cool, and reliable for other young people by using things like pop culture research that is accessible and easy to read, as well as by bringing people together through spaces and community.”

What are some of your proudest moments?

I'm grateful for the validations because I was at the point where things were so stressful that I felt like I wanted to quit. For example, we’re currently working with the Wellcome Trust to develop a global research agenda on climate change and mental health, and their collaboration with us on this project is allowing us to do globally relevant work.

I’m proud of all the opportunities for us to put young people at the forefront of sustainable development leadership and see our vision grow.

Jennifer standing outside the Brighton Centre at her graduation ceremony

Jennifer outside the Brighton Centre at her graduation ceremony

What projects are you currently working on?

We’re just wrapping up a project called Bioverse NG which is biodiversity and climate change training for Nigerian youth. It's been really interesting because we had six-week-long workshops with over 500 young people, and we had regional dialogues across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.

Every other day I get a tag on LinkedIn about a young person who's gone on to do something really exciting as a result of their experience with the project.

Favourite place on campus?

I was a Covid student, so I didn't get to enjoy the Sussex campus as much as I would have liked.

I did like to spend a lot of time outside the university at the beach. I also really liked my room – it was super comfortable.

What’s your favourite place in the world?

My favourite place is being at home in Lagos with my loved ones.

What was the Chevening Scholarship application process like for you? Do you have any top tips to those looking to apply?

  • I applied more than once and with each attempt I learnt better. You have a whole year to build on aspects you think might be weak, like leadership or networking.
  • You’re going to be interviewed by past Chevening scholars and experts in your field who can tell if you’re winging it or not being truthful. I really encourage applicants to be authentic.
  • Make sure you are applying to a course you are very confident in and have your plans for after university all lined up.
  • There are a lot of tips and resources available for free online. I remember watching YouTube videos on tips for interviews and learning how to write a good essay. I think that research process is useful because you’re going to need that for your Masters.

What advice would you give to current Sussex students?

Take advantage of this phase of your life. Make sure you have lifelong relationships and connect with people and network. I met the best people when I was in university, and they've helped my work.

Engage with the lecturers in class and think beyond the grades. I was able to do both and still graduate with a distinction. I really trusted myself in the literature and the research, and I see how it's paying off now.

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