Entrepreneurship challenges and opportunities in Nigeria
As part of our work with the SE Outreach Accelerator, backed by Sida, SE Forum follows up with alumni of the programme to monitor progress and developments within the countries our entrepreneurs are from. Our most recent trip took us to Nigeria, where we found inspiring entrepreneurs, strong women and a passion for learning.
During the trip we had the opportunity to visit four of our SE Outreach Accelerator alumni, working in completely different fields. We started the week with 2016 alumna Olutosin, visiting a workshop run by her Star of Hope Transformation Centre. This is a place where women who have suffered domestic violence are able to meet in a safe space to get training and develop skills to produce consumer goods to sell. They also get support to run their own businesses and we saw some fantastic examples of female empowerment where women who previously had no confidence are now in charge of their own lives using entrepreneurship to improve their own lives as well as those of their families and communities.
Since taking part in the 2016 SE Outreach Accelerator, Olutosin has been able to split up her business in two – one not-for-profit side and one registered business, where she uses the profits of the business to support the not-for-profit and the women in her community. With a history of domestic abuse, she is a great role model for these women as she highlights the importance of taking control of your own destiny. She says that she used to be treated like trash, but one has to make a decision of either remaining trash or creating a better future for oneself.
When speaking to Olutosin, it became clear that a key take-away from the SE Outreach Accelerator was to look at the pains of the customers and to find out what their needs are. Because of this, she has been able to develop her business model to work more closely with the women to explore what their communities actually need, to be able to meet the demand on products that will most likely sell.
Francis, also a 2016 alumnus, mentioned similar learnings as he has taken on the words of our lead trainer Lena Ramfelt about knowing your customer, and remembering that nothing should be free, i.e. you should always have paying customers. When in Sweden, Francis was able to also take advantage of SE Forum’s network to explore his industry equivalent in Sweden. He runs Redbank, digitalising blood banks in Nigeria, and seeing how the centralised blood banks in Sweden work, helped him envisage the same for Nigeria.
We travelled around Lagos visiting blood banks and a blood donation drive in a local hospital to see the developments and challenges of Redbank. In a country where you need to find blood yourself if you or a family member ends up in hospital, easy access is crucial in Nigeria. People are dying because they can’t find blood quickly enough, but Redbank’s online solution is helping. It connects blood banks with hospitals to monitor what blood can be found where, and it allows individuals to find blood in emergencies.
Huge challenges across Nigeria
For a business like Redbank to run efficiently, electricity and easy movement around the city is crucial, but because of constant power cuts all across Nigeria and busy traffic especially in Lagos, it is not an easy job. The resistance towards new technology amongst the older generation, and the challenge of traditional people being against the act of giving blood are other obstacles to overcome. Even so, Redbank is growing, and has already made a big difference to the sector, ensuring no blood in blood banks goes wasted because no-one was able to access it, and ultimately saving lives. We were truly impressed by the work of Francis and his team, and will continue following their work as they strive towards a complete digitalisation of blood monitoring and donor databases in Nigeria.
Despite a lot of challenges and a widespread resistance towards ‘trying something new’, we were able to see positive development and a strong will to change in various sections of the Nigerian society. This was particularly clear when spending a day with SpellAfrica, an organisation founded by 2013 alumnus Elvis. We had the opportunity to visit one of SpellAfrica’s initiatives, Back to School, together with Elvis’ business partner Erezi, and saw true passion for adult education.
There are almost 200 million people living in Nigeria and about 65 million of them are illiterate. Many adults who never had the change to go to or finish school when they were children. But things are changing. There is a will and dedication towards changing one’s life for the better and Back to School is there to help. The initiative supports illiterate adults living in poverty through afternoon classes, where they are being taught how to read and write by volunteer teachers (as well as celebrity guest teachers!). Meeting with these adults, seeing their joy in class, and their commitment to the idea that it is never too late to learn, was truly inspiring.
Changes towards a different future
We saw many examples of a changing mindset amongst many Nigerians – towards a brighter future embracing new technology and confidence to use the resources available in the country. This was particularly clear at our final stop, visiting 2017 alumna Destiny in Benin City. She runs recycling company EcoFuture and has seen a huge shift in the mindset of Nigerians towards recycling. Waste is still a massive issue but as people are starting to realise it isn’t necessarily just trash, that plastic waste for example can have a value, things are changing. Destiny’s business is one of an increasing number of recycling businesses tackling the waste problem by collecting plastic waste, sorting it based on the type of plastic, and selling to Nigerian companies turning the plastic waste into new products. In a country that for long has been importing everything from food to generators to tooth picks, there is a shift towards in-country production. For Destiny’s customers, this also means that instead of importing expensive raw materials, they can reuse waste, which is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly. And importantly, it supports businesses within Nigeria.
During our week in Nigeria, we saw huge challenges such as the lack of electricity, but we also saw great opportunities and inspiring entrepreneurship. When an entrepreneur can’t rely on basic things to work as they should, he or she will need to be creative and develop their own ways of solving problems. And it’s working. It may take time, but as the country is developing, and more people are embracing the modern world, the social entrepreneurs we met are ready. They have the ambition and the skills to meet the demand when it hits, and use their entrepreneurship to create a better society. We look forward to following their developments and will continue to update on similar success stories.