Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Saving minds, ideas, and people from 'untimely' graves!

Nigerian Tribune, Friday, July 15, 2011

Idris Ayodeji Bello is the Information Management Champion with Chevron Corporation. But outside his official engagement, he is involved in a number of projects targetted at improving the lot of Africans; such as Library Across Africa, Wennovation Hub and AfyaZima Africa. In this interaction with Sulaimon Olanrewaju, the multiple award winner speaks about his life and preoccupation.

IDRIS Bello is passionate about Africa’s development. He wants to do all in his power to ensure that Nigeria and the rest of Africa utilise their potentialities so that the continent will no longer be a wilderness of hunger, diseases, war and ignorance but a well developed continent that provides the best for her citizens.

Bello is of the opinion that a way of reversing the trend of underdevelopment in Africa is through enterprise. He avers, “A new wave of young women and men, armed with a burning resolve, enabled by global networks, and not governments or large multinationals, hold the key to solving Africa's social and economic problems, these are the people I refer to as Afropreneurs. While it is true that these individuals will need the support of government and big organisations, getting Nigeria and Africa out of the ‘recipient’ mentality will depend largely on the success of its Afropreneurs or Naijapreneurs. We need to focus on empowerment and providing an enabling environment, rather than just spoon-feeding people.”

He, however, laments that lack of access to capital is crippling enterprises in the country. He says, “According to a recent survey on VC4Africa, access to finance is one of the biggest challenges faced by young African entrepreneurs. Other challenges include the lack of a conducive and enabling environment to support startups. Getting a business registered in a country like Nigeria can be a very tedious process, and the added problems of navigating bureaucratic bottlenecks, getting legal advice and finding good mentors has precipitated an economic environment which has sent many good ideas from their ‘embryonic stages’ to their untimely ‘economic graves’”.

As his contribution to solving these problems, he teamed up with some people to establish the Wennovation Hub.
Bello says, “The Wennovation Hub is a true hub for start-up business development located in Ikeja, Lagos Nigeria with a focus on synthesizing high impact start-up growth, facilitation and development in West Africa. The hub provides office space, ongoing support, network and contacts, funding and affordable project support for innovative early stage companies in Nigeria and the ECOWAS region. The Wennovation Hub is an initiative of LoftyInc Allied Partner founded by Michael Oluwagbemi and Africa Leadership Forum (ALF). I am the Programme Director for the hub, while Dr Oluwole Odetayo manages the hub on a daily basis.

“Our hope is that the Wennovation Hub (and eventually the Wennovation Village) will provide this enabling environment to help young entrepreneurs overcome these challenges. Through the Wennovation Hub, we recently kick started the LoftyInc Angels Network, which is arguably Nigeria’s first Angel Network to fund the viable business ideas which pass through the Wennovation Hub.”

His concerns about the inadequacy of libraries on the continent resulted in the establishment of Libraries Across Africa with a view to bridging the noticeable gaps.

Speaking on Libraries Across Africa, he says, “Libraries Across Africa (LAA) is a non-profit social venture whose mission is to empower individuals through access to information. Each LAA library uses broadband Internet connectivity to provide relevant content and information resources to underserved communities in Africa.

“An LAA library is a combination of an innovative building system; community tailored books and electronic content, collaborative workspaces, and trained library staff. While the original idea was not mine, it was the outcome of an MSc thesis work by two Architecture students at Rice University, I joined the team to help transform the idea from concept to reality, leveraging my business knowledge in the African environment, and my understanding of the social need we were tackling having spent the first 20 years of my life in Nigeria. We are currently close to implementing our first pilot in Accra, Ghana.”

Talking about AfyaZima, he says, “AfyaZima is an organisation focused on the sustainable delivery of low cost health technologies to the developing world, while also integrating local insight and strategic consulting with a deep understanding of the key drivers that develop and enhance successful health care and bioscience enterprises in Africa. I co-founded this in 2010 with Muntaqa Umar-Sadiq, a medical doctor. Our initial efforts are focused on the provision of aggregated point-of-care (POC) diagnostic tools for the early detection and rapid diagnosis of the major infectious diseases affecting the developing world; HIV, TB and Malaria. We are currently working on our flagship product, the “Elpida Diagnostic Toolbox” (EDT) which will equip mobile doctors who visit rural communities to provide care, with an innovative toolbox that combines POC diagnostic tools with pictorial guides that cross language and cultural barriers and empower patients to take ownership of their management plans.”

Bello, explaining his interest in the programmes meant to improve the lot of Africans, says, “In these efforts I am spurred by my strong belief in the superiority of market-based solutions to Africa's problems. I also recognise that the problems of lack of access to education, health and support for enterprise are intertwined, and hence require the development of locally grown, holistic solutions.

On his dress sense, he says, “I like to dress well, and I am usually okay with anything that looks good on me. I am not obsessed about keeping up with fashion though, so you won’t have me longing for the latest designer shoes!”

His most valuable physical possession is his iphone because, “It serves as my phone, diary, social media tool, camera/video, note taker and a whole list of other things. It keeps me on top of all the things I am involved with. But overall, my faith and family are the most important things to me.”

On what he considers the ingredients of success, he says, “I will refer to a quote from famous inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, while advising one of his students who was seeking what to do with his life. ‘Look around you. Take a fresh, hard, and uncompromising look at life as you see it. Ask this question, What needs to be done? When you have an answer, and it may take some time to get it, then go and do what needs to be done. Do it better than anyone else does it and the world will beat down your door for your help. Then you will not need a good job; and you will have more than a career. You will have a mission.’ Hence, I view the ingredients of success as; vision, tenacity/courage, flexibility/adaptability and faith.

Then he defines success as “using your finest gifts and deepest desires to help you make a profound difference in the world while also retaining a balance in your responsibilities to your family, and building a strong relationship with your Creator.”

Talking about his legacy, Bello says,“ I would like to be remembered for my contribution towards encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity in the developing world as a tool to lessen the dependence of the citizenry on the state, which affects their willingness to criticise government leaders, thereby perpetuating poor governance.”

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Four Steps To Avoid a Failed Jonathan Presidency

By Kamar Bakrin

Truth be told, a failed Jonathan presidency will simply be a continuation of a long tradition in Nigerian governance. Despite all the noise about how “this time, it is different”, the brutal truth is that it is not. The elements which supposedly make it different have been present in equal or higher doses in previous administrations: a clear mandate, a president from a minority ethnic group, huge amount of public goodwill, a majority in the national assembly etc.

As for the qualities that make Jonathan unique: a good heart, calm disposition, listening ear and love for Nigeria; well, I hate to break it to you but we have had all of that before and it didn’t take us very far, at least not in the right direction.

Along with the fact that we have never lacked for blue-prints, development plans, several-point agendas, etc., you quickly realise that the prognosis isn’t looking so great.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; especially because the world is moving on with or without a Nigeria that gets its act together. However, if you study Nigeria’s leadership history, you will find that the times we have shown a semblance of progress have been when the incumbent administration has addressed one or more of certain elements. Jonathan can vastly improve his chances of success by working this handful of levers at the same time. So, following are things he can do to truly buck the dismal trend:

(1)Pick a stellar team
The problems of Nigeria do not require further articulation. Even an average product of our lousy educational system can do a decent job of identifying the problems and proffering solutions. Rather, we need the most competent people to take charge of the ministries, departments and agencies, both the ‘juicy’ and ‘sahara’ types and actually execute at world-class levels. Spend the time between now and May 29 to search for the most capable Nigerians at home and abroad. Go through a rigorous process of matching them to the positions especially keeping in mind the priorities in each sector.

Do not make the fatal mistake of distributing executive MDA appointments as ‘settlement’. If you must reward people, then perhaps, use some of the Board positions at the various agencies, but please do even these sparingly.

(2) Focus on the most important things
It is critical to concentrate on infrastructure, food, human capital development, security and improving public service efficiency. Yes, I know it is in the manifesto, but we know how manifestos work in Nigeria. So, please, actually focus on them. The word Focus does not even begin to address the importance. Make it an obsession: dedicate the best of our best resources to them, beg for more resources from richer nations, spend the bulk of your time supervising initiatives in these areas!

This also requires that they be well managed, with clear deliverables and timelines for hitting relevant milestones. Avoid blandishments about improving the quality of life of the people, delivering the dividends of democracy or crowing about how many billions have been spent on projects. Think, talk and act in terms of specific, measurable outcomes that impact the people on a sustainable basis.

There are so many non-priority areas that take up time and resources. Please minimise the distraction from these areas. Anyway, just fill your to-do list with the most important things and these others will find their rightful place at the back of the queue.

(3) Fight corruption
You will not succeed at anything else if you fail to tackle this. To bring it home, even if we judiciously deploy 100% of our resources, it will not be sufficient to make us one of the 20 leading economies in the time frame we have been bandying about. Now consider that a hefty chunk of these resources is frittered away on unnecessary recurrent expenditure or stolen outright. The paradox is that a lot of the stolen money goes towards 2 things: to rig elections, which will not be necessary if governance is good; and to provide private infrastructure at a higher unit cost than would have been incurred on spending it on what it was intended for in the first place.

Therefore, strengthen the existing organs to plug the leakages and making it extremely unattractive to steal. How? The same way you delivered on your promise of free and fair elections: appoint the right persons, fund them adequately and stay out of their way.

The common refrain, though I wonder why people feel compelled to state it, is that ‘I voted for Goodluck not PDP’. Well, it is payback time sir! If we are to believe the election results, it was you people overwhelmingly voted for: not Buhari, not PDP, not MEND, not OBJ, certainly not Madam Patience but YOU!

So, step forward and take charge. This means many things. First, you must be take responsibility: for the future direction of Nigeria, for resolving crises whenever, wherever and in whatever form they occur, for the misdeeds of your officials, for the safety and security of your citizens. In short sir, you are responsible for Nigeria.

Also, you must actively manage the country’s affairs: develop the roadmap, organise the resources required to deliver and manage the daily task of delivering it. Oh, I almost forgot, it would be nice to occasionally let us know how things are going.

All the best, or should I say Good luck?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Afropreneurship, Wennovation, and Bandstorming

Three concepts—Afropreneurship, Wennovation, and Bandstorming—explain the driving force for what I do and where I get the energy that keeps me going.

As I broadened my understanding of commerce and investing through my MBA program, I realized that a new wave of young women and men, armed with a burning resolve, enabled by global networks, and not governments or large multinationals, hold the key to solving Africa's social and economic problems. I embarked on a journey to redefine entrepreneurship with a focus on Africa – hence afropreneurship.

As afropreneurs, what we do is bandstorm. Bandstorming is the collective pooling of philosophically-linked ideas focused on solving social and economic problems. Like a band of brothers, Afropreneurs bandstorm (rather than brainstorm) solutions through a common philosophy. From education to community health, or the macro-economic issues of job creation and the development of stable capital markets, Africa's problems are big and require bold, daring ideas.

This is not a vision I have held in isolation. Discovering a band of similarly-visioned young Africans, with whom I could bandstorm, I joined LoftyInc Allied Partners Ltd, an organization dedicated to the enhancement of African lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven investments across West Africa.

Wennovation has evolved from bandstorming. It is the belief that when like minds develop new ideas or solutions through purely collaborative work, such result is not innovation—which recognizes the primacy of the individual,—but wennovation, replacing "i" with "we" to emphasize the collaborative feature of afrocentric entrepreneurship.

Today, we promote wennovation through the Wennovation Hub, a business incubation program and facility currently located in Lagos, Nigeria, but soon to be replicated across West Africa through an alliance with the Africa Leadership Forum.

In these efforts I am spurred by my strong belief in the superiority of market-based solutions to Africa's problems, and I invite you all to partner with us in furtherance of this philosophy.

Idris Ayodeji Bello (Social Afropreneur, Bandstormer & Lead Wennovator)
February 2011