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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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Winner, 2011 Sallyport Award for extraordinary contributions to Rice University

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