Developing Society through Investing Your Life in Others, The Story of a Young Nigerian Entrepreneur Oyindamola Johnson

Oyindamola Johnson says Nigerians, especially the young ones, are one of the most hardworking and resourceful people you'll find anywhere and across the globe. Despite little or no direct support, future young leaders in this country are somehow managing to grab their chance to learn and grow. And he is doing everything he can to empower them, representing their interests. But not theirs only – he travels the world working on social innovation projects. This inspiring young man was selected as a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur in April this year, in May 2018 he was chosen as a part of 50 outstanding young experts and named a G20-Young Global Changer by Global Solutions Initiative in Germany. And these are just some of his numerous international recognitions. He claims the leaders of his country have failed the youth on several fronts but he is determined to be part of a revolution. His motto might really lead to big changes one day:Work on being and not on having, for with what you are, you will have.

You recently came back from The World Policy Forum I Global Solutions Summit in Germany. What has made the greatest impression on you there? Any thoughts or lesson you would like to share?

The Global Solutions Summit gathered over 1,100 participants from around the world, governments, think tanks, business, and civil society to find answers to global challenges which affect us all. Recoupling served as a major theme of the summit, and it was an issue which was looked at critically. A major highlight of the program for me was when experts mentioned that they didn’t have any clear-cut solution for social issues and that the reason for the conference was to enable us to come together to solve global challenges. Prior to know, I had always assumed that experts knew it all and had it all figured out, but the summit showed the importance of collaboration for social good, and also enabled me to understand that I had a key role to play in bringing about an equitable society for all. Also, being part of the 2018 cohort of Young Global Changers also made me understand that while my work focused on Nigeria and Africa as a whole, I am part of a global network that is a vital part and piece in proffering solutions as a young leader and expert to global problems.

Partially, this event has inspired you to start a program soon, where you would work with selected young leaders over a broad period of time, mentoring them using an approach which you believe is right. Tell us more about this?

I have been very privileged and opportune to be part of several leadership development and capacity building programs across the world, and this has helped shape me into the leader that I am today. Governments, institutions, and organizations have invested time and resources in me over time and this has contributed in a great measure in who I am today, and the leader I am growing to be. I, however, recognize that I couldn’t have gotten to where I am if others hadn’t deliberately contributed to my growth through mentoring, and that is why in paying it forward, it is important and necessary that I consciously and deliberately invest my time in developing other leaders. Mentoring is an investment and is a result of a relationship. I have observed that most mentoring programs aren’t successful because the mentor and mentee aren’t invested in each other’s growth, there isn’t a clear focus and strategy for this exercise, and there isn’t a realistic timeframe to it. I am presently fine-tuning the details and will announce this once we are ready to launch. This will be much different from what is presently obtainable, and we’ll make sure we get this right. 

Last year, a training program was held at the American Corner at CcHUB in Lagos called Elevate Your Game! It brought together over 50 professionals who are willing to help each other grow. Tell us more about this, what came out of this event and what are the facts you are most proud of?

While serving as an Atlas Corps Fellow in New York, I observed that the social sector space in the U.S. and particularly New York was very active and thrived with a lot of events, programs and support for nonprofit professionals. I took advantage of several of the opportunities I came across and sought to replicate the same model back in Nigeria in which we had a thriving community of practice of young nonprofit professionals who wouldn’t work in silos, but actively engage and support themselves. Upon returning to Nigeria after successfully completing my 1-year Fellowship in the U.S., I immediately hit the ground running and organized the program in order to provide a platform where young leaders can learn, share, interact and network. The key focus is social sector strengthening, and to develop the capacity of these young leaders. It was also an assumption that I needed to test, and the interest was highly encouraging. Within 2-weeks of announcing the event, we were fully booked and the venue was packed out on the day of the program. 

Oyindamola Johnson

What are the projects you are working on at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m working on which I will reveal in due course. They, however, are directly related to things I’m passionate about such as education, human capital management, leadership development and social sector strengthening especially as it relates to the nonprofit space. While a couple of these projects are based in Nigeria and focused on Africa, the others are more globally focused. 

What do future young leaders of Nigeria need the most and the Government is failing in giving to them?

I say without reservation and hesitation that Nigerians, especially the young ones are one of the most hardworking and resourceful people you’ll find anywhere and across the globe. Despite little or no direct support and learning to thrive despite all odds, future young leaders in Nigeria have learned to find a way to excel across many sectors. What we need is a Government that is not too far removed from the realities that young Nigerians face. While we acknowledge the work being done by the present administration in the face of challenges which it faces, young Nigerians require a Government that is responsive, that is humane, and one which provides clear leadership and a sense of direction for the country and populace. Do we as young Nigerians have a roadmap or an idea of the vision of where we are heading as a Nation? What we have at the moment are young people who are doing their best to live for today, and hope for tomorrow. We require strategic and deliberate investments in young people by the Government across all sectors. The changes won’t all happen or be evident in one day, if we, however, are committed as a Nation to this vision and strategic roadmap, then all hands will be on deck to ensure we build the Nigeria that we want. As young Nigerians, the nation and our leaders have failed us on several fronts, and this needs to be fixed and addressed. A nation of over 180 million people that still can’t provide regular electricity for its people still has a long way to go. If all that the Government spends the time to fix is the power supply, this will kick-start immense growth and productivity in all sectors of the economy. Investment in education, infrastructure, and the power sector is critical at this point in time. 

You claim the problems people face in Africa and Nigeria have different layers of complexities and the only way something can be done on that matter is to partner the Government, private sector and the social development space to work together in order to make a progress. How do you see this happening and are you optimistic about this idea?

Social issues as I have often repeated do not have a single answer, means or way of addressing them. There isn’t any best solution or best idea, they are all assumptions which needs to be tested. Attempting to solve them on the surface level only reveal much deeper levels and layers which needs to be attended to. This is where tri-sector partnership comes into play, where Government, business, and the social sector space all act as partners in progress, rather than try to solve societal problems the best way they know how. For example, Government can play its role in providing appropriate policy frameworks and laws to address specific issues, while the business sector provides the capital and technical expertise needed, and the social sector space brings its on-the-ground expertise gained from directly working and interacting with the populace. Facilitating partnerships and collaboration across these 3 sectors ultimately serve the greater good of society.

For a year, from 2016 – 2017, you had the honor to be part of the participants at Emerging Global Leaders Fellow program in the USA, by Atlas Corps Inc. What was the most valuable knowledge or advice you learned then that you apply in your business today?

Serving as an Atlas Corps Fellow definitely stands out as a turning point in my career as an international development and nonprofit professional. 

You said once: “There’s something that you know that I don’t. There’s something I know that you don’t. Knowledge shared and knowledge combined is what brings about collective genius.” What is one of the most precious lessons you remembered from one of your listeners or people who follow your work?

A major lesson that has stood out for me, and which I have learned from those who closely follow my work and thoughts is that life isn’t meant to be lived in isolation and that through collaboration and partnerships, we can all leverage our skills, strengths, and expertise in order to amplify our impact.

What is your postulate to teach people to be the best of themselves?

Work on being and not on having, for with what you are, you will have!

Who is your fellow colleague from Nigeria you admire, and why?

Her name is Adepeju Jaiyeoba, and she’s a Lawyer, and also the Executive Director of Brown Button Foundation which creates low-cost healthcare for expectant mothers in Nigeria and across Africa. One of the reasons why I love her work is because she has been able to find the right balance between being passionate about a cause, providing a solution to a social issue and wicked problem of child mortality, and establishing a framework around building a sustainable and profitable social enterprise which is deeply rooted and committed to its purpose, vision, and mission. She has also been able to change the narrative of what a social enterprise should be and has effectively leveraged local and international platforms, as well as partnerships to drive and amplify her voice and message.

Photos: From Archive of Oyindamola Johnson

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