Do you know that God does grant us the desires of our hearts? (Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.“). Giving a TEDx talk was one desire I had in my heart but was sure wouldn’t come anytime soon but it came wayyy to fast. I remember in December last year when the organizer and a friend of mine Taiwo Adeyemi asked me to speak at the program, I had a mix of euphoria and fear but then I decided to give it a shot. It was such a lovely experience for me, I was very nervous but hey, I’m super proud of me for daring to take the stage.
In the spirit of sharing, here’s a draft of my TEDxMokola Speech. Please read and share your thoughts in the comment section below.
P.s The theme was “Throw back to the Future”.
What 19th Century Farmers Taught Me about Nigeria’s Development Potential.
I love this brown roof city. It was in this city called Ibadan that I had my first go at independence during my NYSC year in 2016.
It was here I discovered ‘air pass air’ as the weather in Ibadan is just so beautiful and pure
It was here I discovered that it’s possible to work a full 9 to 5 and be home before dark to do the things that matter to me as here the traffic is nothing compared to what we have in Lagos.
But most importantly it was in this beautiful city that I uncovered my roots and embraced my culture. I served at an organization dedicated to ensuring the sustainable development of the southwest region of Nigeria across all fonts.
One of my most startling experiences at that organization was sitting in at the Yoruba Historical Conversation sessions; a bi-monthly session of story sharing and lesson gathering where a few people sat around wise historians who would take us on a voyage of our past, present and future as a people.
At one particular edition, the guest historian told us about how in the days zero technology and machinery, Yoruba’s were able to cultivate massive farmlands in a relatively short period of time through the power of synergy; A group of farmer friends would form a team and together develop each other’s farmlands one by one. This struck me as such a simple and obvious approach to development and growth. Even the holy book says “1 will chase a thousand and 2 will put 10,000 to flight”
I was sure that in between those words lay an approach to solving Africa’s development challenge but I wasn’t quite sure how to apply it.
Fast forward to after my service year in this beautiful city. I moved back home to Lagos and a few months later, I took a job at a Fast Moving Consumer Goods company. During my first few weeks working at this company, one thing that struck me is how smart and extremely versed most of their staff are; these people know their stuff! and that’s why this company has been growing year on year in its operations.
This is a foreign business that has been thriving profitable in Nigeria for over 100 years. I attempted to count on my fingers how many Nigerian businesses on that scale have been around for that long … crickets
Okay how about for 10 to 50 years? Maybe Dangote….
I realized that the major reason why these businesses are going strong is because of the presence of skilled labour. Consequently one major reason why most of our indigenous businesses are dead or stuck at micro/small scale is because of the absence of skilled labour. It reminded me of that story about the team of farmer friends; sustainable fast growth can only happen when there’s adequately skilled labour.
Here in Nigeria we have skilled labour, but they spend 98% of their skills building foreign businesses on our soil. Whilst I have absolutely no problem with foreign businesses trading here on our soil (I mean I took a job with one of them), what I’m not at ease with is the fact that we don’t have our own equally successful indigenous businesses trading at par with them.
I have to say that in recent times there has been an awareness of the need to grow our own businesses. The government and private sector now place a lot of emphasis and support behind grooming entrepreneurs and growing small businesses however we must not neglect the fact that no business can grow beyond its level of skilled labour.
So foundationally, we have beautiful cities like Ibadan across the length and breadth of Nigeria, a rich cultural heritage that holds in it an archive of tried and tested methods for growth, a wide consumer population of over 180m people and just above it on one end thanks to the joint efforts of the public and private sectors, we have budding entrepreneurs and on another end we have extremely skilled labour.
The foundation is there, its set. The question is how do we bridge the gap that exists between these entrepreneurs and skilled labour so we can build sustainable businesses? How do we get skilled labour (experienced professionals) to work/consult for micro businesses and take them from micro scale to medium scale and beyond?
One thing is certain, small businesses cannot afford to hire and pay this level of professionals. So how about we explore a different approach?
- Through professional certification bodies;
Typically, when you graduate with a degree in a course like Accounting, the next step is to get chartered. If you’re going to do this under a body like ICAN, you’re required to sit for and pass an array of theoretical exams, how about we include a practical bit where these skilled accountants are required to help small businesses close their accounting loopholes and keep their costs down so as to increase profitability.
2. Through academic institutions;
MBA students usually have to do a compulsory project based internship during their study. What if they’re incentivised to work in micro/small businesses to help solve their pressing business problems in order to scale their operations?
3.Through the power of asking questions;
Now this is my favorite one; how about we let these entrepreneurs know that someone out there has the answer to their questions and create a platform where they can search for and ask skilled professionals in that field who can give them workable answers and follow through on its implementation in exchange for equity? This sounds fair to me.
Africa is the last frontier; the whole world is turned towards us and everyone is eager to get a piece of the cake however we must make sure we have the largest share by building our own and in order to do this with speed, our indigenous businesses need skilled labour to scale. So today I propose that like those farmer friends; our fore fathers, we adopt a synergetic approach to development.