The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) signed a memorandum of understanding to empower 200 entrepreneurs from Nigeria’s North East and Niger Delta regions. This partnership aims to holistically address, through innovative interventions, the economic plight of communities affected by armed conflict or violence and further help us reach more entrepreneurs and impact more lives in these conflict zones.
In 3 years the Tony Elumelu Foundation has impacted 301 entrepreneurs in these conflict zones who have gone on to create jobs, build partnerships and impacted their communities. See below amazing stories of the impact of the foundation on entrepreneurs in these regions:
Zion Oshiobugie, “I almost committed suicide.”
Zion Oshiobugie always had one dream; to provide education for even the poorest people in the society. This dream was driven by one belief, that education is the best shot at breaking the cycle of poverty.
And he knows this from experience. “I’m coming from a background where I used to be someone’s houseboy,” Zion said.
From 2004 to 2008, Zion worked as a domestic servant. Then he proceeded to get some education. His own personal experiences, he said, are what propels his dreams.
But dreams in the absence of opportunity have ruthless effects on the spirit. Add to that, a series of unfortunate events and failures, including losing his teaching job, he got plunged into a downward spiral.
“In 2012,” Zion said, “I was depressed, and wanted to take my own life.”
He found support though, in the arms of his mother. “This money you’re looking for to do this thing you love so passionately,” she’d told him.
She was right, because 3 years later, he got a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, and his life changed forever. Clever Minds Nursery and Primary School was born in Warri, Delta State.
“I’m tired of the job seeking mentality we’ve been creating in children. So I thought, if I open a school for the poor, I will start creating a problem-solving mentality as entrepreneurs.” He simplifies the basic principles of entrepreneurship.
“Our school is run with the Nigerian curriculum, not any foreign system. But what we do is also teach entrepreneurship once a week for extra-curricular classes.” This, he believes, will instil early the mentality that they can become anything they want in life. One struggle persisted; he was dealing with very low-income earners and fees, no matter how little, still seemed like a problem.
So he created a collection system where parents, mostly petty traders, can pay in instalments, daily, or weekly, or monthly. To drive this, he has two collectors who go round the markets collecting money.
Idris Adamu, “I was watching TV one day, and everything changed after.”
“It was an ad, and they were saying if anyone had an idea that they wanted to turn into a business, they should apply for a grant.” That ad, Idris said, was run by the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
He applied immediately.
“I didn’t take it seriously then, and I forgot about it.” A few months later, he got an email saying he’d been accepted.
Thus began the journey of Idris Adamu, Founder of Northwood Furniture.
When Idris started after receiving funding, he was operating from his home premises.
“Now, I have a factory where production is going on, and it’s so large that for the years, I might not need any to acquire more space for production.” All wood and material used for work are sourced locally. The business, which he operates out of Bali, Taraba State, is just perfectly located in a place with an abundant supply of premium wood.
“There’s a large variety of wood there, people even export wood from this local government. They come from as far as Lagos to source for premium wood.”
In 2016, Northwood was just an idea, but now, with good mentorship and funding, “my business is now worth about 10 million naira,” he said.
The biggest challenge for Northwood now, catering for demand for his products.
“I’m planning to set up a showroom in Kaduna by the end of the year because there’s a lot of demand coming from there. It will help me be closer to them.”
He currently has a staff strength of over 14 people. And he’s not stopping there, he’s also looking to start a mentorship program for young people in his community.
“Many parents in the community are asking if they can bring their children for apprenticeship.”
If the stars could align for him to have this opportunity, he wants to work to make sure more young people find opportunity too.
Samuel Ukpa, “I thought my ideas were useless, but TEF gave me validation.”
Samuel Ukpa had just finished his degree in Electrical-Electronics Engineering and was at crossroads on what to do.
He wanted to fuel his passion for electronics design and manufacturing, or he’d have to return back to school for a Masters degree. He wasn’t so enthusiastic about the latter.
One belief was driving him;
“We’re trying to change the narrative that Nigerians are only consumers of technology. I believe we can start manufacturing locally.”
“I wrote business plan in 2014, and I believed that if I could raise that money, I could fuel my idea.” The business was Skytrain, an electronics company.
Due to lack of available options, Samuel enrolled for a Masters Degree at the University of Ibadan.
“I told myself that if I get the funding I need to start my business, I’m going to switch over and invest in my business. No matter when.”
For the time being, he converted his uncle’s garage in Ibadan to a workshop, and to gain some experience, began interning with someone else from January until July 2015.
“The day my name came out in March 2016 was the day I went to try sort out some things with my admission.”
That was his validation.
“In July 2016, I relocated fully back to Port Harcourt in Rivers State to build my business.”
Sky Train not only assembles outdoor display screens and systems for businesses, they also create bespoke screens for clients.
“In the future, we want to build a more diverse range of electronic products.”
The funding helped fund research for new products, and Samuel believes that in the future, more products will light up the world.
Aklahyel Goni, “We’re solving a very fundamental problem.”
The Northeast is one of the most battered regions in Nigeria, mostly as a result of the ongoing insurgency.
Goni founded El-Magnifico, an aquaculture company that is looking to solve a huge problem in the aquaculture industry in the Northeast; the cost of production.
One area that has been greatly affected due to recent economic factors is the cost of feeds.
“It has made it really difficult for local farmers to get quality feeds at a good price.”
“About six years ago,” Goni said, “foreign feeds sold for 4,500 naira in the local market. Now, the price has risen by almost 600%.”
The story from local manufacturers isn’t much better either.
“Not only isn’t there enough supply locally, local manufacturers of feed haven’t been able to optimise their process to make their feeds cheaper.”
Locally manufactured feeds now cost over 7,000 naira, still beyond reach for many farmers.
The region seems to be suffering at the hands of nature too.
“Desertification has led to a decrease in natural fish sources.” Now, all of these factors, including the insurgency in the region, has burdened the region with more unemployment.
But El-Magnifico is fighting back.
“We now focus on producing premium fish feed, trying to strike a balance between quality and cost.”
Goni has found a process, albeit a temporary one.
“Our production is in partnership with another factory,” Goni explained, “we develop the formula using 100% local content.”
This partner factory brings the feed to a finished product. All of these factors, including a well-optimised process, has helped ensure that they can optimise properly.
The market is clearly huge, and “we still can’t meet 2% of the demand.”
Because of this promise, there’s hope for expansion in the near future.“I’m currently working on securing a 14 million naira funding to help start up our own factory. This will help us provide better quality, and possibly drive prices lower.”
The future, it appears, is bright.
Babatunde Lawal, “I’ve mastered the art of pitching ideas.”
“We like to call ourselves The Cassava Company,” said Babatunde, the MD/CEO of Fiyon’Jay Premium Company. Babatunde wants all his days working to take cassava from just a crop, to a cash crop.
“We started with processing our Cassava to Garri. But lately, we’re now processing our Cassava into Food Grade Starch.”
Food Grade Starch is used in Industrial Processes by Beverege companies.
“A lot of this is imported from outside the country, but we found that this could also be manufactured locally. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
This single move has a large scale potential to completely shift the local industry.
“We believe we this will create great opportunities for local cassava farmers.”
They are also working on improving local methods, and therefore boost production.
“We’re currently in advanced talks with a Chinese company that’s helping us create mobile cassava processors. This way, we can move it from farm to farm.”
Called the Factory-on-Wheels, this equipment will process casava to starch.
What this does is reduce the logistics cost and cost of production, and thus, increase productivity.
Nigeria still remains the world’s largest cassava producer in the world, and Babatunde believes there are more ways to maximise this opportunity.
One thing Babatunde is also doing with his company is providing important knowledge to help local farmers increase yield.
“The major problem I’ve seen is low yield, which in turn leads to low income.” Babatunde also happens to be the man for the job here, with his educational background in Agricultural Economics and Extension.
“I’ve been able to come up with a model that will help them scale their production to about 30 tonnes per hectare.”
This target will see them increase yield by over 100%. The technology and methods already exist, what Babatunde is doing is making this knowledge more accessible. This will in the long run increase yield, income, and the general standard of living of farmers.
This business was built entirely out of the grant received from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, but for Babatunde, the money isn’t the real gifts.
“One of the biggest gifts I learned from TEF is in mastering the art of pitching ideas.”
If ideas rule the world, what does this say about people who master the art of selling them?
Rufai Salihu Abdulsalam, “I fully understand the power of networking now.”
“We were on 200 birds before receiving funding,” Rufai said, “but now we increased capacity to 800 birds.”
Rufai is the founder of Ulamas Farm, a poultry and fish farming company that was already in business before receiving the grant.
What that grant helped to achieve is a 400% percent growth, and that’s not all. From the funds and returns, Rufai started a fish farm, which currently has a capacity of 1,500 catfish.
A two-staff team has now grown to over 5 people.
Rufai insists that the real blessing wasn’t the money raised, it was the wealth of knowledge.
“The impact of the training has completely changed my life. Now, I can carry out anything about business development, from research to implementation.”
The business, which is currently located in Gombe, a Northeastern state, gets some heat from the insurgency in the region. But that, Rufai believes, hasn’t stopped him from thriving.
He has taken it upon himself to educate more people on the work of the foundation, and encourage them to apply. Last year, three people were accepted from Gombe State.
“I personally mentored one of those three people. This year, I want that number increase.”
Rufai insists beyond anything, that the capacity building is the true asset of the program.
“The Pan-African nature of this program is actually something I really like about the program. I have so many friends across Africa now, for pleasure and even for business. We recently helped someone from Lesotho get something he needed from Nigeria for his poultry business. That is the power of networking.”
Rufai plans to select 20 secondary students to give a full training on poultry farming to further empower them when they leave school.
If we’re going to build the future, we’ll have to start now.