The next era of entrepreneurship is about raising the bar, leveling the playing field, expanding participation and scaling the networks of social, financial and inspiration capital that provide the foundation for successful startups and scalable business. As part of the inclusive entrepreneurship movement, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has consistently driven awareness for increased women participation and this is evident in the rise of application and selection of women entrepreneurs to the programme from 2015 to date.
Fortunately, more and more individual entrepreneurs and mentors on the TEF programme are creating on-ramps for women entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs with disability. TEF Mentor, Adejoke Ogungbire helped to drive the TEF application with the Deaf Entrepreneurs who she calls “EARpreneurs”. Adejoke is a Public Health Specialist and a development enthusiast with more than a decade work experience in the same field. Growing up, two of her siblings were deaf, (they were not born deaf), so this gave her an opportunity to learn sign language and subsequently began to see more into the world of persons with hearing disability (deaf persons). “I saw they had real needs and that beyond their disability were socio-economic needs unmet amongst others. I wanted to help meet these needs and as a development expert, I thought of solutions. I felt I had something to give and eventually realized that this was the plight of many deaf. For me this was the bigger picture and I wanted to do something about this. This was where the vision of an Inclusive Organization started and my consult (DESIRE Health Consult, evolved into DESIRE Health Inclusive Organization (DHIO).”
Through the DESIRE Health Inclusive Organization (DHIO), Adejoke contacted some of the executives of the Deaf associations and shared the information about the the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme with them and together with the cohort of deaf entrepreneurs who she had been engaging with previously, she started a series of what she called e-Seminars/workshops via mobile phone applications. Through a Whatsapp group project called EARnpreneurs, Adejoke held application drive sessions for hearing impaired entrepreneurs interested in applying for the TEF programme. Through this sessions, applicants were guided on how to complete their applications. “The energy in the group chat was high going by the willingness of deaf entrepreneurs (and aspiring ones) to participate by learning, sharing knowledge in order to grow their businesses”
Adejoke’s says her passion for impact in her community and zeal to support the work of TEF is her driving force. “I saw that the TEF was doing a commendable work and I wanted to be part of that because they do just what I loved to do! I have always been a ‘changemaker’. Eventaully I saw that deaf communities are been left out of that great opportunity and I swung to action by approaching TEF to include them and I would be willing to mentor them. More so, I already had a corps of deaf entrepreneurs I was working with.
On mentoring TEF entrepreneurs, she says “The Programme has broadened my network and therefore my net worth. I am now a firm believer in Africa and ‘Africapitalism’. It has also helped me to rethink non-profit work as not-for-profit using the social entrepreneurship approach i.e. solving social/development challenges while creating a social business model as well to address them rather than being donor-dependent. It has helped to me to think more innovatively about how my business can address social problems too. Learning is a lifelong process, so as it is popular said, there is no end to learning and no knowledge is a waste! Whether I am a mentor or mentee with the TEF does not really matter; what matters is the how I leverage on the opportunity I have. My first mentoring experience was last year (2017) and I learned along with my mentees while I tried to assist in any way I could. The joy you derive from being helpful to others, learning about their innovations too and trying to guide them to be their best. The TEF summit was the peak, I had my notes with me and learnt all I possibly could from the dignitaries that graced the occasion and shared their entrepreneurial stories. I was comforted from the words of the likes of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who said Failure is all part of the story and we must never be afraid to fail! I was glad such successful business men could relate with that!”
Adejoke is hopeful that her mentees will become very successful business owners/entrepreneurs regardless of their hearing disability.