Olufemi Ariyo is the founder of Freesia Foundation, an outfit that provides training for young adults on different area of technology. He is also a columnist, information and communication technology expert with over 15 years experience. Over the years his foundation has trained over 7,000 young adults in technology, entrepreneurship and leadership. In this interview, he told DAYO EAMMANUEL how Nigeria can get out of the woods by giving the youths the necessary opportunities they need to become job creators instead of dependants. He also relayed the support Daystar Christian Centre and the Redeemed Christian Church of God to train thousands of youths some of who have gone ahead to create jobs. Excerpts:
The challenges are obvious, they are not new, how do you think we can get out of this satiation?
I am very personate about the Nigerian young adults fresh from secondary schools, who almost has no chance of getting admission into the higher institution and needs a lot of attention. I think that a blend of nurturing, lessons on leadership and entrepreneurship will do the magic that fits into the solution that we have always looked forward to. By leadership I don’t mean one person in front leading but rather personal leadership. That is what John Maxwell calls 360 degrees leadership that does not need aid from anywhere. Anywhere I find myself, I take responsibility. I don’t wait for somebody, I don’t try to push or start giving excuses, rather personal leadership from the perspective of taking responsibility for a problem and at my time, I can take responsibility. For entrepreneurship, there is also this norm that there are no jobs, why can’t we take it this way that people have challenges and try to fix them? Around the world, people have challenges, we will always need technology solutions, we will always need plumbers, panel beaters, mechanics, people to help us wash our clothes, our mindset has to change. Instead of seeking for someone to give us pay at the end of the month let us seek to provide solutions, taking responsibilities and that is why entrepreneurship comes in. Entrepreneurship has to be a major course, taking them young, building it in the curriculum of the secondary schools and higher institution of learning where entrepreneurship and leadership can develop to make them see how easy it is that leadership is not something that is high up there. Not until I’m high up there in position, rather leadership is an attitude.
Have you wondered why some of these things are not in place as simple as they sound from you?
I’ll be very honest with you. I have tried to ruminate with these things and I found out that the leadership is as good as its followers. I realise that the people deserve the kind of leaders they have. You can’t give what you don’t have, it is that unfortunate.
Can we build this leadership culture and entrepreneurial spirit at the family level? Can we start taking responsibility at the family level when a child is growing up. My definition of leadership is vision because the vision really drives the leader, the leader doesn’t exist without the vision so I believe that the kind of leadership we have in this part of the world where we have the African fighting spirit, all we need now is the vision of a desirable future; a vision to drive what we are doing to give our passion an expression. I believe if this thing is given the foundation at the family level, it becomes very easy. You know that when you get into the public office, you don’t steal, you have to find a vision and align yourself with it. Followership also drives the leadership. It is so bad to the extent that if someone becomes a Local Government chairman for instance, the expectation of the people is that he should build a new house, he should share the ‘national cake’. All these things are expectations that he should steal, that he should do more than required, expecting him to do things he should not do, dole out money, where do you expect him to get such money if he doesn’t steal?
Look at the concept of John Kagame in Rwanda which has become a destination in Africa today, what do you think we can learn?
I listened to the President of Rwanda on Tony Elumelu’s program. The way he was discussing reflected Rwanda, It was the President’s bane was obvious that he wouldn’t do less. He talked about leadership, accountability, personal leadership, taking responsibility. I just loved the man, what it boils down to at the foundational level is personal leadership, if I fail to lead the asset called ME. I cannot lead another person neither can I lead a country. I think the solution comes from the media and those who have mastered leadership to making it a national discourse, bring the entrepreneur and make it a national discourse because the thinking in the family in Nigeria today is that we need to get into leadership position before things can be done whereas an entrepreneur thinks in terms of creating solutions that can solve global problems. These things need to be formed at the family level but what will the parents give if they don’t have it? In a situation where parents pay for their children to pass exam that is failure in parenting. My child has failed in his personal leadership to take time to study and pass, now I need support for my exam and my parents are paying for the question papers for me, what is that saying? It is now telling the child to go extra length to pass exam and what does he become? I am of the school of thought of a sound mind and if we have to get this done, we need personal leadership and the advantage today is that technology has made things simpler. If an average Nigerian has access to the internet and he thinks the solution is in escaping from Nigeria without skills, he cannot make much impact. There are so many universities online where you can earn degrees. Who says I can’t get education online when a 13 year old I read online got a $28m job? The Indian boy said he learnt how to write codes when his father put him in a class and gave him access to YouTube and he kept doing those things and now he does a lot of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence. I tell Nigerians all hope is not lost, the good thing government and businesses can do for the people is to build cyber centres, give people access to the internet, they can restrict access to some sites and give access to some other sites.
Amazing the volume of information at your disposal, how have you been able to push this information to young Nigerians at Freesia Foundation?
Well, 11 years ago there was no Freesia Foundation; it was just a dream. I have done a few websites, I have felt that I could teach people how to create website, so within my community then back in Akute, I found students just finishing secondary school, I decided to teach them how to design websites, they have gone on to become web developers and created employments. While I was doing that, I got the vision to partner with non- governmental organisations and churches, I shared some proposals with one of the churches; Daystar Christian Centre and we started the training. In the first class we had over 400 students and some of the students in that class have gone on to head technology departments in different organisaitons like Multichoice, 9molile, etc. I walked into some of these organisations and someone would just great me my oga what are you doing here? It would turn out to be one of my old students. While doing that I got the vision to talk with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) because I have some relationships with them. The RCCG national youth arm bought into it and they didn’t just buy into it locally but it went national and we had a central place and people came from all over. We got support from the General Overseer and he built a place for us. That support really opened my eyes that there is a need. Someone needs to put their back down for these youths to climb, someone needs to give them hope, that is the central message and that led us to provide that same training outside Nigeria. We did it in Kenya, it was in Kenya I met someone from the United Nations Organisation and he said if you have a registered organisation we like to work with people like you and for the first time it dawned on me that I wasn’t registered. I was only passionate. Then I had to registered Freesia Foundation and since we registered Freesia, we have gone ahead to train over 7,000 youths and we hope to double this number every year. As a matter of fact, I have the vision of training millions of young adults. I have found what has worked, I am the guinea pig that has been a first taster of this thing and I know it can work. I think if the average Nigerian can interact with some of these things that have worked, it will spark hope. We have gone on to partner with Lagos State Ministry of Education, we have worked with Education District 6 and we have rained over a thousand youths there, we usually do in hundreds. Recently we have added leadership into the training; we give them john Maxwell’s book on leadership. The vision is to explain it in their classes. We hold their hands as we discuss these book chapter by chapter in their classes from entrepreneurial skills, how to develop website, take phonographs, manage events, do decorations etc, make up different skills, edged on entrepreneurial skills, leadership values so they can take responsibilities for a problem and try to find sustainable solutions, we have gone on to do that and hoping to collaborate, are working on partnerships , meeting institutions that can support at the Local Government levels that can create learning centres like they have in the US that can support businesses, create hubs at the LGA and LCDA it is something that is doable and it had happened in other parts of the world. America focuses on SMEs and it has led to creating employment for millions of Americans and I believe if we can scale these things down and help the man on the street to start a business and it can help him to create employment for two or three other people and these small businesses can create millions of jobs and that can create a new narration and give a new orientation. I believe unemployment can be curbed and it begins with each entrepreneurial in the homes, secondary schools and higher institutions.
You have trained hundreds of these young adults, do you have a mechanism to measure their efficiency?
While we are still in class we start getting job offers. While we were in Kenya, we were still in class and tens of them were getting job offers. Some were getting jobs of $100, $200, $300. In one of our classes someone got one of our students to tie gele, head gear for her and offered her N5,000. She did for three of her mum’s friends and she was paid. Someone got a contract to decorate a wedding hall. She was sill in secondary school, she even finished the job before billing them and they paid. She couldn’t believe her eyes and they even underpaid her but to her it was joy. She could have done it for free. Some of our students coming from Ejigbo were already getting jobs while in class. They came to my office to thank me and prayed for me. The biggest thing they can do for me is to help one other person. Help someone with the information you have gained. Averagely I have some students in Multichoce and other big corporations and I can say out of a hundred we have 20 percent that we can track already doing stuffs. One of my students came to me that he wanted to buy a car, this is someone who couldn’t gain admission into higher institution, he had N2m to buy a car and he is already training students.
How much does your training cost?
I’ll be honest with you the training we do with Lagos State Ministry of Education is free and we gave the students snacks as well.
Then how are you funded since its free?
We are funded by our other endeavours and from friends. We take what we make from what we earn to run it. This is passion for me, it is like my breath. I almost cannot live without seeing someone smile. I have also been rescued by some of my students in various places.