Closing the Digital Divide

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Maduabuchi Ubani shares the amazing journey of a digital entrepreneur who is championing digital literacy, and leading individuals alongside businesses to embrace the limitless online opportunities

Something phenomenal began in early 2009 across Swat Valley in Mingora, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan; a place which was until then unknown to the rest of the world.

A young girl had decided to beat the odds and do things differently. She would through her resilience bring Swat Valley to global prominence.

Through her determination even in the face of danger and constant intimidation, this 12-years old decided to actively push for the education of women and children in her community.

In time, she became a respected figure for education and human rights advocacy across Pakistan.

Her actions and contributions toward education and humans rights advocacy got her a bullet to the head by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism.

Luckily, she survived and was transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK, where she fully recovered.

That girl’s name is Malala Yousafzai- a global activist for the right to education. She is the recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate).

And just like Malala is positively contributing towards education and human rights, other women across the globe are also determined to make a mark in the sands of time and positively change the narrative within and outside their communities.

One of those women is Yemisi Ajeojo.

As an award winning social entrepreneur, best selling author, international public speaker,and digital skills trainer, Yemisi has a strong expertise in strategy and finance.

Her work in the public and private sector in both Nigeria and the UK cuts across finance, operations, project management, youthwork, community development and business development.

Yemisi is the co-founder of Cirkle Labs, a social innovation company enabling the unreached and disadvantaged to use digital tools to become employable, get employed or grow their businesses.

She also co-owns Triift Africa which provides collateral free loans as well working capital to small businesses especially those owned by women. Triift Africa also provides a range of business services and resources that can help businesses at different level become more profitable and sustainable.

With her involvement in human capital development especially in the areas of finance and digital literacy, Yemisi has made exponential influence around social impact- influencing people and systems, community development, business growth and ecosystems.

Humble Beginnings

Yemisi’s journey to promoting digital literacy in all of its forms and creating communities to proliferate this thinking began long before Cirkle Labs took off.

It started in 2015/2016 when she was working with the Smethwick Youth and Community Centre, a charity in one of the most deprived communities in the UK.

“I was hugely beneficial to the strategy, planning and execution of a wide variety of projects aimed at

improving the lives of people in the local community.” She continues.

“One of these projects was on literacy and digital skills acquisition. A significant number of the people in that

community were migrants or people who were barely literate and needed to apply for

jobs online or acquire digital skills in order to get jobs.”

Yemisi ended up offering one-on-one support to

over 1000 people that year as well as attracting funding of over £20,000 for various projects.

The Birth Of A Summit

When Yemisi first moved to Kwara State in 2018 as a Corps member, she realised that the state had over 10 higher institutions which accounted for approximately a student intake of 60,000 people.

In addition, at least 7000 young people were posted to serve in the state yearly as part of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) requirements. Ideally, the number posed as a target audience that is capable of greatly influencing the employment sector and boosting the economic trajectory of the state.

Sadly, there are not a lot of opportunities in place for these young people to productively engage themselves.

Also, this target audience with the ability to significantly affect the economy are unaware of how to leverage digital platforms to create employment for themselves, tap into already existing employment and even promote their current business to a wider

audience.

This got Yemisi to look for possible solutions, hence the Ilorin Digital Summit.

The summit which is a free event brings together individuals, brands and businesses to learn about the digital space and how to leverage it for impact and relevance.

“Something that has always helped me to stay productive this time is using digital tools.

With digital tools, I was able to acquire relevant skills and even work remotely with international organisations when I moved to Nigeria.

“The first Ilorin Digital Summit in 2018 was not only very successful, but also impactful with over 600 people in attendance. For the event in 2019, we aimed at engaging with policy makers on how to create an enabling environment that will

make it easier for people to leverage on a digital economy hence the invitation to the Deputy Governor as our keynote speaker and the Commissioner of Police as one of our panelists.

We also looked at bringing down brands that create opportunities for young people in major cities like

Lagos and Abuja to the event, and after the event, create partnerships that will make it

easier for them to implement their programs in not just Ilorin but across Kwara State.”

Interestingly, one of the brands that were present at the summit in 2019 had a surge in the number of people

signing up for their services. This led the said brand to organise a mini networking event for young

professionals in Ilorin the next day. Currently, Yemisi and her team are in talks with another brand to implement

a project across the North Central region of Nigeria.

Another aim of the summit in 2019 was to address unemployment, enable more young people to become employable and teach more businesses how to leverage digital tools for growth.

” The 2019 Digital Summit had over 1000 people in attendance, and we had seasoned thought

leaders come to share various things from the future of work, design thinking, setting

up an online business etc. Our panel session was also on the business of the digital space. If you

follow the hashtag #morewithdigital and #ilorindigitalsummit on twitter, you will get a glimpse into how impactful these sessions were . Unemployment and poverty is everybody’s problem as it is an issue that affects all of us.

The Motivating Factor

“I have a quote that says ‘You may think the smoke in your neighbour’s house is none of

your business till it turns to fire’. None of us are immune to the effect of increased

poverty, unemployment, low youth productivity, poor education and slow economic growth in our societies.

“These are the problems I want my businesses and day to day

action to solve.Someone I admire that influences and shapes young people to the extent that I aspire to is Mr. John Obidi, Social Media Strategist, Online Business Consultant and founder of Headstart Africa-a 100,000 member strong community of experts and thought leaders.”

Over the past two years, Yemisi has many highlights in her journey around digital literacy and addressing unemployment.

The one that stands out for her is seeing how her work at Cirkle Labs improves people’s businesses, gives them a sense of direction and connects them with

opportunities which enables them to create their own opportunities for increased value.

“Over 50 people got jobs after the last Ilorin digital summit. We also have a growing online community of over 2000 people we are constantly connecting with knowledge and resources.

Through our activities we have taken advantage of the power of community and digital tools to address unemployment by opening up opportunities that digital can offer for growth in Enterprise, Education and Employment.

“We also work closely with growing businesses, supporting process improvement with technology in a way that drives optimised performance, increases profits as well as capacity. Our efforts contribute to opening up more decent work opportunities and promotes economic growth. This is something I am very proud of.”

Working With Upcoming Businesses

When Yemisi and her Co-founder started Triift Africa almost 2 years ago, The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics

estimated that there were about 36.9million MSMEs. Based on the statistics, approximately 80 per cent

accounts for traders and about 30 per cent of the traders did not have access to up to N30,000 in loans and credits from financial institutions.

For a start, Triift Africa partnered with a number of family and friends to provide collateral free loans

ranging from N30,000 to 1 million Naira. Overtime, they identified that the issue was not solely a lack of funds but a lack of relevant knowledge and support, And so, after

providing microloans to the tune of over 6 million Naira, they decided to optimise delivering financial education to small businesses.

” In that time, we created a widely read blog that breaks down and talks about little parts of running a business

available at medium.com/triift-africa. We have also organised a sprint of business finance classes that have trained over 100 business owners.

“For one, most people go into business with great passion and commitment to hard work

but often they have very little understanding of how to use financial information to drive

business decisions. We extended our services to include provision of support business

plans, training on financial literacy, marketing and operating strategies.”

Required Skill Set For Impact

The various work experience which Yemisi has gathered since she was fifteen has influenced her business management expertise and set her apart from mediocres.

” I learned time management and discipline when I had to

work part time while studying. I learned customer services as a retail associate in a

retail clothing store in Oxford, I learned sales working in an OXFAM store, I built my

writing and project management skills while working with the charity organisation I

spoke about earlier. I learned how to be diplomatic and also how to use financial

modelling tools during my time as a Finance associate in the public-private partnership Bureau.”

For her, entrepreneurship may look flexible to the outsider, but one requires a lot of discipline to get good results.

” Working in the corporate setting also taught me how to set

appropriate systems and structures around my work, give it some significance, measure progress to keep in touch with what growth looks like, setting new milestones and

plotting a path to making it happen, which is absolutely necessary for growth.”

The Power of Social Media

As a thought leader in internet entrepreneurship, Yemisi thinks Nigerian youths are actively harnessing the power and possibilities around social media. But then, there’s still a long way to go.

“We are getting there. At this point, we do not have a choice anymore. I wrote a book ‘Social Media is your new CV’ that over 1000 people have read, I also created an online social

media challenge that over 700 people got involved in.

Yemisi recalls moving back to Nigeria in 2017 filled with a lot of uncertainty because almost everyone that heard that she was coming back made sure to remind her of

the unemployment statistics in Nigeria.

“So, imagine my surprise when I got over 6 job offers in less than 2 weeks from people that I had met on social media. In addition to job offers, I have gone on to receive invitations to speak at TEDx, speak at other amazing events and even sponsorship for

some of the community projects from people I met on social media.

“In addition, I know so many other people who have also gotten opportunities from using social media well including a scholarship.

My book and the social media challenge really goes a long way to share the salient things I have done and I have seen people do to position themselves for opportunity

rightly on social media.

People who have read my book and participated in the challenge talked about how it

has demystified social media for them and made it easier for them to harness opportunities.

Harnessing the opportunities social media provides is also a core part of the Career

Accelerator Training Cirkle Labs provides which a lot of people have benefitted from. So, we are getting there.”

Building Global Influence

In a period when the COVID- 19 is putting people out of business, and keeping economic activities on hold, Yemisi believes that there is a need for people to maximise the period to unlearn and relearn.

For her, the world as we know it may no longer tolerate a certain level of mediocrity from people who want to attain great heights, it is no longer an option for people to embrace a more productive way of thinking

“I have a public newsletter where I share hints and tips for how people can leverage the

digital economy for wealth creation, build better businesses and all things in between. I

have been sending out often because folding our hands and waiting for this to pass is

not an option for people in a third world country, talk less Nigeria. There are countries giving small business owners $10,000 to cover for all the losses that will be incurred this

period.These countries also have 24/7 power supply, good internet service and a welfare system that works. We do not have that, and so do not have the luxury of taking a break.

“It is important for people to start seeing themselves as global citizens, and not limit the solution they provide to just their physical location.

Also, people need to be intentional about building their digital footprint which is their online presence.

Everyone should learn the language of the internet and adopt digital tools in offering their goods and

services.

I cannot overemphasize the need for people to identify and acquire relevant skills useful for the industry they are into.”

Raising Online Communities

Helping people build their online community is one of Yemisi’s strong points..

For someone who wants to build an online community, Yemisi suggests the clear consideration and understanding of the 3Ws.

” Why do you want to build an online

community? What do you hope to get from it? Where is the most effective platform to build your community?

These will be the framework for any community you are trying to

build.”

Making Future Plans

Cirkle Labs is currently involved in a vast range of activities, including setting up their fully

digital academy where individuals can access a varied number of courses at any time from professionals in various fields at affordable prices. The curriculum of their courses

are wholesome, improving character development and soft skills needed for day to day

life and the workplace.

Just before the lock down, Cirkle Labs was also setting up a hub, more like a community centre where they plan to offer physical support to students and growing business owners.

Defeating Imposter Syndrome.

Based on her conversation with a lot of high achievers, Yemisi has come to understand that the feeling of questioning one’s

achievements or feeling like a fraud almost never goes away. So, knowing that she too can surmount the challenge gave her some form of relief.

“One thing that helps is knowing that I am

constantly working very hard at being a better version of myself and intentionally too I

spend a lot of my time and money on my personal development, which then increases

the value and excellence I have to offer. Why then should I doubt if I deserve my

achievement or own the space I occupy?

Handling impromptu Occurrences.

Yemisi has had her fair share of handling impromptu events or sudden change in plans.

Once, she was invited to speak at an event with important dignitaries. At first, the speech was meant to last for 30-45 minutes.

But just before she came up the stage, she was told that her

session was 15 minutes tops.

“I had to think about how to communicate all I had

planned to share with the new limited time. I did so well, one of the dignitaries requested

for my number after the event, and we have been in touch since then.”

Yemisi is passionate about some topics. These topics she can speak effortlessly at events.

“I can speak anywhere on: Using digital tools to address upward mobility and

unemployment, How young people can be intentional about building their personal finance or any topic that would help growing businesses understand their finance.

Hidden Lessons In Failure

“Failure has taught me that it doesn’t need to define the rest of your life. It is only a phase, so all I have to do is to pick up the lessons and keep it moving.”