I started my first business, a bakery and beverage stand, in Nigeria one summer when I was 11 years old. I set up on a busy street and hired my best friend. Every day we witnessed several hundred young university students walk past on their way back from another day of going to class only to learn that lessons were cancelled due to a series of strikes; the educational system was in crisis. The students often would stop by and lament to us. A few weeks later, we hired two of these students to work with us as our sales people. Their job was to stand a few feet away and invite their classmates, many of whom they knew personally, to support our business. That summer, my friend and I made significantly more revenue than we ever imagined, while rescuing two youth from unemployment.
When I was 18, I moved to the U.S. for college. After graduation, I worked in corporate finance roles first at General Electric Capital then at Microsoft. I always felt a compelling reason to give back, starting with the land of my birth. I yearned to bridge the digital canyon that existed between young people growing up in countries like Nigeria and the U.S.
Thirteen years ago, I established Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF). In 2003, I left an amazing career at Microsoft and took a chance on a simple but powerful idea that I was possessed with. I gave up the familiar, venturing into the unknown for a promise of the future. I took some of the lessons I learned in the business world and applied them to building YTF – thinking big, building consensus, keeping overhead low and being focused on results.
YTF Academy was started at the Owerri Digital Village in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria on the conviction that when young people are provided with the tools and resources they need, they can achieve great things. Like me, these young people need the right opportunity to unlock their potential.
YTF Academy’s principal programs include TechKids, TechTeens, TechCommunity and TechEnhancement. Over the past 12 years, while the work in Owerri Digital Village has flourished, we have expanded so that we now have Academy programs in over 180 schools, drawing students from about 1600 communities. In 2012, there were 9,860 students enrolled in these programs.
In Nigeria we work with a network of 80+ small businesses, where our YTF Academy alumni are placed on 4-8 week internships. We try to cultivate a mindset of entrepreneurship in our beneficiaries by providing them with the skills not only so that they are enthusiastic employees, but job creators as well.
Comprising more than 70% of Nigeria’s population, youth, not oil, are the country’s most valuable assets. My hope is that YTF can help convert the youth bulge in Africa from a demographic disaster to a dividend by ensuring that youth have the skills they need to qualify for the best jobs or start their own micro-enterprises.