At 11:59am on June 20, 2007, a new eMail arrived in my inbox. With the subject, “Lagos newcomer,” Russ said:
Gbenga, [w]hile searching the internet for â€œlagos & social enterpriseâ€ I came across your website and the Digital Village. I just moved into town and am looking for opportunities to contribute time on the weekends to similar efforts. We seem to be fairly like-minded people and I thought it might be worthwhile for us to grab a lunch someday and meet. Please let me know if you are interested….
Two days later, I wrote:
Hi Russ, [t]hanks for the eMail, and its great to read from you on your interest in social enterprises. I have since handed over the Lagos Digital Village project to a new person, after resigning from Junior Achievement of Nigeria (the non-profit I managed the project for) in February this year. I now manage Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a social enterprise that focuses on the role of ICTs in creating better livelihoods. PINâ€™s profile is attached, and Iâ€™ll be glad to share additional thoughts on what we do and how your free weekends and interest in social enterprises can add value to our mission of transforming communities and people-groups. Iâ€™ll be glad to meet with you, and would be open to looking at doing that sometime soon. I look forward to meeting you…
That was the beginning of what would become a relationship between two institutions. As soon as I saw Russ’ eMail, I looked him up through Google — the same way he got to know about me — just to be sure:). The fact that he wrote from his office address helped a lot because all I had to do was strip the URL off his eMail address and look up the website. A month and a day after my reply to his eMail, we met … and I remain grateful for all the hours Russ spent looking through PIN and Ajegunle.org documents. His introductory eMail the day before he left Afrinvest WA set the tone for the discussions I had with Ike Chioke, someone whose personal story stands as an inspiration for young people everywhere — if we call on our inner strength and dedicate ourselves to hardwork, success comes closer home.
Ike was at the Ajegunle.org breakfast meeting hosted by Peter Stephenson (Director, Trade & Investment, UK Deputy High Commission, Lagos) and his advice on how to ensure that Ajegunle.org interns understand the real place of competition in life remains central to our new approach. Ike hinted at the breakfast (as he’d done during our first meeting) that he would love to visit Ajegunle to meet with the project beneficiaries and the February 22 Orientation Session presented a perfect opportunity. Even though there were a few wrong turns and quite some time (which an investment banker like Ike could use) spent trying to locate the Ajeromi Shopping Complex venue of the session, he came along with June Obonyo (Afrinvest’s HR manager) and they both added colour to the event. Add the following names to the list and you can imagine the inspiring session that these new 25 Ajegunle.org trainees had: Niyi Adesanya, Tayo Olosunde, Victor Gotevbe, Felix Ekpa (who stood in well well for my friend Deolu Akinyemi)… and the oga himself, Praise Fowowe — the man who laid the foundation on which PIN now builds.
The headmaster (Ugo Nwosu) did a good job at reminding the students that while the orientation session was an awesome experience many of them will remember for a long time, Monday signals the beginning of the rigorous training that will connect them with amazing opportunities. Ike told his own personal story and introduced the trainees to his firm, Afrinvest WA. He reminded them that four of them would join him and June in the office after going through the selection process — and that obviously stepped up the interest of the trainees who were already writing away as the guests shared tips with them on how to walk their way to a life of pleasant opportunities! I’m sure June was looking out for the smart trainees who could become her interns after completing the program — and the Class Rep put up a great speech to thank everyone.
A few minutes after the session, Ike confirmed Afrinvest’s support towards one of PIN’s major needs and I can imagine that when we work together to improve the lives of young Nigerians over the next few years, Russ Richards will readily come to mind. However, what will remain a smile-provoking thought to me is the role the Internet played in this whole relationship matrix. When I decided to start populating the web with Nigerian and African content in 1999, little did I know that it would come back as a huge opportunity for me and the things I hold dearly. Many firsts in my life were preceded by eMail and Internet search: the 2001 ITU competition (which eventually earned me my first seat on an airplane), the 2002 Geneva trip (along with the TakingITGlobal connection), the 2003 connection with Nigerian IT professionals in the diaspora, the 2004 appearance on the cover of a US magazine, the 2005 Heinrich Boll connection, the 2006 international media interviews, the 2007 First Lady invitation, and the list goes on.