Doha: You Never Forget A Great Welcome

Every nation in this New Economy tries to maintain a sizeable mindshare with clients — a potential 6 billion plus market size. Tune from one channel to the other and chances are that you will see an advert giving the impresssion that a certain country deserves your attention either as a tourist, business man or visitor. South Africa is “alive with possibilities”, Dubai is your “home away from home” (and I should write about Dubai someday soon), Malaysia is “truly Asia” and Nigeria is the “heartbeat of Africa.”

I live in Nigeria and won’t need to explain why I’m convinced that its the place to be, in spite of the many imperfections that may come with the rare gem South of the Sahara. Do I need to talk about the meetings with colleagues from Kenya, United Kingdom, United States, Egypt, India and other nations who arrive the Murtala Muhammed International each day in search of the Nigerian pot of goodies? Leaving through that same airport a few hours ago, I couldn’t help wondering how much work we need to do to accommodate the inflow and outflow of people. But, it always feels so great to step out and enjoy the discovery of another land (and all that comes with it).

I arrived Qatar at about 7am local time and thanks to prior information, I though I knew what to expect. Little did I know that the pictures only told the 2-dimensional part of the story. A great sight from the skies, breath-taking airport and that warm reception! Gosh! Stepping into the airport with someone waiting to receive you (especially when your name is correctly spelt) is good enough, but when you can truly skip what is now becoming a usual tedious process — of some bespectacled old man looking through your passport as if you were guilty until proved innocent — while helping yourself to drinks that are not rationed by a wide-eyed hostess (I am convined that some are specially taught how to say no with smiles, and how not to return after taking your order).

What else could be on your mind about a new city when the extremely courteous driver plays Boney M’s “Daddy Cool”? Cool city — with the cranes telling the story of further development. It’s 9am on Friday and the beauty of the city cannot be ignored even as the gentle morning sun casts shadows of the various structures. I asked Ashraf (the driver) about an imposing structure to our left and he said, “government.” The skyline boasts of imposing structures and its very clear that someone here cares about keeping the city green.

Thoroughly Modern Do-Gooders [1]

Published: March 21, 2008

Fashions in goodness change, just like fashions in anything else, and these days some of the very noblest people have assumed the manners of the business world — even though they don’t aim for profit. They call themselves social entrepreneurs, and you can find them in the neediest places on earth.

The people who fit into this category tend to have plenty of résumé bling. Bill Drayton, the godfather of this movement, went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford and McKinsey before founding Ashoka, a global change network. Those who follow him typically went to some fancy school and then did a stint with Teach for America or AmeriCorps before graduate school. Then, they worked for a software firm before deciding to use what they’d learned in business to help the less fortunate.

Now they work 80 hours a week, fighting bureaucracies and funding restrictions in order to build, say, mentoring programs for single moms.

Earlier generations of benefactors thought that social service should be like sainthood or socialism. But this one thinks it should be like venture capital.

These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.

Next to them, Barack Obama looks like Abbie Hoffman.

It also means that they are not that interested in working for big, sluggish bureaucracies. They are not hostile to the alphabet-soup agencies that grew out of the New Deal and the Great Society; they just aren’t inspired by them.

J.B. Schramm created a fantastic organization called College Summit that provides students with practical guidance through the college admissions process. Gerald Chertavian, a former software entrepreneur, created Year Up, which helps low-income students get apprenticeships in corporations and packages its fund-raising literature in the form of an I.P.O. prospectus.

The venture-capital ethos means instead that these social entrepreneurs are almost willfully blind to ideological issues. They will tell you, even before you have a chance to ask, that they are data-driven and accountability-oriented. They’re always showing you multivariate regressions or explaining why some promising idea “didn’t pencil out.” The highest status symbol in their circle is a Rand study showing that their program yields statistically significant results.

Bill Gates, who fits neatly into this world, came to dinner with journalists in Washington last week. He looked utterly bored as the conversation drifted to presidential campaign gossip. But when asked about which programs produce higher reading scores, the guy lit up and became a fountain of facts and findings.

The older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.

But the new do-gooders have absorbed the disappointments of the past decades. They have a much more decentralized worldview. They don’t believe government on its own can be innovative. A thousand different private groups have to try new things. Then we measure to see what works.

Their problem now is scalability. How do the social entrepreneurs replicate successful programs so that they can be big enough to make a national difference?

America Forward, a consortium of these entrepreneurs, wants government to do domestic policy in a new way. It wants Washington to expand national service (to produce more social entrepreneurs) and to create a network of semipublic social investment funds. These funds would be administered locally to invest in community-run programs that produce proven results. The government would not operate these social welfare programs, but it would, in essence, create a network of semipublic Gates Foundations that would pick winners based on stiff competition.

There’s obviously a danger in getting government involved with these entrepreneurs. Government agencies are natural interferers, averse to remorseless competition and quick policy shifts. Nonetheless, these funds are worth a try.

The funds would head us toward this new policy model, in which government sets certain accountability standards but gives networks of local organizations the freedom to choose how to meet them. President Bush’s faith-based initiative was a step in this direction, but this would be broader.

Furthermore, we might as well take advantage of this explosion of social entrepreneurship. These are some of the smartest and most creative people in the country. Even if we don’t know how to reduce poverty, it’s probably worth investing in these people and letting them figure it out.

They won’t stop bugging us until we do.

[1] This is reproduced from a recent New York Times article (Friday March 21) about social entrepreneurship, Ashoka and Bill Drayton. Thanks to Ashoka Nigeria, I got the article via eMail and just had to share…

PIN, NNNGO hold Non-profit Employee Motivation Program (NEMP)

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and Nigeria Network of NGOs are set to host a session of NEMP. This event will come up between 8:00am and 5:00pm, Friday 25th April, 2008, at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos. The Non-Profit Employee Motivation Program (NEMP) is a capacity enhancement program for:
– Staff of non-profit organisations and other actors in the Non-profit sector
– Those who are considering a career change to the non-profit sector and;
– Fresh graduates seeking career direction.

Facilitators will include:
‘Niyi Adesanya, Managing Consultant, Fifthgear consulting Lagos
‘Niyi is a human capital advisor, public speaker, trainer and expert on the subject of leadership. He is a member of faculty at the prestigious Daystar Leadership Academy (DLA), Lagos, and has personally coached many high profile personalities including a state governor in Nigeria, Corporate Executives, Entrepreneurs, Pastors and public office holders. ‘Niyi is the President, Niyi Adesanya Mass Empowerment Initiative (NAME-IT), a body which is geared towards promoting and empowering entrepreneurship and business success in Nigeria.

‘Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
‘Gbenga is a 2007 Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellow and he has spoken to over 400 audiences in 23 countries. He was a member of the Nigerian Presidential Task Force on ICT Restructuring, and Vice Chair of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s African Technical Advisory Committee. He serves on the board of a number of non-profit and private institutions and has recently been announced a member of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Global Alliance for ICT and Devenlopment’s Committee of eLeaders of Tomorrow for ICT and Development.

The program will:
– Equip participants for optimal performance on their jobs
– Help participants clarify “career” and “job”, with a view to encourage participants to seek long term career interests rather than pursue immediate gains
– Provide participants with tools for evaluating if the non-profit sector is it for them or not
– Help participants return to their duty posts refreshed and prepared to deliver their targets ahead of deadline.

This session which is priced at N37,000 per participant has only twenty seats available. However, NNNGO has concluded arrangements to provide a limited number of N20,000 scholarships for those with demonstrable interest to enroll in the training program and but without a means to pay full registration cost. To apply for the scholarship, eMail seyi[at] stating why you should be considered for a scholarship.

Click here to download the registration form for this program. All completed applications must reach nemp[at] on/before the 31st March, 2008. You will be advised on the status of your registration within 72 hours of receipt of your application and get payment details afterwards.

Thank you.

Oluwakorede Asuni
Program Manager (NEMP)
+234 805 624 9391

Passion + Anger + Resources = Sustainable Change?

In the last 24 hours, I’ve been involved in discussions with three people that seem to share two things I have in abundance — passion and anger! I have known Ndidi much longer than the other two and we’ve always tried to put a “name” to the mutual interest we seem to “feel” around our spaces. She introduced me to Bolaji who I’ve only met twice but I wonder why we never crossed paths before now. Tayo explained the whole scenario through Greek wisdom (add the fact that he’s reading a “Chinese” book and you’ll understand why we clicked at once!) I must have met Tayo at one of the JCI events because that was our first kick-off.

Beginning with what was a rare expression of schock that I agreed to attend an interview, I ended yesterday looking through (and pondering) tons of text from conversations I’ve had with Ndidi all along. This morning, we all sat (well, at times passion got one or two on their feet) in Bolaji’s impressive office discussing the core of my passion — using ICTs to improve the lives of Nigeria’s youth! The fact that I’m reading Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan” isn’t even helping the rate at which my mind is arranging the series of events. What was obvious in that room was passion and anger, plus the huge opportunity to connect with much-needed resources. Bring all these elements together and you get change. Pour the track record of the involved (and soon-to-be-involved) individuals and you get sustainable change. The time may just be now…

“What’s ‘Gbenga Sesan talking about?” Well, its one of those moments when one wants to watch what he says but he knows that something is about to burst forth — maybe faster than anyone may imagine. Bottom-line: Stay with your passion, don’t deny your anger (its fuel for REAL work) and don’t miss resource opportunities! As the three gurus (of their respective field) saw me off to the car (Tayo’s) that took me to the airport, I kept thinking about passion, anger, resources and sustainable (critical mass) change! I’m now on my way back from Owerri (via Port Harcourt) where I was speaking for the New Nigeria Club, and will be doing the same for the EFCC in Calabar next week (what’s it with me and Friday flights to the East)… but I look forward to the day when the reach will go beyond just the few thousands we can gather in one hall, but the tens of millions who need urgent help.

Is it that time?

Watch That Skill!

A group of young people recently invited me to join the Advisory Board of their company. Smart as they were, they sent something I couldn’t say no to — even if time issues meant I couldn’t agree to join the board formally (I’m still thinking about the invitation — and Ugo’s doing a great job at that). The gift they sent — brought by a young lady who leaves a strong impression of how far their company will obviously go — was a VCD that had Business eBooks for Leaders, CEOs and Managers clearly written on it. In addition to the two books presently under my reading lights (The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, both written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), I popped the VCD in the drive and wow… there was Larry King saying, “… come on, I know you want to click on my eBook, ‘How to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime’” and of course, I fell for it. How could I say no to the king of talk?

The first few minutes of the eBook discussed the relationship between employers and employees, and I’m glad I listened. Then, the story that touched my writing nerve: the story of how Larry’s friend, now a professional negotiator, started his career by turning an awful situation into a remarkable first experience with clients! Larry and two other friends in High School learnt about a school-mate who had to move to another area for health reasons. They were quick to spread the word but what they did was to say the guy had died! They collected money for flowers and went off to their favourite hang out spot to spend the money. Next was the killer action — they told the head of the school that their colleague had died and the school set up an event to honour the dead.

The guy returned to school on the day of the event! The head of the school invited Larry and his friends to his office. “You are suspended forever! You won’t graduate today, tomorrow… ever!” While two of them thought that was the end and they were thinking of the possibility of spending their lives behind bars, the negotiator among them stepped in. Allow me to paraphrase: “Doc, I think you should reconsider this decision. While we agree that our education ends here and now, what about your career?” Now, what was this boy up to? “Doc, you know when you send us off, there will be a hearing. At the hearing, it’d be tough for you to convince everyone that you made your judgment based on the story you were told by 3 thirteen year olds before writing ‘deceased’ beside a student’s name in the register.” I don’t need to tell you that even though the professor tried hard to argue, the deal was sealed with this: “Doc, it may be easy to send us off. But while we’ll be out of school, you’re on your way to being out of a job. I think we should assume all these never happened.”

Talk about discovering your calling early in life. That young man now travels 200 days in a year negotiating for America’s largest companies! Hmm, now I smile thinking of what I also went through at the age of 13 — my computer access denial that fuelled the passion to learn more about computers! Well, I think it pays to pay attention to the talents displayed by young people because that could just explain what the world will come to identify them with. The young men and women who’ve asked for quite some portion of my time have shown a strong passion for getting information to those who need it. Will I be surprised if Lanre and Martina (and the other members of the team) appear on Larry King Live or on Oprah to discuss their passion? Not exactly… never under-estimate what a young person can become!

A Blast From The Past

In the picture, from left: ‘Gbenga Sesan (no questions please!), Tope Soremi, Kayode Akanni; Back: Biola Sanni

In 2001, I served as the Chairman for the Class of 2001 of ECU Final Year Students at the Obafemi Awolowo University. While sorting materials for the BIG project, I came across a note I had written for the Class VCD… interesting! Here goes:

“Innocent and simple
   With much knowledge so little
The journey began through the prime road
   Into this citadel of learning and culture.

The thrill of the almost-3-km stretch
   Of beauties of nature
And a taste of the state-of-the-art architecture
   Welcomed us all into Great Ife.

Fellowships clamoured for your attention
   â€œParapo”, the boyz, Student union
And even old pals
   Seemed to know it all.

Remember that young man
   Who was so nice and kind …
Don’t ever forget the photographer
   Who snapped you in your matriculation gown.

The race began
   And on it went …
From Ajose to Health Sciences
   And later it was ODLT.

The journey of a thousand miles
   Always ends in one day
And I perceive
   That another journey is ended.

The curtains are drawn
   And the whole world waits
To see you perform
   Based on your tutelage and acquired skills.

Don’t forget the friends you made
   Remember to forget the hitches
But don’t forget to remember
   The moments that made you smile.

Step onto the stage
   And do what you can
For He who has brought us this far
   Would not leave us alone.

The curtains are drawn
   And you are under the spot light
Beyond the walls of this ivory tower
   Right into the belly of this cosmos.

The strength to act
   And the act of strength
Are known to Him who alone is mighty
   And He will reveal His might.

The curtains are drawn
   And there’s no hiding place
Dare to perform with a difference …
   Be sure His strength will not fail.”

© ‘Gbenga Sesan 2001

Class of 2001, we’ve chosen to go BEYOND THE WALLS. Taking the journey beyond every limitation in every sphere of our endeavours is a decision borne out of the need for self discovery and appreciation, consciousness of global relevance and of course, a responsibility towards our nation, Nigeria and fulfilling your role in the body of Christ.

Please stay in touch and know that we need one another, it’s called Synergism for greater impact.

To all those who made the Class an unforgettable experience, I doff my hat! Cool Off, Sesewa, Pepper soup nite, Thursday meetings, Seminars, Congress, Exco meetings, Dinner, Sendforth, and of course, the Erin Ijesha experience will all remain as indelible marks in our memories as we remain grateful to the various chairmen and committee members. Dotun Tawose, Bimpe Omoyele, Ogemdi Ike, Nike Aladejare , Leke, KK, Bisi, you guys made it less stressful. Titi Akinsanmi, Segun Feyisetan, Tope Soremi, Seyi Olawunmi, Biola Sanni and Deolu Ashaye (and all those who worked with their various committees), you made my dreams come true. And to my friend who did eFYB, Yomi Fasalojo, your mails and constant questions about what a’ gwan helped build some accountability. See you when you slot the final ring into Nike’s hands. And to Deji Bolorunduro, we hope to hear from you soon.

Class of 2001, please remember to keep in touch with ECU because your life history will not be complete without a mention of this house; Pray and give pay. See you guys …

‘Gbenga Sesan
Chairman, Class of 2001 (Beyond the Walls)
Evangelical Christian Union
Obafemi Awolowo University

Something BIG

There is an appointed time for everything under the sun. There’s a time to sow, and a time to reap. There’s a time for the smaller things that lay a proper foundation, and there’s that time that the BIG thing has to happen. Having been asked a similar question in at least six (6) recent interviews, I wish to lift the lid on the answer — well, at least lift the lid for the aroma to fill the air. The question? “Apart from PIN, what new thing is ‘Gbenga Sesan up to?” Something B.I.G.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with the duo of Seyi and Yinka (those are real names but that would be all the information on them, for now). Our work goes into the second phase this coming week and I’m so excited to the point of being tempted to let the cat out of the bag. The idea has now been crystallized and we are putting professional touches to the plan. The resources come next, and then implementation — to be followed by the act of establishing the BIG deal.

A little clue: the BIG plan will add glamour to the noble (and often quiet) act of bringing value to table in terms of the use of ICTs. The way it will work is such that everyone (well, anyone who watches TV) will be part of the BIG plan that will have Nigerians and others across the West African coast sitting on the edge of their seats each week. While I acknowledge that a lot of work is still being done, it feels great to have seen the BIG idea move beyond words and meetings.

Watch out, it’s BIG… it’s time to do something BIG!