Nigeria is a country with a lot of potential. It can be quite depressing to see a country with such possibilities scoring low in nearly all human development and economic indices. This is why more young Nigerians have lost hope, and some no longer identify with the Nigerian state despite the fact that they still reside here.
I am of the opinion that we need to move quickly to save this country from the dangers ahead. For anyone that may have followed this column for a while, you’d notice that I always make reference to this statement: ‘There is fire on the mountain and no one seems to be on the run.’ Yes, the government and policymakers appear not to be in a haste to change the situation as the only people I see running are citizens who have given up on the country for good and are leaving in droves.
In any case, I am a diehard optimist. I believe there is hope and what gives me hope the most is that thousands of young Nigerians are working to solve everyday problems by launching new startups. I am impressed by the progress we have seen in the last few years, and I believe it can only get better.
Indeed, technology continues to change every aspect of human existence, and one key lesson from the whole pandemic experience is that countries not prepared for the rapidly different world ahead will most likely regret not being proactive. The world is in constant flux and for us to be better prepared, there is a need to start positioning the next generation of startups and tech entrepreneurs.
By positioning, I mean exposing and giving them access to the right tools, platforms and information so that hopefully, they become builders or, if you like, employers of labour someday. A few weeks ago in this very column, I described my fears due to the unemployment situation, and I stated that it was primarily the reason why I stay focused on supporting entrepreneurs and innovation hubs across the country.
While I accept that technology does not have all the answers, I do believe that technology can help us answer so many questions around our future as a viable, prosperous country. Think about it for a moment: irrespective of whether we are prepared or not, technology is advancing rapidly; so it is in our best interest to at least do something so that if and when our major source of revenue gets affected, we can fully pivot to the knowledge economy. This is not just a reality confronting Nigeria but also that of the entire African continent.
The government and the private sector are encouraged to assist young tech entrepreneurs in developing their startups and, hopefully, scale them globally. “Now, we are able to go out as Nigerians, when we want to, or you choose to be anonymous. You can run your software and nobody really cares where it is coming from, so long as it works,” the Managing Director/Cheif Executive Officer, SystemSpecs, John Obaro, said while encouraging young techies to bring their work to fruition.
Once these startups are fully established, they become creators of jobs, rather than joining the long queue of white-collar job-seekers. Engaging the young people in meaningful, strategic activities that will further enhance their growth and help them to create additional jobs is the way to go in Nigeria.
Bill Gates quit school not because he couldn’t further his education but because he was so immersed in building his product and needed more time to focus. today, Microsoft is one of the biggest tech companies in the world. This is not to discourage anyone from completing their studies before they go into entrepreneurship. Education is important and has its role, which cannot be over-emphasised but one has to go beyond just possessing multiple certificates.
As an example, the late Gokada Founder, Fahim Saleh, was already developing a network of social media apps from his parent’s home when he was just a teen, and in 2006, Fahim’s first company, Wizteen, Inc., made more than $400,000. This is really the sort of can-do mindset we need to encourage more young tech entrepreneurs to have.
There are many more Fahims out there and we just need to find ways of discovering and supporting them which is something I am personally involved with via the Founder Institute. I believe that the more startups and tech entrepreneurs we build and support, the more we are able to prepare for an interesting future that will be driven largely by technology.
I remember the most impactful piece of advice shared by SystemSpecs boss, Obaro, at one of past editions of the FATE Foundation Alumni conference is: “Entrepreneurs should develop the attitude of always wanting to learn and adapt. Irrespective of what stage your business is today, you need to continuously look inwards and come up with strategic ways to re-position your business.” If I might just add, we need to build and support our startups through mentorship and investments as they build.
This is the time to leverage technology to solve some of our major problems, such as unemployment, social unrest, agriculture, logistics, education, security, corruption and infrastructure deficiency, and the time to start is now. And one way to make sure this is achieved is ensuring we support the next generation of startups.
The ongoing conversations around the Startup Bill (startupbill.ng) for Nigeria is the way to go and should be encouraged by all stakeholders, particularly policymakers.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch