Washington — “What my country, Nigeria, needs is to create its own Silicon Valley, encouraging startups and small businesses to develop the nation’s economy. My country has been dependent on others for too much,” said entrepreneur Omowale Ogunrinde.
Ogunrinde is executive director of the Foundation for Skills Development, a 9-year-old Lagos-based vocational training center.
She said that one way to help solve some of her country’s challenges — such as rapid population growth and high unemployment — is to provide vocational training in areas such as catering, fashion design, woodworking, electronics, hair dressing, makeup artistry, computer applications and electrical repairs. The foundation has reached nearly 4,000 unemployed adults, youth and people with disabilities.
“All over Nigeria, poverty stares us all in the face. Until we can be sure that everyone is able to have at least a meal a day, then no one is free. No one,” Ogunrinde said.
With the skills they have learned, more than half of the foundation’s trainees have started their own businesses and become employers.
One alumna started Fresh Dew Foods in Lagos, with a staff of more than 35. Another opened two fashion shops in Port Harcourt. Those who have not started a business have picked up good jobs and improved their financial status.
“We have realized that practical, up-to-date skills classes must be taught alongside entrepreneurial skills,” said Ogunrinde, a former banker who holds a master’s degree in business.
“Each individual that passes through your school is part of the economic development and improvement of your country. You are creating change each day, with each individual,” commented Candida Brush, a professor specializing in women’s entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Recently, the foundation started a new project for women who own small- and medium-sized businesses. Since it began, the group has trained roughly 4,000 people.
Another project called Smart Kids transfers surplus and used educational materials from homes to pupils in public schools. “This is a great way to ‘scale’ education and knowledge,” Brush said. “Exposing young students to the entrepreneurial ideas at a younger age might create interest and motivation to try to solve some of the societal problems through starting businesses.”