Investing in Childhood Dreams: Andela

By Russell Okung

Editor’s Note: Russell Okung is the founder of Be Greater, a foundation that creates opportunities for inner-city youth and undeserved populations. He’s an investor in Andela through CRE Venture Capital and also an offensive tackle for the Denver Broncos.
Andela developer Adeleke Togun leading a discussion at Andela’s Lagos HQ.

Nigeria has been in my heart since childhood. Born in Texas to two Nigerian parents, I grew up celebrating African food and culture, while respecting the discipline that plays a central role in so many Nigerian families. This dual-culture experience makes me who I am today — a proud Nigerian-American.

As part of my upbringing, my mother believed it was crucially important to understand where I came from and develop a sense of connection to my “motherland.” Occasional trips to Nigeria introduced me to vibrant communities, helping to create memories of a place that was rich in so many ways.

Fast forward two decades and I am stunned by the dismantling of those memories. The country I had grown to love as a boy has eroded. Riddled with mass corruption and downtrodden infrastructure, Nigeria seems to have become the opposite of my childhood home — a place where there is no hope. A country I remember as being so full of potential and resources has been depriving itself of a promising future.

Shaken by this sad turn of events, I began focusing again on my ancestral home, determined to do something to help the country that I love turn around and reclaim that path of possibilities.

That’s when I found Andela — a company that revitalized my belief in what Nigeria and the African continent could be. Amidst continued discord, a new future is being built on the wings of technology and Andela is spurring and supporting the movement.

Andela actively creates possibility where there have only been problems. Africa is challenged by one of the fastest growing youth populations in the world; over the next 20 years, the continent will have more people joining the workforce than the rest of the world combined. Andela is facing this challenge head-on, turning socio-economic obstacles into opportunity by mobilizing and empowering the next generation with skills to drive innovation and global impact.

Andela developer Yetunde Sanni at work.

Specifically, Andela is developing a corps of world-class tech developers from across the African continent. These bright young minds are then connected with employers from around the world, carrying the traditions and creativity of a relatively untapped culture into the global fabric of our tech infrastructure.

Africa in general is becoming a stand-out location for the next tech startup boom. In 2014, more than $414 million in VC funding went to African tech startups. By 2018, that number is projected to climb to more than $600 million.

Andela is a big part of this rising wave. It received $14 million during its 2015 Series A funding and recently announced $24 million in Series B funding, which I’m proud to be a part of. In another nod to Andela’s promise and potential impact on the region, Series B was led by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. This is the first time CZI has ever led an investment.

Andela is a bridge. A bridge for today’s and tomorrow’s African talent to connect with the rest of the world in a positive, meaningful way. A bridge away from the damage and danger Nigeria and other African countries have experienced over the past few decades. It’s also a bridge for me to my past, present and future.

As an investor in Andela, I am no longer a passive watcher from afar. I am now an active part of the region’s turnaround story. A part of positive change, rather than the steady stream of bad news.

Today, I fully realize that having love for my ancestral country also involves investing in its future sustainability. I want to be a part of the solution to help solve problems in my family’s native land and I will.