Who the heck are you?
This is quite an insolent question. After all, I am an African, and we are taught to respect our elders. Yes! We don’t just respect our elders but everyone and their opinions. This question banged my head. I don’t know if you have received a similar question before. What was your reaction?
It hurts down to the bone marrow if it actually came from someone who is younger. I can’t wait to tell you how I felt. I don’t want to give you a half-cooked story, so let’s understand first what truly happened before you will pass a wrong judgment. One tip before we continue… I actually responded to that question. My answer was that;
“I am a Maker”.
I Can Be More Than a Maker: I Can Also Be an Entrepreneur.
While I was struggling to fashion my Maker skills with some entrepreneurial knowledge to enable me to impact in my community, I enrolled for an entrepreneurship summer school at the University of Ottawa, called “Simon Nehme Entrepreneurship Summer School” in April 2018. My belief was that, for us to truly make an impact on our society, we should work to earn an entrepreneurial mindset. Only then can we be able to identify cool challenges, provide solutions to them and finally, grow the economy of our country. The sweet part of this was that it was a fully paid scholarship training that covers from my flight to every other cost of living. What a lucky child!
I know you have started feeling my excitement already. But before you do, please calm down for me. You don’t want to believe that I am either a Canadian citizen or have a permanent residence. You know I will need a visa to attend the training. It was like a bone, hung on the neck of a dog, as the university was unable to help me here due to its policy that disallows it to involve in the student’s visa process. It was me on my own.
This is nothing to compare to the excitement I got from knowing that I will be joining the rest of the other Canadian young entrepreneurs to learn how to get their business flying. After all, you may know that Tobias Lütke, the founder of Shopify, Richard L’Abbé and many other great entrepreneurs were alumni of this school and might have attended a similar training in the past. Who knows who I was going to meet.
A Flashy Disappointment: A Prize for Being a Nigerian
It was time to get my visa. If you have recently visited VFSglobal at Lekki, Lagos (the agency in charge of Canadian visa application in Nigeria), you will know the meaning of “keep it early or we are closed for the day”. After an online application, I spent about two weeks visiting the VSFglobal’s office just to get my biometric capturing done. After then it was another extra three weeks to check if my passport has returned for collection.
Each time I stood in front of that VFSglobal’s gate, I saw that they even have some challenges that can make one Nigerian who can think faster than the others to become richer than he is and save the rest of the visa applicants the stress of leaving their homes by 3.30am to stand 4 hours in a queue. I told myself that it’s time the Nigerian makers start thinking of solving the real problems we see every day to ease the life of the people.
Well, I knew I was going to get a visa after all, because of my good travel history. The sour tasting good news is that I got it, but only when the Summer School has ended.
When You Have a Mother You Have Never Met Before, All You Do is Pray for Her to Keep Living Longer and Stronger.
Perhaps, it might be from my forefathers or some enemies in the village bewitching me. This is a regular belief of every average African when things don’t go his way. I accepted my fate but quickly got back to my host to inform them about the situation. My host is the University of Ottawa Centre for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design (CEED).
If you may like to know, CEED is a body that focuses on improving the design, entrepreneurship education and the student experience at the uOttawa Faculty of Engineering and has developed many great minds in the past through their programs. Professor Hanan who is the chair at CEED (it takes an incredible curiosity for impact to know such an amazing woman) understood completely my ordeal. It wasn’t like any jokes to me. Immediately, she, like my mother, told me never to worry since there are still many opportunities through which I can learn with them.
From a Student to a Speaker: OMMIC 2018
The announcement of Ontario Makers and Mentors Innovation Conference (OMMIC) 2018 and the possibility of me attending the event on October was a greater consolation than any other thing ever.
Hurrah! I was going to speak at OMMIC! On a second thought, what will I be talking about at OMMIC? If you are black skinned, I guess you might have once thought that the extent of what you know can always be measured by the colour of your skin. You know what I mean. So, to me, I had absolutely nothing to teach Canadians who build airplanes and ships that we don’t build.
Again, the question about who the heck am I (send us your bio) dropped into my inbox. This time, my answer was a bit different.
“I am an innovation evangelist”.
Like every other evangelist, I have my disciples. They are the youths. Not just any youth but youths who develop hardware and make stuff across Nigeria. We call them “Makers”. Hence, I remembered our “Makers” community which is struggling to get itself in any better position of solving Nigeria’s most pressing hardware related challenges. This made me tick.
After all, the United Nations (UN) says that the greatest of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “partnership”. Who knows if there might be anything we can learn from the great Canadian makers if we can share with them. Can there not be chances for collaboration and partnership? Finally, I would be sharing the “State of the Nigerian Makers Community: Potentials of Collaboration” at OMMIC 2018.
A Lesson From Lagos Traffic: Never Be Certain.
On October 23, It was completely done to me that I would be speaking at OMMIC since my flight, hotel, and everything have been booked. I left my hotel in Lagos, with my wife, our two years old son and our two months old daughter, heading to the airport at 4.00pm. Actually, my flight was scheduled for 9.45pm. The distance between my hotel to the airport is less than an hour drive. Who wants to hear any story? Absolutely not me! But this will beat your imagination!
Have you ever lived in Lagos? Do you know the definition of “hold-up”? I think I learned mine the hard way. I used to know hold-up as something that can delay your movement on the road for say, one hour or two. Maybe I was wrong again. Ironically, I was in the hold-up for practically five hours or more. In fact, I was in the hold-up till 9.45pm which is supposed to be my take off time.
My village people have come again…
Thanks to a commercial bike rider who gave me a ride from Ladipo to the airport for 10,000 Naira at 9.55pm. I have already called my host to inform them of my ordeal, as usual, believing that I would be watching my plane take off from outside the airport.
The truth is that the heavy traffic was traced down to two things, poor traffic control and the crude manual operations of the military men at the airport gate. Well, I said, this is yet another million dollars opportunity smiling at the face of a smart guy. Who should this be?
You won’t believe it. I made it finally to the airplane because the same hold up delayed both the cabin crews and the pilots who were supposed to fly the airplane. For this reason, the flight was delayed.
Welcome to Canada
Now I am in Canada. The last time I left here, a little did I believe I was going to be visiting again. But then, the country is welcoming me again with smiles in everyone’s faces. What a lovely country with lovely people. Everyone smiles at you from their hearts as though they have known you since you were born. They are looking for any possible way to help you. Wow! Police? A policeman carried my bag and thanked me for allowing him to help me. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The reception continued to my hotel. It was in the downtown, the prestigious district of the city of Ottawa. Everything is automated.
The hospitality from the airport to my hotel reminded me that I really have some works to do in my country more ever than I have been thinking. We need to make things work for everyone to be comfortable. I was convinced that the government of Nigeria, if better work with the Nigerian Makers, can make the country look even better than Canada and every other developed country I have visited. Who wants to contest this? Nigerians will be happier, after all, because we are people of high resilience. We smile even in the face of hardship.
First Day At the University of Ottawa: A Brand New Lesson.
With a city Blue Line taxi, I arrived at the University of Ottawa. Mighty structures and shiny buildings everywhere. I stopped at the STEM Complex. The name (Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)) made me more relaxed that I’m in the right place. I met with few people that I only knew from emails and social media.
I met the folks at OpenAIR (Open Africa Innovation Research), Chris Armstrong, Thomas Mboa, Victoria Schorr, and others. I had only known these team on social media and from the reports of some of their research works that I always read. I have been wanting for a very long time to meet with them. Now, I feel so fulfilled.
Oh! I will never forgive myself if I fail to let you know that OpenAIR actually supported my trip. May be I can let you know why if you may request to know in your response below.
It was time to meet with the students. I met with few students. And we had some great conversation on what we do in Nigeria. They were so excited and later joined my session where I shared with them and many others about our works at Hardware Nigeria Community.
Please calm down for me. Everything is still fresh. Not yet the time for interrogation.
To Know Your Strength, You Need to Know Your History
OMMIC is over, I needed to learn more about Ottawa before returning to my country. My first tour was to the Canadian Museum of History with the Manager of Richard L’Abbe Makerspace, Zaineb. There, I learned that from history, we were all alike. Our only differences came with time and the extent of our eagerness to make our lives better. Our Nigerian technologies and that of the Canadians were almost the same in the 1800s. I am still figuring out the reason for the rapid overtake.
Visit to Invest Ottawa
Trying to understand where Canadian technologies grow from, I was invited by my ‘yet to meet friend’, Luc Lalande to the Ottawa Makers meetup at the Makerspace North, located at the city centre. He took me around, even to the prestigious Invest Ottawa centre. One of my take-aways is that “making is making” and it is the same all over the world. What matters is how much the people have accepted the makers’ culture and the readiness of the policymakers to plug into it to change the narratives of their countries. At makerspace North, every maker, young and old gather every Wednesday to share their works and learn to improve on them in the spirit of openness. This is one of the greatest of all makers mindsets.
Finally, here is my biggest wish. It is to learn with the student. I should be using the university makerspace with the students to build my personal project. That was where the whole thing started.
On my second day to the makerspace, I was supposed to use a 3D printer to build my prototype. When I went to request for an SD Card from the students that manage the space, I was asked to sign-in with the student-designed RFID online attendance system developed to keep track of the population of the people in the space and to keep the inventory of the space’s resources. I told them I am not a student, so I don’t have a card. What about a staff ID? I don’t have. Are you a community member. No. Out of surprise, the young man asked, then “Who the heck are you”? And I politely answered;
“I am a Maker all the way from Nigeria. I am here with an open mindset, I am teachable, I seek to collaborate with like minds like you and to learn from your works if you will permit me so that I can make my country and entire Africa shine like yours”.
Now, I have been reset to know who I am. I am not really like a teacher that I have always thought I was. I am simply a wandering learner, working, toiling, and hoping for a better Nigeria. Even if it does not happen in my presence, but at least posterity will know that someone has already moved a stone for them.
Then, who the heck are you?