Nigerian Entrepreneurs and the Public Square

“Even if you succeed in study and business, if your nation collapses, then what good is it for?” - Hirobumi Ito

I just had the privilege of spending the last couple of days at the Nigerian Economic Summit with some of Nigeria’s most prolific entrepreneurs and government officials discussing what reforms are needed to be made to make Nigeria more competitive. I owe a huge thank you to the CEO of the NESG, Mr Jaiyeola for the opportunity. I learnt a great deal and hopefully I can share some of those lessons and insights on here as time goes on.

However, I am writing this post to point out a mistake the last generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs made that I hope our generation of entrepreneurs and change makers don’t repeat ; ignoring the public discourse on business and policy.

Today’s young entrepreneurs especially in the technology space have massive platforms. The press calls on us frequently . We have twitter handles with thousands of followers. People everywhere take what we say seriously. It will be a tragedy if all we did with those platforms was promote our businesses. We need to delve into the details of the major policy shifts that must happen for our businesses to get to scale, employ more young people and ultimately create wealth and impact for the people of our country.

Ory Okolloh threw down the gauntlet for Africa’s entrepreneurs last month when she said Africa cannot entrepreneur its way out of basic problems. I think she makes a very important point. Until we put the policy and infrastructure challenges businesses face front and center of the public discourse, we shouldn’t expect much to change. In fact, in recent times as I have travelled around the country and engaged with young people I have become appalled at how little our people truly understand about how seemingly populist policies like unreasonable foreign exchange controls, multiple taxation and blind protectionism hurt businesses and make it difficult for us to grow our businesses and create jobs.

Beyond pointing out the challenges, we need to even go a step further and propose well thought out solutions to these challenges. We are smart enough to build great businesses in one of the most difficult business terrains in the world. Surely if we selflessly (not as a cabal) put our heads together, we can guide the public policy discourse in ways that result in prosperity for all our peoples. We cannot leave this discourse to multilateral institutions and politicians. We need to assist our governments in making smart policies that result in prosperity for all. I am personally inspired by the example of Jack Ma, an emerging market entrepreneur I admire, who assists the Government of China to solve challenges like getting millions of farmers train tickets using mobile commerce technology so they can be home in time for the spring festival.

Given my work with Andela, I am continually inspired to bring the important gospel of digital jobs as a solution to youth unemployment in our country to our public square. Amongst several other things, we will continue to ask the government to lower the cost of producing skilled talent by investing in public broadband and power infrastructure and reform the University curriculum to give young people valuable skills for the digital economy.

The last generation of entrepreneurs focused a lot on building their businesses in a time of great political and social volatility while limiting their social impact to philanthropy projects. We respect their decision and we stand on their shoulders. However this current generation of entrepreneurs has no choice but to actively build the future — and it starts with educating our people and our governments about what is required to create jobs and wealth that will secure all our futures.