Olugbenga Ogunbowale is the team leader, Epower (www.epowerempowers.com) an ICT training and consulting firm for start-ups and established brands on designing top-notch graphics, intuitive websites, creative presentations and exceptional videos. In this interview with TUNDE OGUNESAN, the graduate of Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University, shares his dream of placing Nigerian youths on the global map.
AS A FRESH GRADUATE, AT WHAT POINT DID YOU THINK YOU COULD HELP PEOPLE TO GET JOBS WHEN YOU HAVEN’T EXPERIENCED ANY YOURSELF?
I started way back when I was an undergraduate student at Obafemi Awolowo University. I was admitted to study chemical engineering and you know as a science student, the cliché was medicine, chemical engineering and other courses that are regarded as fantastic and handsome courses. So, when I was admitted, I was coping and was doing well, at least my GP at the end of my first year was over four points.
But it’s not a matter of whether I had problem with my course, I just looked at myself, my strength and my future and I asked myself. Do I wish to be an engineer? Definitely not, because I prefer working with people than with machines. And I realized I wasn’t clicking, knowing fully well in my heart that I was in the wrong place. So, I changed my course to Psychology and I found out that my new course is about studying mental processes and human behavior, then I fell in love straight with it. I also found out that psychology as a course gave me a gift, the opportunity to use my free time. With that, I began to engage myself in deep thinking, go for trainings and discover myself more and I got to a point where I was convinced ‘this is the way’. The way to raise a new Africa, the way to raise a new generation is to actually inspire people, and to actually teach people skills.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO DO THAT?
When I was in school, I was that kind of person that loved playing with computers. I used to spend hours in front of my computer. When I was an undergraduate, I had the privilege of the being the best student who designed Powerpoint presentations.
I think it all started with my relationship with an organization while I was an undergraduate student, University Joint Christians Mission (UJCM). I used to design slides for them and I said to myself, so I’m this good. That means I can do something with this and that was how I was inspired to do so many things.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST COMPUTER?
I saved a lot of money to get my computer in year one. That afforded me the opportunity to learn a lot of things. In between the break when I finished my secondary education and my admission, I attended many computer training programs though I didn’t have a laptop. When I eventually got a hold of one, it became my very good partner and I found out that I was naturally good at these things and could help other people.
AND THE IDEA BEGAN TO FLOW?
Yes. I started as an undergraduate with crazy ideas. The world is just waiting for somebody with a crazy idea, and the moment that person is able to come up with one; others will follow because they have been actually waiting for that one person to start it. Some people are scared to bring out ideas because they feel it’s just crazy and people will think I’m being crazy, so when they see one, they are always quick to join. Then you see mass movement in that direction.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU TAKE IT AS A SERIOUS BUSINESS?
During my final year, I decided I was going to take this more seriously even though I had attended several trainings, but I wasn’t serious because I was changing names anyhow. I was also organizing nice trainings with appreciable attendance and most importantly, I was making some little profit as well. When my graduation was approaching, I became more serious with the reality of life after graduation. So, I decided that I was going to take this very seriously. Meanwhile, job offers were already beckoning on me but I said ‘no, I am going to pursue this vision, I am going to train people on skills and I am going to raise Africa’s next generation of entrepreneurs; people who are passionate about ICT, people who want to make a difference, people who want to put Nigeria and Africa on a global map.’
The truth is that we are far behind in the ICT world. We are consumers. Just take a look at computers in your office, it is imported. In this age, everything we use in Nigeria is imported. Few weeks ago, one of our ministers said Nigeria will start manufacturing pencil in two years. What does that mean? It means we cannot even manufacture pencil in this country. So, we are actually far behind, a lot of things are wrong in this country. However, we cannot change the status quo by complaining about the situation, the way to change it is to empower people. That is actually my driving force, my motivating factor. I want to see a better Nigeria; I want to see a Nigeria where the youths are making impact.
BUT SOME YOUTHS COMPLAIN ABOUT GOVERNMENT NOT GIVING THEM THE OPPORTUNITY, THUS BLAMING GOVERNMENT FOR THEIR WOES.
Yes, a lot of youths are blaming the government but the first thing we have to understand as youth of this great nation is that we are in charge of our own lives. We are actually in charge of our destiny. Government is not in charge of your lives, your parents; teachers are not either, so, you are in charge of your life! As youths, we need to actually wake up and say, oh yeah, what I can do, because there is something that every youth can do.
When I finished my secondary school education, it was not as if my parents had a lot of money, I paid for my own computer training myself. How did I do it? First of all, I went to teach in a nursery and primary school for six months. I knew I was going to do computer engineering and desktop publishing, so, I saved my salaries and went for desktop training for another six months and also went for computer engineering training. By the time I was admitted into the university, I had skills. Even when I was not even thinking business, I was making money by helping people repair laptops, design graphics. I was so good that people will come to me and I started billing people around N5,000 and to my surprise, they were paying. It got to a point that I stopped asking money from my parents.
I say this because some of my fellow youths just believe that somebody must send money to them somehow. No, wake up; there is something you can do. If I saved money from teaching in a primary school, then, others can too. There is raw energy in us. The best time to be alive is when one is young.
WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
I have started my own company, Epower and we are trying to set up a physical office to break new ground in 2016. That is our goal. We are combining office operation with online operations. We are coming up with a lot of trainings this year, so we’re preparing massively for that.
WHAT TYPE OF TRAINING HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO ORGANIZE THAT YOU CAN SHOWCASE AS TRACK RECORD?
We have several of them. After graduation we have done so many. Just last October, we organized the “escape the rat race” empowerment training. This is a truly radical approach. The objective of the training is that we teach people to be enterprising, to be self-reliant.
‘The rat race’ is a concept popularized by Robert Kiyosaki in his book ‘Rich Dad, poor dad’ where your parents tell you to go to school, get a good grade, get a good job and die peacefully someday. That’s the rat race. Now, the truth is that times have changed. Robots are replacing humans now. The jobs are no longer easy to get like in the past, so, that formula doesn’t work again.
‘Escape the Rat Race’ is about training people to be professionally certified. It involves ICT skills and branding. People need to understand who they are, that is, their personal brand. They need to leverage on their strength as people. There is what is called SWOT analysis: strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. People think it is just for businesses, no! You can actually do a personal SWOT analysis for yourself.
For instance, you can say you want to build your career in a particular field. If you say you are interested in HR, there is a certification for that, so you have to understand that there is a certification for every single aspiration. That could be the difference between a certified graduate and his other counterparts. Epower wants to reduce the number of certificated, uneducated graduates. That is what we are into; professional certification, ICT and branding because the world is going digital.
CAN YOU RATE YOUR PERFORMANCE IN TERMS OF PEOPLE YOU HAVE TRAINED AND THE WORTH OF YOUR FIRM NOW?
Over a four-year period, we have been able to train about 2,800 people in different centres across the country. We started from OAU campus; Kogi State where I served as a member National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and some mini training in Lagos and other places. And in value, we are worth over a million naira. That is the journey so far.
WHAT’S YOUR NEXT TARGET?
From where I started as an undergraduate, the vision still remains the same: to empower people, that will also empower other people. This, I am determined to achieve. Don’t forget that I told you I have a target to raise the next generation of Nigerian/African entrepreneurs who will put the continent on a global map, put Nigeria in its rightful place in the committee of nations and change the history of the world. I have a big dream. These are people who will reshape the entire economy because they’ve been empowered and they are going to empower people. So far, some recognition has been coming our way.
I was honoured by the Nigerian government under the auspices of the of the National Youth Service Corps merit award (2015), I also won the national speaking contest: the Orators (2015), as well as Gbenga Sesan’s Paradigm Initiative Nigeria digital-jobs contest (2014). I am currently a fellow of Africa’s leading democracy & leadership training academy, DESPLAY Africa, and a fellow of the entrepreneurship accelerator, League of Extraordinary Young People (LEXY).
These are part of the process of getting recognition and building our track record, and that was why I applied for these competitions and opportunities, and as a company, we also apply for these opportunities to get people to discover that it’s more beyond ‘go to school, get a good job, get married and die’. Your life is special and precious.
The future for e-power as a company is in raising change agents. So, in the next 10 years, we want to see a new Nigeria, a new Africa where people will be innovative. Change is never driven by politicians but entrepreneurs who are tired of status quo. Entrepreneurship is not a job title but a state of mind of people who wanted to alter the future positively. That is what we’re trying to do at e-power.
ADVISE FOR GOVERNMENT?
The government should realize that there is no representation for us (youths) without us. For instance, the youngest governor in Nigeria now is a governor who did not even contest. Although he contested for the primaries but . . . What I’m saying is, we should consciously give youths a chance, especially those that are showing promise. We have good representatives like Toyosi Akerele of Arise network and Chude Jideowo of Red media who handled the social media campaign of President Buhari. They are young and have proven that we can do it at the highest level. The government has to give the youths a chance and focus more on youth development and capacity building. Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality. The government must increase the skills set of our youths.