‘No serious 21st Century entrepreneur should be afraid of making mistakes’
Gyson Ebuka is the team leader of 9jaMentors, a platform for entrepreneurship and patriotism education. In this interview with ODINAKA ANUDU, he says the Nigerian government should explore the potential of its tireless and creative 21st Century young entrepreneurs to stimulate economic recovery.
9jaMentors sounds like a capacity-building firm. What exactly do you do?
We, 9jaMentors, came as a result of young people asking questions like, ‘Which way Nigeria?’ ‘How do we go from here?’ Due to questions like these, we created a platform through which we could interact with our fathers who had gone ahead of us. So we created a system where we could bring our veterans– those who have stayed in their industries for at least 15 years– to come and share their experiences on how they were able to survive. This enables us to boost our entrepreneurial skills and grow our businesses and, at the same time, learn Nigerian history.
On October 8, we will have our annual gathering at Yaba School of Technology in Lagos. It’s a collection of young and old people. There, young people between the ages of nine and 39 will sit together with older people in a school environment. It’s not about a speaker speaking to an audience; it’s an interactive session where young people ask critical questions on what it takes to be in Nigeria in the 21st Century. Every year, in October, we do it in schools, where we engage credible individuals to share their experiences and secrets on how they survived in their industries. From the reactions we have got at the registration stage so far, everybody is expecting to be inspired. The conference it’s absolutely free. Just log on to www.9jamentors.com.ng and register. When you register, you will be given a notification immediately and your seat number.
Do you also mentor young Nigerian entrepreneurs?
Yes, we always have mentorship programmes. In this year’s conference, we have different sessions and one of them dwells on entrepreneurship. Last year, we had the likes of Dr Dele Momodu talk to young people, because he is someone many young people look up to. This year, we are bringing up to ten mentors and we will be discussing local opportunities for the next economic boom.
Looking at the entrepreneurship space in Africa, do you think Nigeria has the capacity to lead the continent in this area?
Dangote is one of the richest people in Africa, and he has been in entrepreneurship for more than 30 years. He singlehanded put Nigeria on the continental and global maps. Secondly, few weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria and told us that ‘this is the next place’. This shows we have so much inside us as Nigerians. The challenge we have is that most young people think that without white collar jobs nothing would happen. We had an oil boom, but it’s clear it’s drying up. So we need to look inwards and begin to promote the Nigerian spirit. Instead of looking for a white collar job, why don’t you do agriculture. More young people should focus more on blue collar jobs, not white collar jobs. They are jobs you can do for yourself. There are many businesses you can do without much money.
What specific areas do you think the Nigerian youth should find opportunities?
Look at the ICT. Mark Zuckerberg told us that we are technologically savvy. We are smart and innovative. If you look down the street, check the rate at which people take fruit juice. Check the rate at which the ‘Mallams’ sell water melon. Check the rate at which people buy bananas. That shows you there are markets there. Check the way people are turning groundnuts into good meals. Look at the local ways of making bread. People are now using cassava to make bread. I am in ICT and we are getting there. The white collar jobs might have helped our parents, but this generation must develop solutions to opportunities we have around.
Can a young entrepreneur survive in Nigeria without the government?
First, I always say this to people. Government has little to do with your success. We decide what government should do. During the Great Depression in industrialised nations, it was the people that decided what government should do for them. If you keep waiting for the people we call ‘government’, we may not make any headway. We don’t always need government to make a difference, because we have little control over what they do.
How best can Nigeria explore the potential of its young people?
The point is that the people that lead us most times do not understand the people they lead. The Nigeria of 1980s is different from the Nigeria of today. A Nigerian of today is technologically savvy. You can’t come into Nigeria of today and expect people to behave like Nigerians of the Second Republic. It takes a child of five years little time to understand how to operate a phone. This shows there is something that is going on which we need to take advantage of. Government should focus on technology rather than dragging us back to the generation of oil boom. We need to design our educational curricula and social activities in line with technological development. Take our entertainment and blow it open to the world.
How will you advise younger people?
I will tell them I started my business at the age of 17. I am over 30 now. My advice is that if you are young, start any idea that you have. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Most of our fathers were afraid to make mistakes and when they were 40 and 50, it was difficult for them to adjust. I have slept at odd places, stood at the back of vehicles. I was bold to make mistakes. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you may not fulfil your dreams.
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