Spreading Empowerment In Osun State With Excel Academy

oyes-logoA high-stakes experiment is currently underway in Osun State. In the battle against youth unemployment and its associated ills – lost potential, idleness, poverty, and unrest – Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s  2 year old Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme is on the front line. 

Youth have been a top concern and focus area for Aregbesola’s administration. Upon his election in 2010, the Governor established the OsunYouth Empowerment Scheme (OYES), a sweeping youth “workfare” (work + welfare) program designed to address the “frustration and paralyzing effect of unacceptably high and seemingly intractable youth unemployment” in a state with an almost 60% youth population.

OYES participants were organized into squadrons to take part in publicworks projects for 2-3 hours per day, for which they would receive a N10,000 monthly allowance. For thefirst 20,000 available spots in the OYES corps, the government received over250,000 applications.

The need was – and continues to be – staggering. Governor Aregbesola urged the Federal Government to declare youth unemployment a national emergency.

The sheer number of youth in Osun States and indeed across all Nigeria could result in either a “ticking time bomb” or a “demographic dividend.” Unemployed and underemployed young people are at risk of exploitation in the informal sector and recruitment into criminal organizations (whether a local gang or terrorist cell).On the other hand, an ILO report has suggested that halving youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa could boost GDP in this region by some 12%.

In 2011, Kabir Aregbesola, the Governor’s son, read a Business Day article about the launch of the Generation Enterprise program in nearby Lagos State and connected them to the OYES program in Osun State.

“Osun State was looking to build an army of entrepreneurs,” said the younger Arebesola. “We thought partnering with Generation Enterprise would help us realize this quicker, as they already had a model to push this forward.”

Run by a global team of young professionals and business students from Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford, Generation Enterprise was a US- and Nigeria-based NGO with a mission to build community businesses in partnership with homeless, unemployed, and at-risk young people in low-incomeurban areas like Agege and Ajegunle.

To reach its goal of creating local businesses that could generate sustainable skills, jobs, and community wealth for at-risk youth, Generation Enterprise had developed an innovative incubator model. In a pilot with the Lagos State Ministry of Special Duties, teams of youth learned business skills on the job and generated valuable market data by rapidly prototyping and testing business solutions to community problems, likepoor nutrition or unsanitary conditions for local trash dump workers.

Through the efforts of Generation Enterprise Managing Directors Newton Omebere-Iyari and Bunmi Otegbade, the NGO ran a 77-youth pilot in the city of Ilesa in Osun State last year. The program resulted in the launch of 17 microenterprises and the generation of N1,600,146 in revenue from N299,000 invested – a return on investment of 71%.

One of those businesses paid particular attention to the OYES mission of youth empowerment and human capacity building, and chose to build her business around these values, paying forward what she herself received through the OYES/GEN program.

GraceOpesanmistarted Excel Computers to address the problem of computer access and computer literacy in her community in Ilesa. Today, she runs a pop-up registration service that visits schools and helps students sign up for their JAMB and other exams online. She also has a computer center, located on Ayesoroad, where students can use the internet, complete and print assignments, and take classes to improve their computer skills.

“Thanks to Excel Computers, now I and my school mates can get access to a computer and internet facility for downloading pictures of animals and equipment for our science practicals.” – 16 year old, Owoeye Ridwan, student at Feso International School, Ilesa.

Education has always been an important part of Grace’s life. Inspite of having to take care of her family of three kids, she still strived not only to complete her  higher education degree program at the Osun state College of education but also enrolled for both the OYES Tech ( an ICT empowerment initiative of the Osun state government) and Generation Enterprise’s Business Incubator Training where she got sufficient computer training and business startup expertise respectively.

The best part is that Grace is just getting started. She is working with Generation Enterprise to test new service offerings that will differentiate her business and allow her to expand to multiple locations and dozens of employees. Lately, they have been discussing the power of technology to disrupt traditional modes of education delivery.

Technology is making education of a consistent quality more affordable in Kenya, where Bridge International Academies runs a chain of over 130 schools serving 50,000 pupils for less than N1000 tuition per month, using “academy-in-a-box” scripted lessons and smartphone applications for administration and quality monitoring.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, technology is enhancing academic results through a “blended learning” model used in SPARK Schools, where students rotate between computer lab time, playing games to enhance specific math and language skills at their own pace, and traditional in-person instruction.

In India, education scientist (and TED Prize winner) Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments suggested that even without supervision or formal teaching, children in slums can teach themselves how to use an internet-connected computer and use the internet to learn everything else.

If Grace and her Generation Enterprise partners have their way, Nigerian students will be the next case study in the global education revolution. In the coming months, Grace’s Excel Academy, a Generation Enterprise portfolio company, will experiment with a model that combines online lectures and video tutorials from the best American teachers with in-person discussion, exercises, and tests from local Nigerian tutors trained by Excel Academy to ensure the lessons are absorbed and applied. 

In this way, Nigerian students will access quality instruction from American education startups and world class universities like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT – right from their communities in Ilesa, Osogbo, and Lagos.

Afolabi Omotayo, Generation Enterprise’s Business Development Officer (BDO) attached to Grace’s business believes that Grace can do a whole lot more with her business for the community. “We have plans to acquire a few more computers which will allow us offer extensive online courses for unemployed youth.

Managing Director of Generation Enterprise, Bunmi Otegbade lauded the outcomes of the first collaboration with Osun State. He believes that the successful pilot could lead to a rollout of GEN incubators across Osun State for the entire OYES program, unlocking the potential of thousands more entrepreneurs.