“Since late 2006, I have been working in Nigeria in the retail sector after leaving a six-year stint as an Associate Chair of Product Design at Parsons School of Design, where I harnessed some out-of-the-box thinking capabilities. I worked with and implemented the ideas of an innovator, Tony Whitfield, who taught me more about risk and challenges. So, in Nigeria, I found myself studying other sectors to see what was possible. How and why? Well, I am half Nigerian and half American. These two elements are important. They are about gustiness and daring.
I have been coming back to Nigeria for the last six years, about two to four times a year, to understand its potential and to discover opportunity by looking and studying hard. What I realized is that frequency is important in this context, as most Nigerian people take you seriously if they see you often and more or less will talk with you more often and in detail about what you are looking to learn.
My timing and opportunity came a year ago, in late fall, when I went to Nigeria on a vacation/business trip for my Brooklyn and Lagos retail businesses. During my time there, I had several meetings focused on understanding the problems of raising money for nonprofits/educational institutes and NGOs. But it took a quick trip to Abuja that opened up the right place and project to start.
My meeting in Abuja was with the owner of Zaria Academy, Dr. Adamu. And it came through a good contact: the introduction was through a friend. I would love to name him, but he keeps a low profile, and I respect that. Nigeria is very much like everywhere else: it’s about who you know, and a referral is the best entry into any business dialogue. The meeting was short, but it focused on how I could assist the school in raising funds to expand and grow. Luckily for me, I always prepare well before a meeting, and I came prepared with a three-page assessment of the school.
Dr. Adamu listened to me talk for about an hour. He was quiet through most of it, while his business associate asked questions. His focus was on how to get money from Bill Gates. I smiled because Mr. Gates had made Africans think it was easy for Americans to hand them money. I brought up the fact that no small African-run organization had been given money by Bill Gates, and that he had given money to organizations based overseas that were doing work in Africa. I also went on to talk about the negative reputation of charities run by Nigerians where money was not used for what it was meant for and none of the required reporting was done. Simply, I made him aware that we had a tall hill to climb and that we needed to take the hill slowly and do the groundwork smartly and effectively. The meeting ended with a promise to continue our dialogue. . . “
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