(This is one in a series of blogposts written by our Global team while on-the-ground in Lagos, Nigeria – February 2014.)
The idea that Lagos, Nigeria, is a chaotic and unfixable city is a slight cliché – but there is some truth to it. Traffic deteriorates emotional stability; the smell of trash and poor sewage systems, from Victoria Island to Ajegunle, wounds the nostrils; and the inability to enjoy a sunset – given the overpowering smog in the sky – can depresses the soul.
Lagos is an interesting case study for economic inequality; frontier market research; population growth; infrastructure development; and urban planning. It’s easy to outline Lagos’ challenges and come to a pessimistic conclusion; most people at home and abroad tend to do so. But my ten (10) day trip to Lagos made me realize that economic development demands pragmatic approaches to optimistic goals, and pessimism seldom improves quality of life.
It is for this reason that I am so proud to be a volunteer for Generation Enterprise (GEN), an organization that invests in at-risks youth that are creating sustainable businesses and employing their peers. According to the World Bank, we are part of the largest cohort of youth in human history, where over 80 million youth are unemployed, and another 152 million are trapped in low paying informal sector work. This presents distinct economic, social justice, and national security challenges. Our generation has been called a “ticking time bomb,” but there’s another way to look at us. We’re not a “lost generation.” We are Generation Enterprise.
GEN is committed to changing the lives of youth in the communities’ they/we serve. Nowhere is this more evident than in Lagos, where more than 30 businesses and entrepreneurs have partnered with GEN throughout the last few years to prototype marketable enterprises and learn business skills. With this impact come powerful case studies and stories, such as Zega Terdoo and ZEST Cleaning Services.
Zega used to carry sand on his head (and other physical labor) that paid less than $25 (4,000 Naira) a month. He lived in a construction site for three years. After his cousin passed away, Zega found an opportunity at his nearby church and began working for them to earn some capital. After recognizing a market need for reliable cleaning staff and products, Zega started ZEST Cleaning Services, a home/office cleaning company that currently employs five (5) people. Zega now earns twenty (20) times what he used to earn before, and this, in turn, has helped him pay his employees a living wage. Additionally, Zega has returned to university, where he is pursuing a degree in Management.
Although Zega’s story is remarkable, there are thousands, perhaps millions, of youth in Lagos and around the world that are working hard to improve their livelihoods. Very few people have given them opportunities and resources to pursue their dreams and aspirations. This lack of trust cost countries around the world billions in lost potential, and youth are vulnerable to exploitation, and tend to be targets for recruitment by criminal groups, from local gangs to terrorist cells. GEN is attacking this lack of trust at its core.
Unlike many organizations, we focus our efforts on building strong, growth-oriented businesses that are coached and vetted by experienced local leaders and our team of social venture capitalists looking for maximum social and financial returns. We invest deeply in each class of fellows, and we keep working with them to realize a return on that investment – one that pays dividends for the whole community. If you’re interested in donating money to our mission, please do so via our partner organization, 234Give.
If I were to provide one key takeaway from my amazing experience in the heart of Lagos it is that we live in a more interconnected world than ever before. Each of us has the intrinsic obligation to become role models in our communities because of our immeasurable reach. We are truly a global community.
Best practices in a town in Chile can be implemented in a village in Bangladesh, and a German’s kindness and leadership can inspire a Pakistani to change his/her country. A photograph of a Malawian child on Facebook can inspire an American to travel to Africa to build water wells and solar panels, and a small business owner in Mozambique can teach a Harvard Business student how to regulate overhead costs in a growing market. In short, I’m excited for the endless possibilities of our interconnected world, and I’m excited to share with you, wherever you may be, my humble take on our organization’s success.