The Executive Director, LEAP Africa, Mrs. Iyadunni Olubode, says that young people should take the lead in solving societal problems in this interview
What advice do you have for the unemployed and those who lost their jobs recently?
No organisation can guarantee job security, even the people with jobs need to be mindful of that. Young people need to identify opportunities and develop their skills to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. These skills can be developed in schools or by volunteering themselves in organisations. If you are not able to get a job that allows you the opportunity to learn on the job, you can actually volunteer yourself to an organisation that gives you a platform to do things that will help you to cultivate this skill. In this office, for example, there is an opportunity to supply lunch because there is no cafeteria around us.
There are a lot of single people who don’t have a driver and can’t wash their cars themselves. While these people are in their offices, you can go round and wash their cars and earn an income from it. There are young people who go to work from Monday to Friday and can’t clean their houses themselves, but are willing to pay a stipend to someone to do the cleaning. There are a lot of opportunities. Some are looking for people who will help them to shop. There are mothers who are looking for reasonably-priced childcare centres where they can keep their children.
How can young people in the country assume leadership positions?
A lot of young people thought leadership was a title or a role; thinking that the class captain, the head boy and the vice chancellor are leaders, but they never saw themselves without a title or a position as being capable of exercising leadership. They felt the title was what gave them the licence to lead. Having gone through our programme, they realised that everybody can lead and leadership is all about positive change, it is about having a vision or gathering people around and motivating them to see that vision and executing it because a vision that is not executed is just a dream.
We want to encourage more young people to step into leadership roles, to identify problems that require solutions, to apply innovative thinking and problem-solving skills to those problems and come up with solutions. We can’t wait for the government to solve all the problems because there too many of them. We need the youth to get involved.
What are the important learning points in business leadership?
Our core leadership programmes focus on things that we believe are essential to building a sustainable business. We look at business leadership and we distinguish between business leadership and management. This is because business management focuses on day-to-day business management, while business leadership requires the ability to stand and envision your business in future; and consider what it will take for the business to exist long after the founder is gone.
It speaks to having a vision; building the right team that can support in executing that vision; and the execution excellence, which will ensure that things happen. Succession planning has to start from day one. You have to start looking for people who can carry on with the business, who have the same desire, passion, skills and experience to move that vision from this generation to the next. They should share the same values so that you are not bothered of the things that can be lost. It ensures that the brand is enhanced from one generation to another.
At what point should a business constitute a board of directors?
Corporate governance also speaks to setting up a board. Many people think they don’t need a board until the company is large. But you cannot be a large company unless you have the resources and expertise that the board can grant you. Many people think all the skills must be available in-house first. Sometimes, a great way to bring skills into a company is by getting necessary expertise on the board.
For instance, if you cannot afford a chartered accountant but you have a book keeper, the chartered accountant will ensure that the book keeper does things the proper way. If you cannot afford to have a lawyer as an employee, you can have a lawyer on your board, who will support with reviewing of documents. If you don’t have expertise in human resources, and you have a HR person on the board, he or she can advise you on what sort of structures should be put in place and ensure they are properly implemented.
What informed the annual CEOs’ Forum hosted by LEAP Africa?
It is part of our efforts to bring together entrepreneurs annually to have a conversation that will help them with information and skills to build sustainable businesses. Since 2005, LEAP has hosted an annual forum for entrepreneurs, which we call the CEOs’ Forum. The forum is a conference that brings together entrepreneurs who are running successful businesses. We bring together experts in a particular field to share their knowledge and experiences, their failures and successes. What has worked and what hasn’t. If I have to do this again, how will I do it differently? What are the things that have made me successful? What are the pitfalls and mistakes that I want the people to avoid?
We gather entrepreneurs across the spectrum to come and listen to others and be inspired. We bring together experts to say this is how it is done. Beyond the theory, there are experienced entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses in Nigeria; we call them to share their experiences with others. They get to meet, network with these people and ask burning questions. The whole idea of the CEOs’Forum is that you must come and be able to implement the lessons that you have learnt the next day.
What values has LEAP Africa added to Nigerian youths since inception?
LEAP is an acronym for Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism. We identify these values as the key ingredients that differentiate Nigeria as we see it now and Nigeria that we can be in terms of potential, standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States or any other country of the world. These are the values we work toward espousing in people who go through our programmes, whether they are youths, entrepreneurs or young professionals.
We operate under three key pillars of youth LEAP, business LEAP and e-LEAP. The youth LEAP is essentially all our work with young people. We support young people and equip them to be change makers and value creators. We make them change makers who are able to change the status quo and bring positive change in the society and in whatever sphere of influence that they find themselves. We have done this through training; we started with one-on-one training in leadership and life skills, employability, integrity and ethics; and recently in commercial awareness.
We believe that if young people understand themselves better, understand the call to leadership and that anybody can be a leader, if we challenge them, they will rise up to it. If we see a lot more young people taking up leadership, then we know that definitely the future of Nigeria is secure. Because the leaders that will spring forth from an abundance of leaders will be the best leaders and even followers who understand leadership will be able to ensure that the country is governed as best as it can be. We look at leadership from the micro point of view of the young people. We believe that a lot of young people in Nigeria are creative and innovative. They had to grow up in harsh circumstances, so they are very resilient and that all these qualities need to be channelled positively. And that is what we do through our youth LEAP agenda.