Millennials. We often think of them as lazy and entitled overgrown children who simply don’t know what to do with themselves. Surprisingly as it may be, it’s incredible to see the work some are up to. A great example is one of Bayo Adelaja. Only some months ago we approached the 26-year-old Nigerian-rooted Londoner who is shaking things up in her home country and the rest of the African continent all the way across on the island which she is based. By founding her own crowdfunding and fundraising consultancy, Do It Now Now, Bayo aims to support local and sustainable businesses on the African continent. A graduate and current researcher at London School of Economics, Bayo came with the conclusion that the problem with development donor-aid lays with a “disconnect between the people that are setting the agenda [(e.g. European governments/NGO’s)] and the people who are actually experiencing it [(e.g. locals living in the donor-aid receiving country)].” Over a Skype conversation, we talked about her background as a diaspora kid, motivations and the future of her project.
So, how does it work?
Let’s say you find someone who is a water or energy professional who is passionate about the development of Africa and has personal knowledge about communities in Uganda. That person will need support to start a business that provides clean energy to the communities living there. So that’s how I saw it…when the platform first started it was called CoExit, and there we would get people to recognize issues that they saw in their everyday life and living in African communities and we would help them discover new ideas to fix that problem. So if you find, for example, that there is not enough market stalls, you would create market stalls and rent them out. So it’s about encouraging innovation, encouraging entrepreneurship and then helping them achieve the community development they need. Connecting African entrepreneurs with networks, the knowledge, the tools and the funding they need to build the business to support the development of their community.
These are a lot of steps, especially in a big continent such as Africa. How do you manage to cover those steps? Do you have a big team?
I do have a team – I have a great team thankfully. But we also work with partners and incubators on the ground [(African country)], so we are not going in blind anytime. So, we find an incubator that we like and matches our own capabilities, and we work with them to create a program that fits our goals and their goals, so they have a connection to an entrepreneur and are provided with a network. So we come in and provide what we can to boost them to the next level.
What are some of the biggest incubators that you are working with right now?
Right now we are working with MAMF Global that is aiming to help 1100 women in Cameroon, giving the tools that they need to become farmers so that they can become more independent and make some extra money for their families. So that’s women running their business, being independent, there’s the nutritional value of mushrooms and also just in general life and management skills so that they can run these businesses properly and become more autonomous people in their own communities. So that’s a really exciting project we are really glad to be helping out on. And on the network side of things, we are currently working with a partnership called Worklife, it’s a coworking space in London that has locations spread across the city and we are working with them to provide coworking spaces with people from the diaspora who are starting businesses.
What is the response of those back home? Because I imagine you probably have relationships back home or friends?
It’s been very good, a lot of positive feedback. From all the people, they seem quite impressed by someone younger person doing something that is positive- which is encouraging. So there’s a lot of established people stepping in and trying to help and spread the word out. Yeah, it’s been really encouraging. In terms of working with entrepreneurs that’s been a great start because there are people who lives in African countries and is looking for the support that we provide, in terms of the crowdfunding element. The fact that I am able to provide that is amazing and I am very grateful for the work because if they weren’t doing the work that’s been fostering environmental entrepreneurship than I wouldn’t be able to find the right kind of entrepreneurs to work with because unlike other crowdfund platforms, there’s an application form to work with us – we don’t just accept everybody. You do have to apply, there’s a consultancy meeting, and there’s a lot of conversation that goes into whether or not this is the right thing for us to support and when they’ve met our criteria, then we go ahead.
What is the ultimate vision for Do it Now Now? What do you hope to achieve in the best case scenario?
As I said we are working with incubators right now, we don’t have our own incubators on the continent so we have to partner with other people to create those communities. In the future, we are looking to create our own communities based on our models so we run master classes and workshops, webinairs and showcases as well as a number of events based on that training as part of our model as well. So, there is a lot that we do- that we want to try to transform into different countries for instance Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Malawi. Those are the types of countries that we are looking to see to start our incubators there and understand what the needs are of the entrepreneurs that we wanna work with, so we can tailor what we already do to fit them and their needs.
What are some of the challenges?
Level of trust and education that needs to be fostered. So in terms of trust, my education is in culture and sociology and all of that. So I really value community building and I really value community ideas and community agendas. The problem I am finding and many people have found, especially when talking about crowdfunding is that there is a trust that needs to be gained when you are talking to African people. Either in the diaspora or the continent and you’re asking them to give their money to other black people and that is something that is quite frequently talked about within the circles and certainly within mine colleagues in the start-up world. That’s a challenge but it’s something you just have to be patient about. We keep having conversations, our doors are always open. We’re always ready and able to talk to people in detail about what it is that we do and keep things as transparent as possible. And that leads to the education bit because not many people really understand why what we’re doing is so good rather than something that is being taken away from them. We are trying to help people and that’s still the aim. We want people to be, we want to create healthy scale of sustainable businesses that contribute to the development of Africa. THAT is our aim, our profit comes after that. Our primary aim is helping people. So many people still have to understand that, we’re not money grabbing because we happen to be dealing with money. I think that’s interesting and also not understanding what crowdfunding actually is. It’s not begging for money, it’s showing that your business has potential.
Do you also gain funds from British institutions and European investors?
We work with sponsors. So when a crowdfunding is working with us we give them a 14 week program to help them learn how to crowdfund and get them to understand what is to run a successful business through engagement with their audience and etc. And while they are doing that, we chat to magazines, we reach out to networks and philanthropists and high network individuals and sponsors, BCs and all of those people just to see if they’re interested and if they are they might be willing to donate a 1000/2000 pounds of their money because it’s something that is financially viable to them. So, we work on that side of things but that isn’t a promise we ever give anyone because we can’t guarantee that someone in our network will want to donate to, we can only guarantee because you’ve been chosen by us, we believe that you have a viable business and we believe that your business is going to contribute to the development of African communities- but it’s up to you to discuss the business with your family and networks and encourage them to donate.
What about your upbringing? Has that influenced your passion for Do it Now Now?
I grew up in Nigeria, until I was about 10 and then I moved to the UK where I lived until that time time. I’ve lived here since but moved back a couple of times. I think so because I have a more Pan-African outlook than people who live in the continent. And because of the work that I’ve done here and the experiences that I’ve had, I’m able to see things as more of an outsider than not an outsider because I am a citizen of Nigeria. It’s a unique outlook, the same outlook that many have that came here. It means that I am seeking to become more intuned with my country. I became more passionate about it- not to say that people who live there aren’t passionate about the development of the country. I just have a very advantage point because I don’t live there right now.
Right. So do you think that being able to compare how things are run in the UK and then going back to Nigeria that obviously gives you a little bit of insight that others don’t have?
Exactly. Being in a different country you see how other people do things and it’s the same thing between an African country as well. Someone who lives in Ethiopia but is actually Nigerian goes back to Nigeria for a while and sees the difference. You see the difference with the way things are done and obviously the internet makes things much more accessible here in the UK. And because access to information is much easier for me, I am able to learn from sources all over the world at much less costly rate than my counterparts that have lived in Nigeria for their entire lives. So, there are certain things that do affect my outlook but I think it’s mainly this change, the fact that I do live here and not in my home country has heightened my love for my country.
And if you had let’s say, grown up in Nigeria and studied there, things probably would have turned out completely different?
I think so, because I think it’s easy to get stuck in your own ground and your own life and just kind of keep your head down. But I, personally I really like learning about new things and things that are different for me. So if it wasn’t a challenge to learn about Europe or Africa, I probably wouldn’t have stepped into this role. If I didn’t need to foster a relationship with Africa because I lived there, I probably wouldn’t be as passionate about it. For example when I was younger and never travelled to the UK before, I was always fascinated of the stories about the UK and I was always jealous of people who travelled and been here. And it’s the same here in London I never stop on the sights, I just pass on my daily travels and I don’t really mind, I don’t really care so much about trying to experience London because I live here. My experience is based on the fact that I am here. So the fact that I don’t live there, I think it has made it much more important much more that I fostered that relationship and that passion.