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Meet Bukky Karibi-Whyte, CEO of Nigeria’s Top Public Relations Firm

Bukky Karibi-Whyte is the CEO and founder of Robert Taylor Media, one of the premiere communications agencies in Nigeria, an agency which houses Communications Firms Invicta Africa and Bobby Taylor Company as well as three other brands.

Her company represents brands like BROOMFIELD Law, SPAR, Dom Perignon, Cyber Xchange, Henessy, Belvedere, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and various events and personalities.

While in Lagos for Social Media Week, I dropped by her office to chat about the business scene in Lagos and to get a better idea of what she does. 

SB: What inspired you to leave Canada and move your business to Nigeria?

BKW: In Nigeria, you need to be physically present to be relevant. While running the firm in Canada, I would get a lot of emails saying my name kept coming up for PR gigs in Nigeria but noone wanted to hire me because I wasn’t “on ground”.

Eventually, one person took a risk and flew me in. We did a great job and I got paid the equivalent of a years salary where I worked in Canada. I moved back finally in 2009. 

Once I arrived in Lagos, It wasn’t hard to find my feet. There were few PR agencies in the lifestyle and luxury market and I saw this as an opportunity to fill that gap. 

 SB: Many people say the adjustment to moving back is hard. What was your experience?

BKW: It IS hard! I know people that moved back and left a few months after. Its almost like pledging a sorority or fraternity. Nigeria will test your endurance. I just wasn’t taking no for an answer. I came with the attitude of “I’m the best and you guys need this.”

Naija is great but you’ll be frustrated all the time. Do you know how many times a press release was supposed to go out at noon and at 11:58am electricity goes out and the internet has gone off? Next thing you know, the client is calling frantically for their release. 

Or imagine you’ve been invited to pitch a client in Ikeja with a massive budget and there’s traffic on third mainland bridge isn’t moving and you miss the meeting and they don’t wanna hear why.

SB: Describe the ideal client?

BKW: All of my clients are ideal. I say that because for me, business is very personal. I only work with brands that I personally buy into and use their goods or services. I’m confident enough to go to any tv station or magazine publication and say these guys are the best.

It isn’t just about business to me. If it was, i’d be a whole lot richer (Laughs). I actually turn down business if i don’t believe in the brand or don’t think its a good fit. If I don’t buy it i’m not selling it.

 

SB: How does an international or even a Nigerian brand survive in this market?

BKW: One, they have to understand that the same formula that works abroad won’t work here. We are very fickle and lose interest very quickly. That’s why you hear a huge buzz about a certain brand one day and three months later, there’s nothing.

That’s because you have to engage people. The brands that last are the ones that keep changing and evolving and keeping up with trends.

You need a plan to continually engage.You can’t hire an agency to introduce you and then end the agency relationship once the introduction has been made. The work only really begins after the introduction. Now the brand has to show the public that they are who they say they are.

 

SB: You studied African American History in college. How did that change your mindset as an African and what are your thoughts on how to improve relations between Africans and African Americans?

BKW: I continue to say that with Africans and African Americans all we need is major DIALOGUE and SUPPORT of one another. I see it slowly happening. On major holidays i see a few African Americans come to Nigeria and Nigerians are always in the U.S.

Even in regards to African American Greek Lettered Organization, you find a lot of Nigerians getting involved. I am a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.

Every year I fly to the states for conferences and to spend time with my second family (my Sorors). We do however need more work. I am proud to have studied African American History in college. 

SB: Is there a growing movement to support made in Nigeria products and Nigerian owned businesses?

BKW: Yes there is a growing movement. There are people that are not in support of our current Government but I personally feel that our present Government  has forced us to look inward. A lot of people are becoming entrepreneurs. A lot of people are turning their hobbies into businesses.

There’s a massive opportunity for Nigerian brands to excel in these present times.

Bukky showed me a picture in her office that was taken by photographer Seun O who previously covered weddings and special events. Now he recently launched a series called “Ladipo: Gods of Machines” and just had an exhibition where she bought his work. “Everyone is getting creative and its amazing.” she said.

Bukky Karibi-Whyte

“Don’t get me wrong, people are still very financially buoyant but we are now looking locally to support our quality local brands. There is a huge demand for QUALITY products and services. Give us quality and we will buy.”

 SB: Where do you see yourself and your company in 5 years?

BKW: I want to remain boutique. I also want to teach at the universities and create mini publications that are useful to PR and communications professionals. I get a lot of PR interns and after seeing their course works I can tell that there’s a lot of fundamentals being taught but nothing practical. I am very interested in the educational and advisory space. 

 SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

BKW: Bring something unique to the market. Everything is already here. Be tenacious and don’t take no for an answer.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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Do Lagos Like This During Social Media Week

Lagos City

The Centre of Excellence. The beating pulse of Africa’s most populous nation. Located in the southwestern point of Nigeria, Lagos is home to approximately 18 million people. The city has a relentless energy that hardly ever disappoints. From February 27 to March 8, Lagos will host Social Media Week and an influx of visitors from around the globe.

We put together the ultimate guide to Lagos so your stay in this majestic African city is one for the books. 

Safety First

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. It’s no secret that Lagos has, in certain areas, a tad of a criminal touch. Make smart decisions. Connect with local friends who are willing to serve as hosts. Move around in registered transportation. If it doesn’t look or feel right, then it most likely isn’t. 

Where to Sleep

There are a plethora of hotels in Lagos that meet international standards and are closely located to the Landmark Centre on Victoria Island (venue of Social Media Week). With the current currency fluctuation, the rates are pretty favorable for out-of-towners. Let the Nigerian-owned travel site Wakanow spoil you with choices based on location, price, ratings, recommendations, and reviews. 

Owned by the Nigerian business conglomerate, The Chagoury Group, the Eko Hotel & Suites is safe, affordable and convenient.

Eko Hotel

Moving Around

It’s the dry season now so it’s hot like Hades. Bring loads of sunscreen. For those coming in from out of town, look no further than Uber or Ryno (The official transportation option for #SMWLagos) for a clean, reliable and air conditioned vehicle that is also safe and inexpensive. These companies have been in Nigeria for a couple of years and they have revolutionized the taxi game in Lagos.

ryno

For the adventurous, you can risk it all on a mini motor bike otherwise known as okadas. Rider beware: this is not your mom’s Harley. You’ll be seated behind the driver and whisked anywhere for next-to-nothing. Highly innovative tricycles have been transformed into passenger vehicles known as “Keke Napep”. They are a step-up from the okadas and “safer,” said with air quotes.

Okada

Places to Grub

With such a large population, feeding Lagos is an industry of epic proportions. You can get anything from a five-star meal at Tolindos Steak House to a freshly made plate of local delicacies on the side of the road. Grab a cheap meal at the local fast food joints, Chicken Republic and Tastee Fried Chicken. For an international flare, eat at Bungalows, Samantha’s Restaurant, Casper & Gamibini’s. 

If you are looking for a truly Nigerian experience with high quality food, we set these three places to our watch:

  1. Yellow Chilli
  2. Natives Restaurant
  3. Jevnik Restaurant 

When your schedule is tight or you’re unable to move about freely, order freshly made meals that are delivered to your door from Akoni Kitchen. Their burgers, wraps, and hot dogs are delicious. Daily menus are posted on their Instagram @AkoniKitchen.

Yellow Chilli

Places to Shop

The fashion scene in Lagos is booming and retailers are almost exclusively stocking made-in-Naija wares. Your best bet for high brow stores are at The Palms Shopping Centre, Mega Plaza, Ikeja Mall, and The City Mall. Stop in Da Viva for luxurious African fabrics.

If you really want to stunt, we recommend finding a local tailor to custom fit a Naija outfit to your specifications. The FIA Factory (women) and Jaxn Wears (fellas) are our top choices. 

You’ve NEVER been to a market until you’ve been to Balogun Market. First off, wear comfortable shoes and a negotiators spirit. Secondly, go with a local guide. Third, and most important, there are no rules. You were warned.

To step up your African art game, take in the equally wondrous Nike Art Gallery and Lekki Market. You’ll spend all of your money.  

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Last, but Most Important…..NIGHTLIFE!

Lagos rivals New York as the city that never sleeps. For a younger crowd (or if you don’t mind being the old-head at the club), our top three picks will get your life right: 

  1. Quilox Nightclub
  2. Vapors
  3. Likwid 

If you’re looking for a low-key and quiet evening by the Lagoon, go to the Radisson Blu Anchorage, Sailors or Casper & Gambini’s. 

quilox night club

Final Words

Photo Credit: Cognitio Studio Photography

The best way to experience Lagos is to roll with a local. Lagosians are very friendly. Use Social Media Week as an opportunity to network your way into some fun. As the local saying goes, “Eko O Ni Baje”. Lagos will not spoil.

Nwaji Jibunoh & Jo-Ann Enwezor

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Meet The Nigeria Women’s Boblsed Team Making History

Nigeria has a Bobsled team! Yes, the very first African bobsled team is qualifying to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The Houston-based trio is made up of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga.

We caught up with them to discuss how they have already made history and are on track to do so again. This is what they had to say:

Seun Adigun

SB: How did you become interested in Bobsledding?

Seun: After retiring from the sport of track and field at the conclusion of the 2012 London Olympic Games, I decided in 2014 that I would seek an additional Olympic sport after watching the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

I knew several track and field athletes who had transitioned into the sport of bobsled and figured I could start training in 2015 and try out for the USA Team.

After I made the team in August of 2015 I started to realize that my participation had grown to be much larger than me as an individual. I was representing a part of the sport that had never been shown before and it was time to give the sport of bobsled what it was looking to receive – the first Nigerian, and African Bobsled team.

SB: Describe your teammates personalities.

Seun: Ngozi is a fun-loving, dedicated and self driven woman. Her ability to set goals and then devise a strategic plan of action is a characteristic that cannot go unnoticed. She’s very passionate and aims for excellence in everything that she does.

Akuoma is filled with such a strong and bold personality, while her confidence and fearlessness navigate her on a sure path to success. Both of them are extremely genuine by nature and their level of selflessness creates endless opportunities.

SB: What are your individual goals for the Olympics and professional goals after?

Seun: My goal is to be the first African Bobsled team to compete in the Winter Olympics for the country of Nigeria and empower millions to follow their dreams along the way. After sports, I aspire to be a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic, as well as a Biomechanist and Exercise Physiologist for elite level athletes.

SB: What challenges do you face as the first African bobsledding team?

Seun: Making sure to pave the way and do it correctly so that others can easily follow the same path. Additionally, acquiring the necessary amount of funds to keep the team on a path to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

SB: Describe a regular training day or week. Is jollof rice still allowed during training?

Seun: 2-3 days a week of combination sled pushes with the “Maeflower” (our wooden sled); 2-3 days of strength and conditioning training, one day of active recovery, one rest day. Jollof rice is DEFINITELY still allowed!

SB: What message do you have for other athletes that aspire to reach the Olympics?

Seun: Recognize that the fear of the unknown is a real feeling, but impossible is nothing. It is okay to take risks in life and do things that are considered “uncharacteristic”.

Maintain a level of selflessness in the way that you handle day-to-day operations and you will surely reap the blessings in which you have sewn.

 

Ngozi Onwumere

SB: How did you become interested in Bobsledding?

Ngozi: I honestly needed a break from track and field after realizing I was done competing but knew I wasn’t quite ready to be done with athletics. I needed something new, fresh and exciting and bobsled brought that aspect and more.

SB: Describe each other’s personal characteristics?

Ngozi: I am pretty sure we would all describe one another as goofy. We can’t go one meeting without cracking multiple jokes of some sort but with a balance of motivation and seriousness.

Seun is definitely the stitch in the sense that she stays on top of everything and restores confidence in each of us. Akuoma is the sister and friend that literally understands all the words you are trying to say without you having to say them.

SB: What are your individual goals for the Olympics and professional goals after? 

Ngozi: My goal is to help build a legacy for Nigerian sports. After achieving this, the world is my playground.

SB: What challenges do you face as the first African bobsledding team?

Ngozi: Mainly financial obstacles. Also, learning curve in a short period and the doubt we get from some. All of which are completely normal for something this raw.

SB: Describe a regular training day or week. Is jollof rice still allowed during training?

Ngozi: Typically training day would be after the work day. Gathering our sleds and moving them to our practice area for   “two man pushes” and meet-like situation simulations; along with lots of footage for us to review. No jollof during training but we gladly indulge after!

SB: What message do you have for other athletes that aspire to reach the Olympics?

Ngozi: Keep going, keep pushing and be willing to give everything for what you want! You are one of million and one of a kind. Everyone has their strengths.

 


Akuoma Omeoga

SB: How did you become interested in Bobsledding?

Akuoma: I became interested in the sport the moment that Seun asked me, “What do you think about bobsleding?” I never thought too much about the sport prior to that day. She ended up putting together a presentation for Ngozi and I to see what the sport entailed. It was different, and typically different things strike my interest.

SB: What message do you have for other athletes that aspire to reach the Olympics?

Akuoma: Know that your goal is not unattainable. If you have set a goal for yourself, then you have deemed yourself fully capable. Believe in yourself and work smart.

 

 

The team launched a GoFundMe page last month and have raised over $12,000 so far. They still need our help so lets’s support them!

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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Shoppe Black presents: “Jollof and Jambalaya” bka The Blackest Wedding Ever

On November 19th 2016, I married my soulmate. It was a perfect blend of her New Orleans roots and my Nigerian culture. One of the things I learned is how African the city of New Orleans is and how connected we are as a people.

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Photo Credit: Delphine Fawundu

Friends and family came to celebrate from all over the world and we made sure they had the time of their lives.

One of the things that touches us the most are the messages we are getting from friends and strangers telling us how much they needed to be a part of or see something like this.

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Especially right now, when the world is telling us that our lives are insignificant, that our joy does not matter, that our humanity is questionable.

Photo credit: Nicola Omatsola
Photo credit: Nicola Omatsola

If nothing else, our celebration is not only a symbol of the love we have for one another, and that of the community that surrounds us but that Black Love Matters. It’s political. It’s resistance. It’s ancient. It’s powerful. Nobody can take that away from us.

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Photo Credit: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

We’ll get more into details soon but for now, enjoy these videos that include the second line that took place right after the wedding ceremony and the photo shoot turned music video. Shout out to Alex K. Colby, our amazing filmmaker and friend who directed, produced and edited all of this amazing footage.

#jollofandjambalaya

#blackestweddingever

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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20 Young African Influencers in the Diaspora

It goes without saying but i’ll say it anyway – Continental African’s get our shine on wherever we go. In almost every industry, the bylines of the world’s emerging leaders are looking like a young continental African “Who’s Who”. Here’s a look at a group of young African influencers who deserve kudos and a slow clap for their accomplishments. We see you and we’re excited about what’s to come. It is never an easy process to become an influencer in any form. Social media influencers have become very popular in recent times and the goal of many young people. The secret could be that Social media influencers buy Instagram likes at Buzzoid.

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Young African Influencers in the Diaspora

Rahiel Tesfamariam is a native of Eritrea who was raised in Washington D.C. She is a social activist, public theologian, writer and international speaker. She is the brains behind #NotOneDime a nationwide economic boycott launched in the aftermath of the Ferguson non-indictment decision. Rahiel is also the founder and publisher of Urban Cusp, a cutting-edge online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness.

Young African Influencers

Chef Rougui Dia, “The African Queen of Parisian Cuisine” was born in Paris to Senegalese parents. While serving as Executive Chef at Le 144, a restaurant affiliated with Paris’ posh art deco venue and restaurant, Petrossian, Dia became one of the most respected female chefs in France. She later presided over the kitchen at Le Vraymonde, an upscale restaurant located in Paris’ Buddha-Bar Hotel.

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Abiola Oke left the Bronx as a youngster to attend high school in Nigeria. Coming back to the States to finish high school, he did a quick stint at Howard University. Needless to say, the Mecca left an undeniable Pan-africanist mark on his consciousness and would help to influence his future career. He graduated from City College and worked for a top corporate finance firm until leaving the industry to step into the role as CEO of OKAYAFRICA. OKAYAFRICA is a media company that presents African culture to the world in a unique way, while empowering progressive artists. Abiola’s goal is to provide a platform for African artists to express their art and share it in a way that is authentic and far-reaching.

Young African Influencers

Angelica Nwandu is a Sundance Screenwriter Fellow and the creator of The Shade Room, the first blog to publish directly to Instagram. She was recently named one of Forbes 30 under 30. Since its start in early 2014, The Shade Room has grown into a lucrative enterprise. The site currently has four million followers and reportedly pulls in hundreds of thousands of followers each month.

Young African Influencers

Adewale “Wally” Adeyemoa is a Nigerian-American who grew up in Southern California. In December 2015, President Barack Obama appointed him as his Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs. In a statement released by the White House, President Obama remarked, “I will be calling on Wally’s intellect, judgment and dedication as we sustain America’s global economic leadership, which reinforces our national security, and as we work with allies and partners around the world to create jobs and opportunity for all our people.”

Young African Influencers

Luvvie Ajayi was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. when she was nine. She is the creator of Awesomely Luvvie, a popular entertainment and humor blog that covers everything pop culture. Last year, she was named a 2015 Black Innovator by XFINITY Comcast. With over a decade of experience, you could say that she’s an O.G. in the blogging game. Her first book, titled, I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do Better Manual, was released in September and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

Young African Influencers

In January 2015, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed Mamadou Samba to serve as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of African Affairs. Originally from Dakar, Mamadou is passionate about addressing the challenges faced by African immigrants in the District and nationwide. He has played a significant role in securing grants for African nonprofit organizations and highlighting issues impacting African-born residents in the United States.

Young African Influencers

Nina Oduro grew up in Ghana and moved to Virginia at the age of seven, She is the founder of AfricanDevJobs.com, an online platform that connects organizations and professionals who are focused on Africa’s growth and development. Her company offers employment opportunities and career advancement resources. Nina is also the co-founder of Dine Diaspora, a lifestyle and events company that creates dynamic experiences around food, culture, and heritage.

Young African Influencers

A native of Rwanda, Jackson Mvunganyi is a Radio host and new media reporter at Voice of America. In 2007 VOA’s launched a youth-oriented talk show, Upront Africa. It became the first cross continental radio show reaching millions of students and young professionals around Africa and beyond. His more than 17,000 Twitter followers include President Obama.

Young African Influencers

Zim Ugochukwu is the Founder & CEO of Travel Noire, a digital platform that has become one of the most popular resources for Black travelers. She was recently listed on Forbes 2016 ’30 Under 30’ list as of the brightest young entrepreneurs. Thanks to Zim, it is now obvious to those that didn’t know – Black people love to get their travel on!

Young African Influencers

Rediate Tekeste is a first generation Ethiopian-American and founder of the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (EDF). This Los Angeles-based fellowship program connects young Ethiopians in the diaspora with their home country and provides them with the opportunity to be part of the country’s development through practical work experience.

young african influencers

Samuel Bazawule, known by the stage name Blitz the Ambassador, is a Ghanaian-American hip-hop artist, composer, producer and visual artist based in Brooklyn. He was recently named TED Fellow, Blitz combines the political boldness of Public Enemy, and the groove sense of Fela Kuti. His label, Embassy MVMT, is proving that Hip Hop fans are tired of the same old radio playlists and are hungry for music that is more creative and thoughtful.

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Mariéme Jamme is a Senegalese-born businesswoman based in the U.K. Her company, Spotone Global Solutions helps technology companies develop business in new markets such as Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Mariéme is also an international speaker and co-founder of Africa Gathering, the first global platform bringing together entrepreneurs and others to share ideas about development in Africa. She was named by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders for 2013.

Young African Influencers

Ugandan fashion model, Aamito Lagum, — a former Top Model winner, is more recently known for the controversy caused by racist comments about her lips that were posted on MAC cosmetics Instagram page. Aamito boldly took to the internet in defense of her beauty, and the beauty of other women with similar features. This prompted campaigns like #PrettyLipsPeriod (created by Dr. Yaba Blay and Thembisa Mshaka) where Black women around the world unapologetically celebrate their full lips.

young african influencers

Yinka Ilori is a U.K based designer. He is passionately against the unnecessary waste he has seen in European and West African consumer cultures. His craft and vision is collecting discarded furniture, and re-upholstering and designing into something new. Yinka is inspired by the traditional Nigerian parables and African fabrics that surrounded him as child.

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Folasade Adeoso is a New York-based, Nigerian-born, model and digital artist. She’s the chief editor and writer behind the lifestyle blog, LoveFola and the owner of the online boutique, “1953 | THE COLLECTIONS”. Folasade is known for her digital collages, which mix archival and contemporary images into Dalí-esque visions.

young african influencers

Chef Djibril Bodian is a second-generation baker of Senegalese origin. Last year he won first prize in the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris, a.k.a. The Best Baguette in Paris Competition. Chef Djibril also won the top prize five years ago. This prestigious award allowed him to be the only baguette supplier to French President Holland at the Elysées Palace. The fame and publicity didn’t hurt his pockets either. He can be found creating baked goodness at ‘Grenier à Pain’ in Montmartre.

young african influencers

Heben Nigatu was born in Ethiopia and moved to the U.S. when she was five. The Columbia grad is a senior editor at Buzzfeed and co-host of “Another Round”, Buzzfeed’s most successful podcast. Heben was recently ranked #17 on Forbe’s 30 Under 30 in media. The podcast, (an iTunes’ podcast top 100) gets hundreds of thousands of listeners a month and touches on topics that range from race and politics to pop culture and favorite alcoholic drinks.

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Bouba Dola was born in Kinshasa, Congo. His family moved to the Netherlands when he was a child. He studied at HKU in Utrecht and has been working throughout the Netherlands, specifically between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. He focuses his creative energy on the infusion of digital art – drawings, music and videos. His collaboration with young Black Dutch hip hop artists has helped to jump start many of their careers. His sound is reminiscent of the Los Angeles music of Flying Lotus but with elements of ancient Kikongo vibrations and patterns. Currently, Bouba is working on his first cinematic work.

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Saran Kaba Jones is a clean water advocate and social entrepreneur from Liberia. She is the founder of Face Africa, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that provides access to clean drinking water in Liberia’s rural communities, where running water and sewage infrastructure is often scarce. Face Africa was launched in 2009, and has provided clean water to thousands of rural Liberians. Saran was named by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders for 2013.

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Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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Nigerian Billionaire, Tony Elumelu announces the 2nd Round of his $100m Entrepreneurship Programme

Last year, Tony Elumelu, a philanthropist and one of Africa’s most successful businessmen, announced the creation of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) for emerging African entrepreneurs. The goal of the programme is to help up to 10,000 African entrepreneurs  develop their ideas into sustainable businesses.

 

In 2015, TEEP empowered 1,000 African entrepreneurs, selected from over 20,000 applicants, with start-up investment, active mentoring, business training, an entrepreneurship boot camp and regional networking across Africa.

TEF-Foundation

The foundation invested a total of $4,860,000, including $1,405,000 in agriculture; $410,000 in education and training; and $365,000 in manufacturing.  The program funded start-ups across a further 20 industries, all based in Africa.

Mr. Elumelu believes that the initiative will enable African entrepreneurs transform the continent. “In 2015 the African entrepreneur will emerge on to the global stage, as a new generation shows the world what those of us doing business in Africa have long known: that our continent is home to some of the most exciting and innovative entrepreneurial talent.”

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TEEP opens for entries at 00:00am West African Time on 1st January 2016 and will accept applications until midnight WAT on March 1st, 2016.  To be eligible, entrepreneurs must complete the online application form with questions on their background, experience and business idea, plans for growth and proposed pan-African impact. Further guidance and application procedures can be found on the online portal.

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Coming to America: The Evolution of Oluwatoyin

Like a sizeable amount of other Nigerians, I was born in the U.K.  and actually didn’t move to Lagos, Nigeria until I was 5 years old. I cried my eyes out when I heard the news that I would soon be leaving my  friends and life in London to move to back home. I had no idea where this place was and my older relatives that visited us from there, “talked funny.”

I had no say in the matter, and made the 3270 mile journey, kicking and screaming, at least according to my adolescent memory.  When I arrived, it was a definitely a culture shock. The music was different, I could not stand the constant power outages and the lack of access to my favorite British foods was frustrating.

However, the transition into life in Lagos became much easier as I made friends at school and developed relationships with my grandparents and other relatives who I am very close to – cousins and children of family friends that I played with.

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My Mother still teaches at the grade school I attended, the American International School of Lagos (AISL). What was great about AISL was the fact that I was able to make friends with kids from all over the globe and learn about their cultures. During most summer breaks, my mom would take my two younger siblings and I, on a trip abroad, mostly to the U.S.

My Dad usually stayed back home to keep an eye on the house and car since he didn’t trust the driver or house girl to act right if the whole family was away for an extended period of time. (Still laughing about that). New York City!  As soon as we would land at LaGuardia, my siblings and I were ready to head straight to the mall to rack up on school clothes and party outfits to take back home. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and begin Operation Stunt 101 with my newly acquired gear.

The Secondary School I attended, Home Science Association Secondary School was at that time, a new private Nigerian school. My class was its first set of students. This was my first experience at a school where everyone looked like me. I immediately clicked with three guys, Ose, Ekene and Ejike. We were inseparable. Due to our self-identified coolness and rep, we saw ourselves as the Boys 2 Men of the school (definitely because of our style…not our singing ability).

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Heavily influenced by Black American culture that was exported overseas, in high school we listened to a lot of RnB and Soul, so Boys 2 Men, Jodeci, Silk, Blackstreet and Shai were in heavy rotation, especially at our house parties. This genre was most likely so popular at that time because it was the perfect opportunity to slow dance with the girls from my school and neighboring schools.

I remember watching the video for one of our favorites, “Baby I’m Yours” by Shai. The video was filmed on Howard’s campus and opens with a shot of the main Howard University sign. That was my first introduction to HU but I didn’t really take much note of it at the time. The next time wouldn’t be until I saw a Howard University sweatshirt being worn by Mohammed, a cast member on MTV’s Real World III: San Francisco and figured I would look it up because now I was curious and I was in the process of researching universities anyway.

At the time I was also watching “A Different World” religiously, complete with my own pair of Dwayne Wayne flip glasses. While I was living in a country of 170 million people who for the most part, looked like me [read: were Black], I never considered that going to a university in the States would afford me the same experience. After doing some research, I was excited about the possibility of attending a real life version of Hillman College. It was then that I made my decision to attend HU.

In 1996, I moved to Washington, D.C., from Lagos, Nigeria to attend college. This was a pivotal moment. Arriving on Howard’s campus was the start of a point in my life where I had moved out of my parents house, moved to another country and was learning more about myself. I met and befriended Black people from around the world. Up until then I had never met anyone from the Caribbean.

I had not even met that many Africans from countries outside of Nigeria. It was amazing to discover all the differences in our various cultures as well as all of the similarities. I hung out with everyone from bookworms to weed heads. Aspiring rappers to aspiring politicians.

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The more I learn about African history and the history of Black people in the Diaspora, the more I understand why people devote their lives to the study of this subject matter. It’s truly fascinating stuff and it has given me a new appreciation for my people and my own homegrown Nigerian culture.

The music that my parents used to listen to that was once unappealing was now the hot ish New Afrikans and Afropolitans were bumping, jumping and funking to. My love for all things Black American culture now included an appreciation for the fashion, music and style made in Lagos.

Nigeria is the new hot scene – the music dominates the African pop music industry. The fashion and the movie industries are also billion dollar money makers. Nigeria is HOT, pun very intended. Somewhat like my immortal country men before me, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it took my Coming to America to change the game – shifting my entire outlook.

While I’m no scholar or historian, these topics have become an important part of who I am and I feel a responsibility to do my part to move us as a people in the right direction. Many people feel the same way and have a variety of solutions they feel are the way forward.

Just as I have an appreciation for our history and culture, I also appreciate the process of creating capital and how it can be used as a tool improve the lives of my family, friends and community. So, for me,  business ownership and group economics make the most sense, in the U.S., in Africa or in any other part of the world where a people with so much potential are on the bottom of the economic totem pole.

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This is a huge force behind what has led me to start my own business. It is what drives me start other businesses. It’s why I get satisfaction from encouraging  others who have started a business and those who are considering  doing so.

Everybody won’t get it. For some reason, the idea of shopping Black doesn’t sit well with everyone. However, what I do know is that for many compelling reasons, more people are Shopping Black than ever before. It’s time to get our wealth back, one Naira, Dollar, Pound and Yen at a time. #shoppeblack

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Artwork by Glen Marrero