Ajegunle.org: Overcoming Poverty through ICT
This article was originally drafted by the Centre for Democracy and Development for the newsletter “West Africa Insight” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
Market in Abuja, Nigeria (By Zouzou Wizman(Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Ajegunle, trapped between the docklands of Apapa and Tincan, is notorious in Lagos for poverty, crime and prostitution. The slum is home to over 3 million people. In English, its name means “residence of wealth” or “land of commerce” but until recently the only escape for young people from the vast slum known as “AJ City” was for the precious few with a talent for football or music. In fact, a long-time resident describes it as a place “where you watch your back and keep at the survival game”. That was how it was before Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) arrived in Ajegunle. Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) is a social enterprise for young people, working with other self-help organizations, including the unusually-named Uncommon Man Network, to start a training program for ICTs and entrepreneurship.
Most of the problems associated with the area have to do with the high level of unemployment. A teeming population of the youth is unemployed and lacks even the basic skills to find jobs, as many are illiterate. In recent years though the emergence of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and its ever increasing access is providing some hope for youths in Ajegunle.
In 2001, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), which started as an online volunteer team with the main objective of delivering ICT for socio economic opportunities in Nigeria, started working in rural areas with civil society organizations. Following a meeting with the Ajegunle community, PIN introduced a youth led social ‘technopreneurship’ and telecenter to support the training of youths in Ajegunle as a means of improving their livelihoods. According to the initiators, the project is helping to change the perception of the Ajegunle community and other disadvantaged communities by demonstrating that “we only need to open the door to see how fast even the disadvantaged youth will run.”
The vision of the project is “A new Ajegunle, transformed through the application of Information Communications Technology and Entrepreneurship opportunities; creating role models that will drive socio-economic development in the underserved community.” The project specially sets out to achieve capacity building for 25 youths every other month, equipping them with ICT and entrepreneurial skills which they can use to become self employed and further disseminate. It aspires to set up a community PC ownership scheme for personal and business use, and also the development of a telecenter which will explore sustainable telecenter model (built through the collective effort of project graduates, PIN and the community) that will provide ICT opportunities, and will be easily replicable in other locations.
During the training sessions, trainees are usually guided through the practical process of business plan development. This includes Introduction to Entrepreneurship; Defining Your Business; Marketing; Staffing & Finances; Social Impact, Timelines, and Risk Management; Finding Resources on the Web and Discussing Your Plans with Others.
The training enables the youth to interact with people from all over the world during the capacity building exercise, some of the institutions that trainees have had the opportunity of meeting include among others: TakingITGlobal (Canada), Computer Aid International (Kenya), Trade and Investment, UK Deputy High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria.
Partnerships are also crucial and PIN collaborates with different organizations to make sure that the initiative is sustained. Partners have included, UK Trade and Investment, Afrinvest, FATE Foundation, Hands on Institute of Information Technology (HIIT).
The project’s sustainability model includes the delivery of capacity building sessions through volunteers, such as the role that the Korean Internet Volunteers (supported by the Korean Agency for Digital Opportunities and Promotion) played in the first cycle of the program. The model also allows students to join the program at no cost but they are expected to return 10% of their business profit to the project after completing the program. They are also expected to earn money from the training of at least five youths within their community as second-level trainees of the Ajegunle.org project. In addition to this, each trainee is expected to save 20% of their profit towards the acquisition of personal computers.
Internships are highly encouraged as a means of deepening their skills. Trainees have been selected and sponsored to attend various networking events which included the International Youth Day Networking Session facilitated by PIN and Nigeria Professionals (NIPRO). At the end of the training, three graduates were offered internship opportunities with Afrinvest West Africa and Trade and Investment, UK Deputy High Commission, Lagos. As in 2010, over 27 internships opportunities were granted to graduates with three persons securing permanent employment. The alumni group work as a team and to create the Ajegunle Innovation Centre to serve as a new location for training with workspace for the entrepreneurs and ICT services.