CAN YOU BRIEFLY TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
My name is Ali Bob. I am a Nigerian, particularly from Kogi State. I did my first degree in International Law and Diplomacy and I am currently undergoing a Master’s Degree in Legislative Studies.
I am the founder of Evergreen Initiative. I founded Evergreen Initiative when I was 19, in my final year in school.
It’s been seven years since then, and the organization has grown to become a leading human capital development organization in Nigeria.
We are giving trainings and human capital development to young Nigerians across different levels.
I also founded CEOs network Africa, a social enterprise which currently has 15,000 registered businesses under it and we organize the annual under-30 CEO awards.
CAN YOU BRIEFLY TAKE US THROUGH YOUR BACKGROUND?
I am the last child of three children. I was born in Abuja, so I am an indigene of Abuja by birth and association. I went to Africa International College Secondary School.
AT THE MOMENT, ARE YOU SINGLE OR DATING?
I am currently single, but at this moment I am not searching. I think there is still much to do, on myself personally. I think relationship is a very big deal, if I am ready to get into it, I should be ready to go all the way and at this point I don’t think I am ready, because it comes with a lot of commitment.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?
My hobby is public affairs. I discovered this in 2015 during the general election. I was not so keen on public service and governance, but I think the wave of 2015 awakened something in me, I was in the senate of my University, I started getting involved in school politics and it grew into national politics.
I was having a communication with some people about politics and I realized that I didn’t know much and I argued ignorantly.
That was when I started following all the news channels, both local and international, so subconsciously, I was always seeing news, and right now my Instagram page is like a blog because I am always posting news. I also like to go to a calm place to chill and relax.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR DREAM GOALS?
I know that a lot of people have strategic goals and achievements. Though I am not particular about the list of things I want to achieve, but my goal is to build a platform for posterity.
If you look at the theme of my NGO, Evergreen Initiative, it is “building platform for posterity”. I like systems and structures where things work. I like seeing things done the right way, my dream is to achieve a society that works.
Most people that work with know that I just want things to get done, I don’t micromanage as long as things are done the right way and working. When things work, it changes the dynamics of everything.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SENSE OF FASHION?
I am not much of a fashion stylist, but I think I try. I just like to be comfortable, though I like a bit of colours, but most importantly, I like to be comfortable.
YOU ARE THE FOUNDER OF EVERGREEN INITIATIVE, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE?
Evergreen was founded in 2015 when I was in my final year. Like I said, I was in the student union, the senate. There were six of us holding different positions, the president was my friend.
We thought about what was next after school, and we thought to start up something that would help us, a platform that we could use to source resources for ourselves to put into our businesses.
We started and along the line, in 2016 or 2017, February 14, we visited an IDP camp and the whole dynamic changed. We did that for ourselves, but we then saw that there are really people who need it.
I remember we took a lot of food to the IDP camp, we recruited volunteers to help with the sharing of the food. One of the volunteers asked me that what next after this? But honestly, I admitted that there was nothing else.
So we started looking into more sustainable solutions which developed into a monthly book club where we meet and teach them. It evolved into a one month summer school where we recruit volunteers to teach them.
So far, Evergreen has been able to cater for 3,000 internally displaced children and provided quality basic education for at least 500 of them. We have built three skills acquisition centers in the camp.
A tailoring center where they learn and we give them tailoring machines so they can be self-sufficient, a poultry farm which we handed it over to somebody from the community, he manages it and makes money for himself.
We also have a cobbler shop where he makes shoes and repairs shoes for them within the community.
We have been able to recruit about one hundred volunteers as well, that is the progress we have made so far. Though we are not where we want to be yet, but we are making progress.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE CEO NETWORK AFRICA AND WHAT YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE THROUGH THIS INITIATIVE?
I was in my house in 2018 and was scrolling through Instagram, I was seeing different people doing different things in the social media space.
I went to my friend’s house who is my partner today on CEOs network Africa. I told him that a lot of people are doing things online, and I said we can make a way to put these people together so that they can share ideas.
We agreed to do an influencers dinner, and from influencer’s dinner, it became the under-30s CEOs forum, then the under-30s CEOs award, and then the CEOs network Africa. Now, it is the CEOs network Africa that presents the under-30 CEOs award.
So we started with the awards, after the awards we evolved it into a social enterprise where we have a network of young people building other networks. What we do basically is building the largest network of young entrepreneurs.
We had a brunch in Lagos last weekend, a women powered networking brunch just for women. In that meeting alone, the photographer met the owner of the lounge and now they are working together.
So it’s about connecting people, much more than connecting people, we need to connect quality people.
So we got into leadership training, so last month, we had a master class on sales network leadership and entrepreneurship. We are also doing developing courses for young entrepreneurs, so asides just linking people, we are trying to develop people.
These days there is a lot of packaging, you see a young person with no content and context. So what we are doing is trying to put content into their ideas, there is a body of knowledge behind everything.
In Francophone countries, they pay attention to vocational skills, there is school for tiling, plumbing, etc. In the whole of Africa, when you are looking for professional tillers, you go to Togo, when looking for professional plumbers, you go to Mali.
So we are saying that there is a body of knowledge behind leadership. Young people are going to be entrepreneurs. In the 21st century, law firms have managing partners that are not lawyers, you need to know how to be a leader.
Asides connecting these people, we are building their capacity because no matter how small your organization is, you need to know how to be a leader, you need to know the body of knowledge behind what you do. So we are building capacity through CEOs network.
You have to tap into the body of knowledge of your field to be able to explore and excel in your field, so the CEOs network basically is building a network of young people that can drive change in Africa.
THROUGH YOUR INTIATIVE, VERGREEN INITIATIVE, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO EMPOWER YOUG AFRICANS BY CREATING FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM
After the EndSARS protest, businesses were affected, most of those businesses were owned by young people.
What Evergreen did was to speak to our partners in America that a lot of people had been affected and it wasn’t their fault and we raised about 37,000 dollars which was shared to small businesses in bits.
The money was shared all through 2021, which is one of the ways which we have provided funding opportunities. We put out the process for application which was vetted by an independent body and the money was disbursed.
Another way we have been able to create funding opportunities is that the people we work with in low income communities and IDP camps, we have been able to create opportunities where these people have been able to assess funding for their businesses.
As I said, we set up a skills acquisition center, at those centers, we give them training from time to time, and raise funds from our partners to help their businesses.
For the tailors, we buy new materials for sewing, for the farmers, we buy more chicks and feed for their poultry and this is making a lot of impact for them.
NIGERIA IS A COUNTRY WITH SEVERAL CHALLENGES LIMITING THE CAPACITIES OF SMALL AND MEDIUM SIZED ENTERPRISES, HOW CAN THIS GAP BE BRIDGED?
The truth about it is that it can only be bridged by leadership, which is the only way. This is because everything rises and falls with leadership.
I will give a scenario, in 2019 to 2020, the Federal government did a policy on the ease of doing business, crashed the price of registering businesses, over 500,000 businesses were registered at that time.
A small policy like that has created multiple ripple effect, breaking all these challenges help. The issue of fuel scarcity has recently affected businesses, so no matter the technicalities we want to put into it, the only way the challenges can be bridged is leadership.
Anytime I get to address the CEOs network, I tell them that you cannot stay away from politics because all government policies affect businesses.
We had a training here last week, and some senior directors came from TCN (Transmission Corporation of Nigeria) and in the middle of the training, there was no light, the generator got overheated, the inverter battery was dead and there was no public power.
I was happy that it was the Transmission Company of Nigeria because they are in charge of power and they could see the effect of no non availability of power.
They paid for training and expected to get the services they paid for, that is why I said at the end of the day, if government policies are not right, every other thing will crumble.
No technicalities will work than to get politics and governance right, when we get politics and governance right, every other thing will follow. Some countries have done it, Ethiopia did it in less than six years and their power is stable.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG AND ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS?
I am a young and aspiring entrepreneur too, so what I would say to myself and others is that you need to know what you are doing because a lot of people get into businesses that they know nothing about.
I used to have a poultry farm which I understood nothing about, and I lost almost everything I put into it because I didn’t understand the business.
Someone just convinced me to go into it and I did, but at the end of the day I lost. At the end of the day, learning on the job too is something but I think you should understand to an extent, because what we lost could have been avoided.
So first thing is to understand the business you are going into, and I would say again that you should be updated with what is going on in your country, politics and governance, because your business can crash due to a small policy.
I have a friend who started a Bureau De Change (BDC) in 2019, and was making a lot of money, and late last year the government said they are no more selling Forex to BDCs.
It still goes back to being updated about policies and knowing your business.Also, your money is in the hands of people, you always have to be in the right networks.
Somebody will not pay you if they don’t know you, this is not about nepotism or corruption, but this is how it works. This is why rich men spend money to stay in exclusive places, because that is how they network and grow.
If you start your business in isolation, you will definitely crash, because the reality is, two poor people cannot help themselves.
IT IS DIFFICULT TO SEE A YOUNG PERSON RUN A THRIVING BUSINESS IN NIGERIA. HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO PULL THIS OFF AND KEPT IS SUSTAINABLE?
I am still figuring it out, but I would say competence is important. I think the best thing is to know if you can deliver before I work with you.
I always tell people that before we start working, I do not say how much I will pay, but what I would say is that this platform will make us money, let us work together to make money from it.
I can give you a cover of my resources and networks, but you will run the show. What I like to do with people I work with is to throw them into the sea and let them survive it, and I help when there is need. This will help you to be a thinker and learn how to maneuver things, I do not like to work with people who cannot be innovative on their own.
Competence reduces the head ache and workload, when everybody knows what to do.Another thing is to build systems and structures, when you build system and structures, it demystifies everything and things will work better and everybody knows what to do.
Even when a person is not motivated to work, system and structure helps things to run because someone is there to say your work has to be done. When it is a one man where and nothing happens unless you are there, it is never sustainable because you are just one person and there is not much you can do.
IT IS A TREND THAT NIGERIANS NOW TRAVEL TO OTHER COUNTIRES FOR GREENER PASTURES CONSIDERING THE CURRENT ECONIMIC DOWNTURN. DO YOU SEE THIS TREND SHIFTING ANYTIME SOON AND WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO ADDRESS THIS?
First, I can’t blame those who are leaving the country, if you are a doctor in Nigeria and see what you are going through, you will want to leave. How can it be addressed? The answer is simply governance.
When was in the hem of affairs in Singapore, he weighed the people’s priorities, he invested in his people. Singapore sent its people to other countries to acquire skills and come back, because he made the benefits of coming back attractive.
So the people tapped into other cultures and businesses and come back. When the country becomes conducive and starts placing premium on its own people, you will see that things will work, people will come back and things will happen.
THE 2023 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IS IN FEW MONTHS, WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO NIGERIAN YOUTHS?
My first advice is that there is no magic that can happen, Nigerian youths cannot form any coalition that will win any election right now.
What we can do is, though it sounds cliché, but we should look at people’s track record. Not all those contesting are the same as people say, align with the one who has your interest at heart, politics is alignment. Find a candidate that has your interest at heart, and support him.
WHAT ARE THE WORDS YOU LIVE BY?
I will just say substance and quality. I want to be a person of substance who does quality things, it guides me when I am thinking of a new idea, or when I want to say something, I check whether it is has substance and quality.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE EVER FACED IN LIFE?
Being unemployed, as a young person finishing school and cannot rely on your parents anymore and there is no income. It was a difficult two year period to survive.
That is why most of what we do is addressing unemployment issue.
DO YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST IN POLITICS?
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS?
I see myself doing the things I am doing right now but in a much better space.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO NIGERIANS GENERALLY?
I think Nigerians should be more intentional about the things they do, things they support and things they say. They cannot keep leaving things to probability.