Hopefield Network is an African social enterprise that is focused on engaging young people by initiating, building and executing community focused projects in education. Read an inspiring interview with its young Co-founder and Executive Director, Adetunji Adeniran.
What is the social innovation Hopefield Network about?
Hopefield Network exists to connect young people, mostly undergraduates and recent graduates (age 18 -35 years), to opportunities in education, technology and businesses through community services. By working with individuals, government and private bodies, we execute projects in local communities to discover business opportunities, talents and uncover needs in places where they need it most that will spark innovation and stimulate growth. We also work with public institutions to teach vocational skills (VET) to pupils of primary schools that will make them financially independent and self-reliant as they grow into adulthood.
The bigger picture for us is to tackle the challenges of unemployment in Africa by equipping our young people with needed skills as they grow and by this, we are going to the core of the society to stimulate that discussion.
Why did you start this Social Innovation?
Growing up in a remote community in Osun State, Nigeria meant limited access to basic amenities such as quality education, potable water or even mentorship about life generally. In fact, some of us were not given chance to life but by divine providence we survived it. As I grew into adulthood, I realised that I lacked some soft skills especially in VET. They could have been acquired if they were available while growing up but instead, I had to learn them the hard way through network, conferences, mentors and deliberate relationships with the right people.
As an adult now, I decided to take it as a responsibility to break that cycle and set up a system for the vulnnerable, especially in our communities.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
It was a mix of both. The idea to start and put a framework became apparent in 2013 when I returned to Nigeria from World Business Dialogue at the University of Cologne. I was the only delegate sponsored by Lufthansa Airline from Africa to attend the week-long dialogue on discussions relating Generation Y! and Business Innovations. Prior to this, I had been sponsored to a similar conference in Paris in 2011 by Total SA and in 2012 I was also an invited guest of the Russian Federation through the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs to take part in the International Youth Forum.
I realised that I owe my generation a platform that will connect them to opportunities and networks to accelerate their growth and development. I shared the Hopefield Network idea with a couple of friends, started a WordPress forum which generated a lot of interest. That was when I knew it was time to launch both offline and online version.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how did you overcome your fear?
For every starter, acceptance is always the first hurdle and I was not exempted. I battled this for weeks before we finally test run it with a low-cost online platform.
As soon as the audience began to grow, we moved to the next hurdle which was getting funding. The full online platform was setup from my savings through internship with P&G but offline initiatives were delayed for 2 years. During this 2-year period, I saved money meant for vacations and personal allowances in a separate account to launch the offline initiatives in 2016. The offline has been ongoing now for 3 consecutive years (2016, 2017, 2018) and on track with expected results.
Third challenge was recruiting selfless volunteers and partners. We started with 5 people in 2016 for the offline activities and we have grown to 163 volunteers today. In 2018, we started receiving donations from people who believe in our work and two partners are granting scholarships to brilliant and indigent pupils in our communities.
What were the beginning of the Social Innovation?
As I mentioned before at the initial stage, it was purely an online forum where undergraduates and recent graduates can access useful information on international conferences and competitions. Whoever got selected would get in touch with us and we facilitate getting sponsorships with corporate organizations. In one year, we had three (3) students from two (2) universities attend leadership and business conferences in Russia, USA and Denmark with full or partial sponsorship.
In 2016 when we piloted to offline to engage pupils in public schools, it was myself and five (5) volunteers in Ile-Ife, a town in south-west part of Nigeria. We engaged community leaders, school administrators and 430 pupils advocating for quality education and choosing the right careers. Subsequent years have been bigger and better.
In 2018, we were part of the team that consulted for Oyo State (another state in the region) in their education intervention initiatives (OYOMESI) that has received commendation from UNESCO and the Government of Nigeria.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you want to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
I personally think the public is yet to be fully aware because the government has not shown enough ownership in the development of pupils in local communities in Nigeria and may be across Africa. Meanwhile, I think we have made significant progress in terms of engagement and advocacy. To drive home the core of our messages, we went into partnership with local newsprint, radio and television stations. Through the media, we host policy makers and political officers engaging them in discussions pertaining to implementing friendly policies in areas we are passionate about. We have engaged government advisers on education, youth and industry. We are currently engaging political aspirants ahead of general elections in Nigeria i.e executive and legislature.
Finally, personal development is key to everything. People will believe in your ideas, purpose or potential when they see your personal commitment to the cause.
How did you make sure your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
Well, the first platform created gave us a hint before further hints corroborated it. In all the events that have taken place, we had to carry out survey and get feedbacks from participants.
After we began this initiative, we have received messages from other regions asking when we would be coming to their locations which shows that there is value in what we are doing.
How did you raise money for your idea and what is your idea considering DYI Fundraising?
In every social innovative venture, the onus first lies with the founder to bring the idea to life. People don’t believe in your idea if they don’t see your commitment and belief in what you are doing. In my case, the first set of funds for this initiative was through personal savings from work and consulting jobs because support was not coming forth.
Rolling out social innovation in Africa is quite difficult because the environment hasn’t grown to support it yet. For example, unlike in developed countries where social enterprises can be registered by law, it is not so yet in our laws. There are no provisions for CICs, SICs like it is in Canada, USA or some parts of Europe. Every entity besides PLC, LLC or Sole proprietorship is assumed to be an NGO or non-profit. This in itself inhibits opportunities for growth or clarity of purpose to attract the right supports.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
We are currently scaling our initiatives from two (2) states to six (6) states in the south-west and there is another plan to start in Kaduna IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps. The challenge has been getting the funding to mobilize resources to reach more targets and create more opportunities that we envision. We have reached 4,100 pupils and engaged 163 volunteers which is 41% of our target in 3 years. Now the next phase is to reach 5,000 additional pupils and build a wider network in the coming 2 years. The plans have been designed and we are currently receiving funds and sponsorships to implement.
How do you change the whole system?
If I understand you correctly, by system you mean changing status quo to follow your calling and passions for the common good. This seemingly simple topic is a difficult issue that most of us in Africa face majorly because of societal pressure to get money irrespective of the sources; and partly due to lack of support systems for social innovators such as access to fund or enabling environment. So, you see, it is easier to follow the status quo than struggling with old structures that our society encapsulate.
But! Some of us have radical innovations and we’re brutal in bringing them to reality to see people live better lives. It involves personal sacrifices which we have been paying and are prepared to do more. The secret is to close your eyes and ears to the noises around and focus on your work. Hard work, dedication and commitment to a cause is contagious when you don’t give up.
What is the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
My advice is to START! Anywhere you are right now is the RIGHT place to START.
It is also advisable to get experience especially from a structured organization before launching out on your own. In my case, I spent first 5 years of my career in a multinational company to learn processes, people management and did the project as a side gig before finally launching out. This will help build a network, a financial and knowledge base for your venture to succeed.
Adetunji is a co-founder and consultant at Lurvity Limited (an engineering consulting and business advisory firm providing innovative, creative and professional services in infrastructure, engineering, and energy sectors). An alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University where he bagged a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. He has an MBA (thesis on the effects of Foreign Direct Investment on Nigeria’s Economy 2000-2015) and currently expanding his knowledge with a Master’s degree in Energy Studies specializing in Energy Economics and Renewable Energy.
Adetunji is also the Co-founder and Executive Director at Hopefield Network, a social enterprise that is focused on engaging young people by initiating, building and executing community-focused projects in education; and ‘YNAG Inc.’ a non-profit that is committed to raising next generation leaders for Africa’s prosperity. Adetunji is passionately playing his part in Africa’s development by providing and making positive contributions in engineering, education and leadership development of Africa.
He is a chartered engineer with Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN); a corporate member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and a Fellow of World Business Dialogue, Cologne.
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