OSAYI ALILE is devoted to societal impact for the betterment of the citizenry

Osayi Alile is a quintessential leader with over 20 years in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and the third sector with a wide array of experience covering International Development, Business and Philanthropic Management, Fundraising and Sustainability.

Her degrees in Sociology and Public Administration from Rutgers University, New Jersey prepared her to be a catalyst for change as she has revolutionised the non- profit sector in Nigeria and beyond. She possesses Executive Certifications from LBS (Nigeria), IMD, Cranfield, Harvard University and YALE. She is also a member of the Institute of Directors, Nigeria , CIBN (Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria) Mentoring Advisory Committee, LBS Nigeria Non–profit Senior Management Fellow , ANDE Executive Committee, Council Member, LCCI (Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry) , Member TheBoardroom Africa, Executive Member of the Access Women Network and Trustee, Alaghodaro (Edo State) Economic Summit.

Alile is currently the Chief Executive Officer at ACT Foundation, a grant- making non-profit organisation that provides funding to social sector organisations focused in the areas of Health, Entrepreneurship, Environment and Leadership. Through her hard work, dedication and resilience, ACT Foundation has been adjudged the “Not-For-Profit of the Year” at the 2018, 2019 & 2020 SERAS CSR Awards.

She is also the Co- Administrator at the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) which is a Private Sector task force in partnership with the Federal Government, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the sole aim of combating Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria.

She was past Chairperson, Women in Management, Business and Public Policy (WIMBIZ), and she sits on several boards including House of Tara, Zapphaire Events, Future Projects, Africa Leadership Network Forum, IDEA Hub and Global Dignity, an affiliation of the World Economic Forum in Norway.

Osayi Alile is passionate about women, youth empowerment, equality and creating positive social impact in our world.

Share with us what your 20 years of experience in the SME and the third sector has taught you

From my experience, I have learnt that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the world economy, accounting for most businesses across nearly every region. In the developing world, SMEs make up 90 per cent of the private sector and create more than 50 per cent of jobs in their corresponding economies. In Africa, SMEs provide an estimated 80 per cent of jobs across the continent, representing an important driver of economic growth. Sub-Saharan Africa alone has 44 million micro, small, and medium enterprises, almost all of which are micro. For these businesses to grow, create more jobs, and generate economic growth, they need access to capital. Fifty-one per cent of these vital businesses, however, require more funding than they can currently access.

African SMEs face two significant financing challenges: accessibility and affordability. Accessibility refers to the ability of SMEs to access finance. SMEs in Africa are frequently informal and what that means is they are not formally registered as businesses and this makes it difficult for them to access financing. Moreover, even those that are formally registered still frequently suffer from a lack of accessibility. This is a significant issue because, without sufficient working capital, firms are unable to invest and grow.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in most economies, particularly in developing countries. SMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development. According to World Bank, 600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce, which makes SME development a high priority for many governments around the world.

If you are to advise SME business owners, what will it be?

To succeed in business today, you need to be flexible and have good planning and organisational skills.

· Get Organised: Being organised will help you complete tasks and stay on top of things to be done. A good way to be organised is to create a to-do list each day. As you complete each item, check it off your list. This will ensure that you’re not forgetting anything and completing all the tasks that are essential to the survival of your business.

· Keep Detailed Records: All successful businesses keep detailed records. By doing so, you’ll know where the business stands financially and what potential challenges you could be facing. Just knowing this gives you time to create strategies to overcome those challenges. By having records that are constantly uploaded and backed up, a business no longer has to worry about losing their data.

· Be Consistent: Consistency is a key component success in any business. You have to keep doing what is necessary to be successful day in and day out. This will create long-term positive habits that will maintain sustainability in the long run.

· Motivate Staff: Talented and motivated staff members can bring on big improvements in business. Learn what motivates your employees to higher levels of performance. Part of this is being willing to listen to input and insight from everyone on staff, regardless of position or seniority. Some of the best ideas come from those closest to certain problems.

What are the mistakes SME businesses make?

Starting a business isn’t always easy. There are so many things to think about and decisions to make; the pressure can cause you to make a poor decision that can hurt your potential for success, or at least set you back.

Skipping the Planning Phase: Planning may be tedious, but without a solid plan for your business that includes business idea research and market potential, you will be operating in the dark. The most important plans to consider include a business plan, a financial plan, and a marketing plan.

Avoiding New Technology: As small business owners, technology can provide new opportunities, help us do our work more efficiently and even help us save money. New technology may be intimidating and require time to learn and understand, but an unwillingness to adapt to technological advances can hurt your business in the short and long-term.

Not Making a Commitment: Starting a business requires a number of success-oriented character traits such as drive, dedication and a serious sense of commitment. Small business owners need to be willing to make sacrifices, put in the time necessary, and face challenges head-on if they want their businesses to be successful. We all make mistakes. The key is being aware of them and consistently working to make smart, well-informed decisions in your business. If you can do that, and remain resilient when you do make a mistake, success will be within your reach.

Read also: Henrietta Bankole-Olusina – VP/Practice Lead of Economic Inclusion at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

What are the misconceptions about philanthropy you would want to correct?

The process of deciding how to give to charity raises many questions and complex issues. We often encounter common assumptions about giving that are more nuanced than they seem.

Large or small charities are inefficient: An organisation’s size is not always a good indication of the quality of its work; the effectiveness of its programs is a much better marker. Bigger charities can have advantages in terms of power, recognition and economies of scale, while smaller charities can be more agile and responsive. On the other hand, many small charities working separately on the same issue can duplicate resources and effort, which is also inefficient.

Large-Sum Donations Alone Can Sustain Non-profits: Wealthy donors and foundations typically make large-sum donations of millions or billions of dollars to singular causes or organisations. These contributions do go a long way, but they can make causes and organisations too reliant on their wealthy benefactors. That’s why the key to the longevity of non-profits will be to rely on a substantial pool of everyday givers who are firmly committed to their cause day in and day out. For non-profits today, the misconceptions about big philanthropy perpetuate challenges that must be addressed. And, to do so, the encouragement and engagement of everyday donors is essential and should be prioritised. Either way, researching the projects delivered by a charity can help in deciding where to donate.

How would you rate our level of philanthropy in Nigeria?

The non-profit sector in Nigeria has been actively engaged in charitable causes, and corporate business entities are increasingly engaging in philanthropy through their corporate social responsibility programs. Through the years, philanthropy has progressed from individual charitable acts of helping the poor to more organised philanthropy.

There is an increase in awareness and in the establishment of philanthropic initiatives and organisations. Individuals, families, wealthy capitalists and church leaders are using foundations and other non-profit forms to contribute their resources in addressing social problems. Some, especially the religious leaders and wealthy capitalists are motivated by deep interest in solving societal problems, especially in alleviating poverty and the provision of free education and healthcare, while others are creating family legacy in philanthropic giving. Through collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), non-profits in Nigeria were mobilised to support the government in the Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI), addressing drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. This broadened the collaboration between civil society organizations and the government (NNNGO n.d).

Overall, the non-profit sector has become more organised, and top indigenous foundations are making a philanthropic impact beyond the shores of Nigeria and in the continent.

Fundraising is often challenging for many, while some find it easy. Why so?

Building relationships with donors is very key in fundraising. You have to get potential donors involved in your projects, work and events even before receiving funds. Share annual reports and impact records. This will help build trust and partnerships.

A lot of NGOs struggle when cultivating relationships with donors and partners Lack of trust between international funders and local organisations. Most NGOs who are doing great work lack the capacity to manage large funds which are available from local and international funders. Local NGOs have in the past relied on international funds that are slowly dwindling. The lack of funding structure from local organisations has also limited access to fundraising within our continent. Fundraising from the private sector requires proper tax rebates and other benefits that will encourage the support of private sector organisations towards NGOs through fundraising, donation and capacity-building support that will equip them with the skills to properly and ethically fundraise.

You have revolutionised NGOs in Nigeria, how do you believe you were able to do this successfully?

I have always been very passionate about creating impact and developing human capacity. Over the years, we have seen a constant need for creating and supporting ecosystems for businesses and innovation to thrive in, a constant requirement to always do more. African societies are developing and need meaningful and effective support, and this is what ACT Foundation represents. Throughout my career from program management, learning and development, to impact consulting, the need for an indigenous grant-making organisation was apparent. Starting up ACT Foundation was to meet this need; playing a significant role in positively changing the African narrative is as exciting as phenomenal.

NGOs are set up for noble courses however, many have used it for fraudulent reasons and has caused a dent in the sector, what do you have to say about this? How can this narrative change?

One of the important things to note here is that most fraudulent NGOs always try to access international donors, and also, some organisations just lack the expertise and knowledge of running an NGO, so they tend to appear fraudulent. International donors should be deliberate about connecting closely with local organisations and their communities.

Basically, this is what ACT Foundation was set up to address, NGOs are often birthed out of the need to solve community problems in doing that founders often begin to address these problems with limited expertise, and often times they are misled by maybe wrong information, the priority of the intervention which leads to mismanagement of resources which includes funds. To address the negative image of NGOs across Africa ACT Foundation provides capacity-building, programs at no cost to founders, board members, and social development practitioners. Through our grant-making program, proper due diligence is done before awarding grants to winning applicants but most importantly a background check on the leadership of the organisation which speaks to proper governance and accountability.

For this narrative to change, we need more training programs for non-profits and capacity building that will ensure stability.

As the Chief Executive Officer at ACT Foundation, what are your responsibilities and how do you carry it out?

As the Chief Executive Officer at Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation (ACT Foundation), I am responsible for overseeing the administration, programs and strategic plan of the organisation.

My responsibilities include but are not limited to:

• Board Governance: Working closely with the board of ACT Foundation to fulfill the mission and vision of the Foundation

• Legal compliance: Overseeing the filing of all legal and regulatory documents. Monitor compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

• Strategy Development: Help in determining ACT Foundation’s values, mission, vision, short- and long-term goals

• Monitoring and evaluating ACT Foundation’s relevance to the community, its effectiveness, and its impact

• Management and administration: Providing general oversight to all ACT Foundation’s activities, managing the day-to-day operations, and assuring a smoothly functioning and efficient organisation

• Quality Assurance: Ensure output quality and organisational stability through the development and implementation of standards, controls, systems, procedures, and regular evaluation

• Financing programs; ensuring cost-effectiveness while maximizing service quality

• Overseeing the fiscal activities of the organization including budgeting, reporting and auditing

• Brand Management: Manage the ACT Foundation brand, build it and help communicate it at all times

• Fundraising, Partnerships and Collaboration

When it comes to carrying out my duties, I must say that I have a strong team of reliable and competent professionals who help in making the work easier. I cannot take all the credit as it’s always a team effort.

In giving grants on health, entrepreneurship, environment and Leadership, what do you look out for in each category mentioned?

Over the years, we have been able to build a system that allows a group of experts in the sector to review all our applications and proposals. We leverage their expertise in our selection process. We also have a thorough grant eligibility criteria process that includes:

Program Title
Number of Communities to be Reached
Focus Area
Program Start Date
Program End Date
List of all communities to be reached
Use of Technology
Nature of Technology
Problem Statement Justification
Program UN-linked Sustainable Development Goal
Sustainability Plan
Communication & Publicity Plan
Program Location
Number of Indirect Beneficiaries
Number of Direct Beneficiaries
Expected output indicators
Expected Outcome Indicators
Total Program Cost
Requested Amount for Program
Cost per Beneficiary Ratio

Many businesses are still recovering from the effect of COVID-19 on their businesses, what do you have to say about this? What business survival strategies can you give or suggest?

Businesses who have stood the test of time have continually sought fresh solutions to improve upon their offerings, products, services, and so on. Never a time have we been confronted with the need to innovate than now. The COVID-19 pandemic has left organisations, non-profits inclusive, fighting for their survival. Alongside this pervading uncertainty which we’ll need to adapt to, there’s a world of increased need for which our missions are ever more relevant. If any organisation will survive and thrive in a period such as this, they will have to push past what they have done before and explore different ways of working. Beyond the shift to virtual platforms, there must be innovative solutions to challenges occasioned by the pandemic. The onus is on organisations to imagine the unfolding future and find ways to land themselves in it. Whilst no one can certainly predict what’s coming, one thing is certain – we are not returning to what was once our “normal.”

COVID-19 shook the entire world and virtually everything changed. This is why flexibility is key. Organisations have to find more innovative ways to sustain their activities.

We can harness technology for positive use during this COVID -19 pandemic situation by sharing positive and verified information only, adoption of sustainable preventive measures and curtailing misinformation. Tweak your activities and programmes to fit into our current situation, take advantage of free online platforms that can help boost your business.

It cannot be business as usual, for every change requires a new way of doing things and the same applies to non-profits. Innovation isn’t creating something new but rather transforming already existing ideas to adapt to new realities

What are the challenges of the average woman executive and how can she navigate through life?

Identifying a practical role model in form of a career/life mentor, sponsor and coach. Women executives need access to a high number of other women professionals in their field. Women executives need society’s support to take on more risks and challenges as they journey through life facing stereotypic situations.

Are NGOs Feminised?’ How can women deal with stereotyping?

NGOs are not feminised but due to the empathetic nature of women, they tend to draw towards the sector.

Women are marginalised and more affected and it is seen in areas such as poverty, gender bias, health, hunger and so on.

Efforts need to be made in having more male social development professionals who are also passionate about these causes.

It is important to keep your mind open and devoid of stereotypical assumptions

What advice do you have for young female executives who desire to move up the ladder?

I want you ladies to know that anything is possible. Our gender, age and social class does not matter, all that matters is your work ethic and your dedication. You are important and you have something unique to offer this world. I also want women to learn to prioritise themselves. Have a mentor, I have learnt about the importance of mentorship and having the right network. Also, always let your voice be heard, never let anyone silence you, have a support system, be your own cheerleader – believe in yourself, hype yourself, blow your own horn, read books – Learn, Relearn, Unlearn. I have learnt to develop a drive for constant improvement. You are better appreciated when you create value.

What should we look forward to from ACT Foundation this year?

We are excited about 2022 as it is our 5th year anniversary. Over the last five years, we have awarded grants to 80 beneficiaries, impacted about two million people, and extended philanthropic gestures to the 36 states in Nigeria and 811 communities in Africa.

At ACT Foundation, It is our mission to drive sustainable impact across Africa through funding-focused interventions that impact changes in our society, and we are excited to do more as we look forward to a productive year ahead and are ready to achieve our goals.

We plan to reach communities that seem hard to reach, support more sustainable project, work with new partners, new sector findings on our work at ACT Foundation, increased knowledge sharing, more brand visibility, multi stakeholder and cross-sector partnership.