In this interview, CHIAMAKA KWAZU, Co-founder of AlumUnite, speaks with BusinessDay’s OPEYEMI KALEJAIYE about the dynamics of the educational system and opportunities available to better create a conducive learning environment.
What’s your overview of Africa’s educational system, most importantly Nigeria?
What’s your overview of Africa’s educational system, most importantly Nigeria?
Although this is a system with a lot of promise, there are challenges we can point to. This includes infrastructural challenges, Skill gaps in the industry, curriculum needs, under-skilled, and an unprepared workforce.
At the crux of this matter, again, is the lack of funding, accountability, and transparency. There isn’t a proper channel to account for the funds that have been remitted to certain institutions or generally oversee policies.
Furthermore, the sector is grossly underfunded. When we look at what is expected for the government to set aside, to improve the educational system, we can see that we’re miles away from where our counterparts are.
We have a very young population that needs access to not just quality but affordable education and this is something that we haven’t been able to create.
I think I’m encouraged when I see entrepreneurs like ULesson and AlumUnite who are not afraid to tackle this issue because when you have deficits, it creates this notion that education is no longer important. However, what these startups are doing, ours inclusive is channeling our focus on things like education which is very important by creating opportunities where people can access inclusive, quality education.
Are there any low-hanging fruits Africa’s leaders can explore to fix its educational system?
Absolutely. There are a lot of low-hanging fruits. Critical to this is a system that is hinged on public-private partnership that is represented by true transparency and accountability.
Using Havard that most Nigerians want to go as a case study, they also seek external sources for funding. About 26%, which is about $12.15 billion donations come from alumni, for them to invest in research, infrastructure, curriculum development, mentoring, and the likes.
There are different fund approaches African leaders can utilize, one of which is the alumni. There are also other sources from high-net-worth individuals that are vested in the legacy of the school. This set of individuals is able to pull in about 18.3% ($8.57 billion) into Harvard.
Communities can be explored by the Nigerian government, but it is important to put structure, transparency, and accountability to the system. Also, there is an opportunity to leverage and exploit data to better allocate resources. Collecting data is an opportunity that’s available to startups within the education ecosystem.
Brain drain is a major challenge facing Africans. How can Nigeria or Africa retain its best talents?
I believe brain drain is double-edged in the sense that it’s an opportunity for them to get access and partnership that usually wouldn’t happen within the country, ability to gain experience and exposure that you will want to replicate within your home country. There’s also that impact on remittance coming from those abroad.
However, the flip side of it is that people are leaving because the environment is not conducive, the system is preserved by creating a conducive environment for people to thrive but there aren’t even enough resources to go around. When there are not enough resources to go around, people start looking for alternatives.
So one of the things that we can do to address this challenge is making sure that we communicate effectively the success stories, making sure that we collaborate effectively amongst people that have started things instead of having to reinvent the wheel.
This will make the country attractive for those abroad to want to use the experiences they’ve gained to invest back into their home country.
African countries are not amongst the top twenty countries in the Human capital index as of 2020. What can be done to improve this?
We need a unified transparent system that holds credible, accessible, and updated data, like the Office for National Statistics (ONS) system in the UK. This can then help entrepreneurs come up with solutions to those human capital problems they find from the data gathered.
How would you assess the impact of your operations in Nigeria? What’s your reach?
We just launched in the last quarter of last year. In spite of that, most of the projects that we have completed were to the tune of about $5,000.
Last year, we helped an Alumni Organization to set up a welfare package and have been able to use that to help their members. We executed a project at CKCC, Gwagwalada, last year to improve their science laboratory.
So, what we want to do is also to have the opportunity to pull in also from current students so that we are able to measure impact.
Funding is a critical issue in the sustainability of any project. How is your organization funding its operations?
We got a couple of angel investors that were able to give us the initial capital that helped us get started. We’ve also been able to secure partnerships with business schools like IESE, a top business school in Barcelona, Spain.
Most of the funding model at the moment is from platform fees on the platform. When people complete donations, we charge platform fees from them, this is one way we make revenue. Also, we do Foreign Exchange conversions at the moment as well. We are still open to partnerships from donor organizations and big corporations.
How do you select the schools to develop or the people to mentor? Or is it just restricted to the schools of those that are donating?
There is mentoring or access to funding coming from the actual alumni that are onboarded on the platform. When they sign up onto the platform, they get put their school group and graduating class. We also don’t fund schools, rather we create opportunities for schools to set up whatever campaign they want to do, whether funding or mentorship.
What we also try to do as a way of giving back to the education system, is to make sure that this inclusive quality sustainable education is scaled across board. We have our Education Advancement Programme focused on catering to schools with weak alumni networks or disadvantaged communities, for this we have dedicated 1% of our revenue to fund.
How much mentoring has gone into the schools? Where do you have most of your operations in African countries?
We do have investors from other parts of Africa, but at the moment, we are just based in Nigeria. Again, we have just launched, so the mentoring feature is what we would be rolling out soon, this is not Live yet.
Working in Africa can be challenging compared to other western countries. So, what are the biggest challenges you face working in Nigeria and Africa?
The biggest has been talents. One of the things that we’ve struggled with is finding the right talents with the right skills that can also fit within our culture, this has been our biggest challenge.
What are your plans over the next five years?
In the next couple of years or in the next five years, we’re looking to have executed at least 1000 of these projects across Nigeria.
Critically as well, to make impacts within schools, and to be able to identify about 500 teacher-focused initiatives that we can either engineer or successfully complete in the next few years, but also with spear head conversations around gender equality, and equity as well.
How do you reach out to the Alumni, and what is their motivation to give back after graduating?
So, the key motivation is an opportunity to see legacies that future generations will benefit from. It gives the alumni access to students or recent graduates who can give them ideas on projects that will be impactful. They can also use the students to gauge the impact of what has been done.
With the pandemic, which has disrupted the global space, we know that there has been a global shift towards technology and innovative learning, so how can countries in Africa prepare their students for this change that is happening?
Technology is what we’re using to enhance systems right now. The key thing is trying to democratize the curriculum by making sure that the right partnership is established with the right knowledge bodies. There also has to be a provision for self-study and critical thinking, there should be investments as well in training teachers generally and training them on how to use these new technologies as well.