Gbenga Sesan (GS) is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a social enterprise that connects underserved people-groups with ICT-enabled opportunities. PIN’s world and work revolves around Youths, IT and opportunities. They consistently connect these three things. PIN create stories that tell the average young Nigerian that regardless of their background and the lack of opportunity around you, they can use technology to create a success story not just for themselves but also as an inspiration to the next person. Gbenga spared time out of his busy schedule to speak with Youthhubafrica’s Modadeoluwa Akinwande on work, family, IT, future projects and Nigeria
Here is how GS introduces himself;
I am an angry young man who is not satisfied with status-quo around me and who will always use what he has to get what is required. I am angry at the mediocrity around and that is not peculiar to Nigeria. There are very few people who are do things deliberately and that gets to me. Anything I do is part of a bigger plan and I try to get others to do things this way too. So this is what defines my work, I use technology to add value to Nigeria.
Early Influences in life
My dad was a teacher and my mum was a nurse, so I had to be a doctor. This was the cliché back then, as a mark of intelligence. I had even read most of my mum’s books. With my parent’s profession, I had a very strict background. You had to be ambitious. If I scored 99% in my exams, my father would commend me but still say to me “that is not the highest mark obtainable”. And that set a mark for me. Also I found myself deeply admiring my mother every time she participated in meetings and also whenever she held the microphone to address people as a nurse. I never knew that would have such a great effect on me in life. Another early influence I had was when I broke an arm in secondary school and I was taken to the clinic where my mum was the senior health sister. She made me wait till it was my turn. She ensured nobody attended to me because of her. And that thought me a very deep lesson; wait for your turn always, if there is a process, you must patiently follow through. My experience with a teacher in my third year in secondary school who told me that I could never understand how to use a computer, also spurred my deep passion for technology. I took up that challenge. Though I was playful, my competition for first position in all I did made me grow up a calculative person.
With 26 Awards And Honours both locally and internationally, including a 2012 listing by CNN as one of the Top 10 Leading African Tech Voices, and by Ventures Africa as one of 40 African Legends Under 40, you wonder what drives and inspires him.
Three things; As a Nigerian, I strongly believe that I must add value to Nigeria. That sense of purpose drives me. Also technology defines and inspires me. I have seen the impact of technology. Social entrepreneur also inspires because it’s a platform for me to give out of what I have being able to get. My experience with the teacher who told me that I could never understand how to use a computer was also a major trigger in my life. I believe most great achievers have a trigger story in their life. It is either someone encouraged them or someone said to them “you cannot” and they decided to prove the person wrong.
Who is responsible for the predicament of the Nigerian Youth?
Look in the mirror. If you are 35 and you are saying someone is responsible for your predicament, then you are a fool. Everyman is the captain of his ship. Even though there are many circumstances working against your success but many people are working against the tide in the same environment, focusing on the value they can deliver and building themselves. Invest 10,000 hours in something and you will become an expert in it. In 1999, I made up my mind that I was going to know everything about technology in Nigeria and a little about everything else and today I can relate with almost everything IT I come across in Nigeria. 80% of my revenue from consulting comes from the fact that I am a Nigerian who understands the topic and can tell the world about it through the lens of a developing economy.
No country has a perfect policy. We have become a generation of young people who love entitlement. We believe Government should provide everything. Why can’t you learn a skill? Why did you spend so many years in school? I say to people, in the midst of mediocrity, the person that puts in a little effort will shine so brightly. We should have a rethink.
Is there hope for the Nigerian Youth today?
Oh yes! First of all, they world is currently focusing on Africa. Many international firms are coming to do business in Nigeria. There is so much demand for local knowledge and skill. So if you know your onions, they will certainly patronize you and you can send them very nice invoices. There is a place for expertise. Secondly, in midst of darkness, every light will shine. There is so much mediocrity around, just do a little extra and you will stand out. You will become a star.
Youth and Cyber crime
Yes, it is very difficult to stop cyber crime in Nigerian, especially because our society is a status based economy. The big man is in charge, they control everything. We disregard hard work. This is a system were the hard working man does not necessarily succeed. So many Nigerian youths want to ‘hammer’ at all cost so as to be a big man too. But I emphasis curbing; not stopping. I talk about redirecting the energy of these young people. If you can spend 12hours daily in a month searching for credit card info and passwords, then you can do research and be paid for it. If you can clone websites so well to deceive and defraud people, then you can be a professional website designer that will be well paid. If you can hack websites to get information, then you can become an ethical hacker who will protect people and companies from being hacked.
At 35, he has consulted and presented papers in over 30 countries.
His consulting experience includes assignments completed for numerous institutions, including Microsoft, Harvard University, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Freedom House, Res Publica, Computer Aid International, Heinrich Boll Foundation, the International Telecommunications Union and British Council
The Nigerian IT \industry
I think we are seeing the second wave of rumblings in the IT industry. The first was in the 70’s/80’s when Nigerians who had gone to study IT abroad returned home and began implementing what they knew. The rumbling this time is not just about computer and software but about value, about the creation of intangible products and services most of which are getting popular right now. This will climax over the next 5 years because 3 things will drive the sector;
- Greed, the desire for more. Greed is not always a bad thing. It drives. Many young people are getting greedy today and it is driving their desire for more which is good.
- Competition; young people are beginning to work together. So you see partnerships like founders and co-founders or CEO and COO, and more. Many are also collaborating to improve the industry.
- Competition; yes competition again. Competition to get the job, even when we are friends.
However there is a disconnect today between Government, the industry revolution driven by young dynamic people and the old established associations in the industry. And it’s a disfavour to all three. Government has really not been sincere enough. There’s been a lot of lip service, though after years of pressure, there seems to be some progress like having the first ICT minister. Many are joining the older established associations because it favours their business interests alone, which is not bad but definitely not the best. And then the young people who are going all out to create value and get investment, seed funding and hoping to become legitimate billionaires unlike many of the billionaires we have today who seem to thrive more on favoritism, which I see as opportunistic and not expertise.
GS in politics in the nearest future?
I always say no to that and many don’t believe me. I do not see politics in my future plans, which is clear to me. I am a professional and an activist now because if we all keep focusing on ‘what I will get’, then nothing will happen to the collective. I am already in policy at the moment as I have been invited to a committee, though I am one of the biggest critics of the current government. I think am too idealistic and too much of an activist to join politics. I want to see things work the way they should which is easier from the outside because when you go in, it’s a different story, just like marriage. We need that balance as a country. And besides not every young person should join politics. If we do, who will be the journalist, the social entrepreneurs etc? I can add value to Nigeria without being a politician. Besides it’s even more lucrative to be on the outside because I can get paid for my jobs without feeling guilty, unlike if I was in.
His interests include writing, public speaking, traveling, strategy and spending time online. GS is married to Temilade Sesan, PhD, an expert on Energy Poverty and Development issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
GS on his wife
She is my mentor. I came into the marriage with huge respect for her. She adds so much value to me. She knows what she is doing and she understands where I am going to. She is very focused. She adds value to me. She is a PhD holder in development and this simple makes my work easier because she simply puts it in perspective for me. She is creating new knowledge. Her materials are being used as teaching resources in the UK right know. She is currently working with the World Bank in Nigeria. She has worked in Kenya, Korea and more.
Marriage is easier when it is a partnership where both parties are focused. A major problem I have with some women is that thought of getting married and becoming second fiddle. It is wrong. A woman should be an independent person who can hold her own. So when she meets a man that is focused too, then it will work.
It is only a foolish man that will run away from a successful woman. It is purely a case of inferiority complex. The man is insecure. Celebrating my wife does not in any way reduce my success or achievement. From time to time she looks at me and says ‘I am proud of you’ and I can tell that the respect is very honest. I think that many people, including men are very competitive without value. We think that the less people are, the less it reveals how little we are. But if you are stuffed, you will not be intimated, definitely not. I think things are changing now. I think there is a new generation of men who still get the door for their wives, who understand that her success is their success. They love to hear things like ‘oh you are Dr Temilade Sesan’s husband’. It is for the man’s good. It raises the bar of respect for both the man and the woman.
TENT- Techie Entrepreneurial Nigerian Talented. The idea is if young people don’t start to embrace technology at 13, they cannot be global leaders at 30. Nigerian youths should not have to spend 4-5years in University and start searching for jobs, when they are sitting on skills. So from their first year in school, they tell us what they want to do and we work with them to ensure that when they are graduating, they either have a business or a business plan, not just a CV. We work with them through the years to achieve this. This is how Facebook, Google and more can to be. Many of them could afford to make mistakes then and learn all the lessons. Unlike the ‘cram, pass exam, forget, carry CV around’ system we have around here. We currently have a 5 year plan with Obafemi Awolowo University. And we will expand to other universities soon.
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