At a recent YALI Mandela Fellowship Expo where Program Officer Ryan Musser was representing CIPE, he met a Mandela fellow who won a CIPE essay contest several years ago on Economically-Sustainable Development, in which he wrote about economic opportunity for youth. His name was Babatunde Oladosu, and he went on to found EduBridge Academy in Nigeria, an organization that helps students and young professionals learn the skills required to obtain jobs in investment banking and consulting. Ryan Musser asked him to reflect on his previous essay, and share some lessons learned:
In 2012, I wrote that young people have not been an economically active demographic group in developing countries because of unemployment and lack of opportunities to grow. I wrote that youth made up 37 percent of Africa’s working-age population yet 60 percent of the unemployed. Today, the situation is much worse. In my country Nigeria, unemployment for the 15-34 age cohort increased from 31.7 percent in 2012 to 55.4 percent in Q3 2018.
In 2012, I was frustrated that young people did not get sufficient opportunities to succeed. I was unhappy that college graduates could not find work, after significant investments of time and scarce resources in education. I was angry that employers thought of college graduates as unemployable. To compound it, a former central bank governor said that almost all college graduates were unemployable. I thought the educational and employment systems were failing young people, and humiliating them.
The CIPE essay competition presented an opportunity to show how I strongly I felt about matters concerning young people. It was a platform to articulate my frustrations. I heard about the competition from Muideen “e-farmer” Salawu, a friend from college who was convinced I could win. He sounded confident and he called in more than once to ensure I had put in an entry. Thank you e-farmer!
Reading my essay again made me realize how hard I worked to get it in. It was a tough time at work, and I stayed long hours to get the research done. I remember speaking to young people to be sure they felt the same way as I. I wanted to know their aspirations, how they felt about their current circumstances and the lack of opportunities. The essay was a result of painstaking research, collating the divergent of views of many young people and me channeling my anger in a productive way.
I wrote – and I still believe- that all the excuses that Nigeria and other developing countries give for their lack of development are untenable. I argued that with such a large youth cohort, countries like Nigeria should be investing a lot more in its young people. Arguing that Nigeria had some advantage in entertainment, agriculture and information technology, I suggested that government and young people focus on these sectors as sources of jobs and economic contribution.
In retrospect, the CIPE essay made me realize the deep interest I have in youth matters – youth employment and increased educational attainment. It was the first time I really had time to channel my thoughts deliberately into finding the drivers of increased life outcomes for young people. Also, I had to find an optimal role for youth in their country’s economic development. I realized that low educational attainment, lack of opportunities and deep unemployment were reducing the ability of young people to support their families and communities. The CIPE essay made me realize how much skill development and education could strengthen the capacity of young people to find fulfilling work and support their country’s economic development.
In effect, the CIPE essay led me down the road to EduBridge Academy. I hypothesized that teaching young people the exact skills that they need at work would make them more attractive to employers. The Academy began teaching our unemployed youth key work skills such as professional use of Microsoft Office Suite, building pitchbooks, writing equity research reports, business writing and communication skills. EduBridge Academy creatively solves the skills gap problem – a major cause of unemployment – by using working professionals in sectors such as manufacturing, consulting, accounting and financial services as faculty.
The result is a 50% improvement in employment outcome is for our graduates. EduBridge Academy graduates work at Goldman Sachs, Standard Bank, McKinsey & Company, ABInBev, and small and medium scale enterprises, which do not have a training budget but have demand for well-trained entry level talent. Bimpe is my favorite EduBridge Academy testimonial. She had been unemployed for two years, not for lack of trying or lack of quality. She had graduated close to the top of her class in college, and had good extracurricular involvement in school. She had been passed over by many employers. After attending EduBridge Academy, she re-applied to a company that had rejected her for an internship. Once she demonstrated the skills she learnt at the Academy, she got offered a full-time position. Bimpe’s career has grown much faster than 75% of entry level hires within two years of working in that industry.
Like Bimpe, young people all over the world need solutions in education, government, companies and society that will give them more opportunities to find work and contribute to their communities. Since my CIPE essay win, I have realized that young people need to actively ask what they seek. We also have to strengthen our capacity to lead change. I believe the EduBridge Academy model can work all over the world. And I am developing my ability to demonstrate this.
In June 2019, I completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship at University of Notre Dame, Indiana. I explored business models that solve youth unemployment at scale. For the next two years, I will explore these further at Kellogg School of Management where through the two-year MBA program, I will try to establish a company that improves employment outcomes for young people all over the world.
Writing the CIPE essay was a turning point in my life. By helping me put a finger to what I am passionate about, it helped me focus on my area of maximum impact.
Nelson Mandela said, “It is in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it.” Young people deserve a better world. I will try my utmost to make it happen.