When Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President, African Development Bank, was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, he always expressed the view that the nation’s young people are not the future but the present, that they can become as wealthy as they choose if they set their minds to it and put their hands to the plough.
Dr. Adesina stressed his point during a speech, ‘Nigerian Youths, I Challenge You!’, at the 14th convocation ceremony of Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State, on November 2, 2019. Hear him:
I am delighted to be here today to deliver the convocation lecture. I’d like to congratulate the university on graduating another set of students that will shape the future of Nigeria, Africa and the world.
You prepare leaders through scholarship, knowledge and biblical principles. You set up your students on solid foundations. The storms and the waves may come, as they face life, but Bowen has prepared them to stand. Their anchors will hold in the storms of life.
I am a believer in Baptist education. I attended high school at Ejigbo Baptist High School. We sang from the Baptist Hymnal. I remember so well one of my favourite songs “I am pressing on the upward way, new heights I am gaining everyday… a higher plane than I have found, Lord plant my feet on higher ground”.
Oh, how I always cherished the words of that hymn, its call for us to reach for glory land. It always inspired me as well to reach out to higher ground here in life, by pressing on. Today, I ask you to press on to higher ground.
That is the kind of higher ground by the Nigerian Baptist Convention when it established Bowen University in 2001. Then, it had only 500 students. By 2017, it had 5,000 students. And all its programs are accredited by the Nigerian University Commission.
One of my favourite scriptures is the parable of talents. One had 5 and invested and doubled to 10. Another had 2 talents and doubled to 4. One had one talent but buried it. When the master came he praised the first two and gave them more. He berated the third one for not investing his talents.
So, let’s talk about investing your talents through entrepreneurship.
Universities are known as citadels of leaning. They are reservoirs that nourish the mind, sharpen a sense of inquiry, unlock intellectual curiosity. You are taught to question things, to always ask why and why not, to find alternative pathways and solutions.
In my days at the university, you got a job immediately after you graduated. Your future was set.
No longer. The graduate today is graduating into a world of uncertainty. Over 13 million young people enter the job markets each year but only 3 million get jobs. Africa will have the largest number of youths joining the labour market by 2030 than all the world taken together.
I took a look at your website and noticed that according to the Stutern Nigerian Graduate Report, 2018, 60 per cent of Bowen graduates are employed. Two things stood out to me. The probability of getting employed is 60 per cent. Second, your graduates are working for others, though it did not say what kinds of jobs they have. But one thing is missing: it did not talk about how many of the students were entrepreneurs, who created businesses, employing others: Job creators, not job hunters.
This is the time to remember the song above, and press on to higher ground. That higher ground is not to depend on others to employ you. The higher ground is for you to be job creators. The key to that is entrepreneurship.
Scott Belsky, the Founder of Behance said: “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen”.
How true! How pertinent! Indeed, it is entrepreneurship that makes ideas happen.
To be a successful entrepreneur you need some attributes that you were not taught in school. The key one is perseverance. Perseverance is defined as “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”.
Steve Jobs said: “I am convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from non-successful ones is pure perseverance”.
The university system does not teach you to make mistakes. You are to be perfect. You got an F, your future was finished. Really? Maybe not. Do not get me wrong, I am not advocating failure. But to be an entrepreneur get used to failures.
You will not succeed at your first idea. Indeed your idea may lead you many times to want to quit. But don’t.
Think about Thomas Edison who developed the light bulb. He was said to have failed 1,000 times when trying to develop the light bulb. He had a different view: he said no, I did not fail 1,000 times, the development of the light bulb required 1,000 steps”. What a perspective.
Albert Einstein said: “Anyone that has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.
Universities should shift away from rote teaching into allowing students to experiment, try things, put ideas to work, and innovate.
To do this, universities need to have structured institutional arrangements for supporting innovations. In the US universities set up offices for innovation development and commercialisation of innovations developed by universities.
Developing patents is not enough. Patents must lead to business and that can only happen through supportive environments for them to thrive. Setting up university foundries is a good way to achieving this.
Take Purdue University. It runs a foundry that supports its students to turn their ideas into businesses.
Stanford university has programmes in entrepreneurship for students, start-up garages where ideas are tested and venture studios that it uses to connect graduate students to a world of ideas, other innovators, community of entrepreneurs, including its own alumni.
How many students here have taken courses on entrepreneurship? How many even know about venture capital or angel investors?
By the way these are not angels in the Bible, just so we are on the same page!
I read a book while I was a student in the Christian union fellowship in the university undergraduate days called “Angels on Assignment”. It talks about how God sends angels to help us in difficult situations.
In the world of business, for your ideas to be turned into a business generating money, as a start-up you will need angel investors. They size up your ideas, your business, value your business and provide financing, usually convertible debt or debt they convert to shareholding.
While God has angels watching over billions of people without knowing, angel investors watch over business ideas, looking for what may work. Where there are no ideas that can thrive into viable businesses, you will not find angel investors.
Now, how many angel investors have you seen on your campus? You can measure the likelihood of a university generating wealth by whether you see angel investors hanging around your campus. If you don’t find them, check yourself: you may not be driving and nurturing entrepreneurship and innovation. You may not thriving. You may be missing great opportunities to turn the university into a hub of innovations that will lead to successful big businesses.
And women are great entrepreneurs. Just take a look at women in Nigeria. They are very enterprising. Everywhere you look you see them hard at work. Women run Nigeria!
Young female students deserve special entrepreneurship programs to unleash their potential.
Think about the case of We@Yale that was created to specifically support women entrepreneurs at Yale University to launch 500 business ventures in five years.
No bird can fly with one wing. When women’s potential is fully unlocked, Nigeria will fly with two wings.
The African Development Bank is supporting entrepreneurship programs in African universities.
One example is the Rwanda Institute of Science and Technology, a collaborative program on Masters in ICT, jointly with Carnegie Mellon University in the US. With $40 million support from the Bank, the school is world class. And 100 per cent of their students get jobs even before they graduate, with many setting up their own ventures.
Such is the case of Clarisse Irigabiza, a student who set up her own IT business, and sold it for $21 million at the age of 27. What did the university do to help her? World class education, yes. But much more: exposure to entrepreneurship.
Rwanda has set up with our support the Rwanda Innovation Fund to support its young entrepreneurs. The university is linked to the Kigali Innovation City, a modern tech enabling hub linked to universities to help ideas grow, to turn ideas into innovations, and turn innovations into thriving businesses.
One of the important areas ripe for entrepreneurship is the agriculture sector.
One of the young people in Nigeria I am very proud of is Dr.Tope Aroge. I met him when I was Minister of Agriculture and provided him a grant of $5 million Naira. He is a medical doctor, now farmer. You may say wow! Yes, go ahead.
You are wondering why did he change from being a medical doctor to farming? That’s because you do not know that the size of food and agribusiness in Africa by 2030 will be worth $1 trillion. Yes, you heard me right: $1 Trillion dollars.
I did not say Naira. Today, Tope has a 300 ha farm, and he has set up a high quality cassava flour/ industrial starch processing factory which has a 6,000 tonnes capacity. He is an agricultural entrepreneur. Some of you should be like him. Here is why: The future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will not come from oil and gas, but from agriculture sector. So, universities should move beyond agricultural science, to agriculture as a business.
That is exactly what the Wageningen University in Netherlands is doing. It has food-manufacturing companies, including Nestle, the world’s largest food manufacturing company; research and innovation centres located on its campus, investing tens of millions of dollars. No wonder it is ranked number one in the world for agriculture.
The ranking of the 100 most innovative universities is instructive. US universities have 45; African universities have none. Stanford University for the past several years have consistently ranked number one. Others in top ranks are Yale, Harvard and MIT. In the UK you have Imperial College.
Listen to a quote on Stanford by David M. Ewalt published just few days ago: “Located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, Stanford University has played a key role in the development of our networked world. In the early 1970s, Stanford professor Vint Cerf co-designed the TCP/IP protocols that became the basic communication standard for the Internet; and in 1991, physicists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center deployed the first world wide web server outside of Europe. The university’s faculty and alumni have founded major tech companies including Google, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems.
A 2012 study by the university estimated that companies formed by Stanford entrepreneurs generate so much revenue that if they formed an independent nation, it would rank among the 10 largest economies in the world.
The lesson is clear: universities must understand the needs of the private sector and look for how to drive technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet those opportunities. That’s the kind of win-win partnerships that the private sector is looking for from universities.
The world today and more so in the future is and will be dominated by science, technology and innovations. With the fourth industrial revolution, there is rapid advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, automation and quantum data analytics.
It is not data that will control the world, it is those who control data. Think of it: every time you use Google, WhatsApp a friend, post on Instagram or Facebook your data has been collected.
While they offer you nice networking social media they are mining your data. Chinese universities are surging forward in the field of artificial intelligence, with rapid research in medical sciences, neurosciences, machine learning and big data analytics.
Listen to a recent piece by Sawahel and Sharma: “Chinese universities make up 17 out of top 20 academic players in artificial intelligence”.
Africa is getting itself positioned to improve its relevance in this space. The African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is becoming a significant platform to strengthen science, technology and mathematical sciences.
Start-ups are emerging in Africa. In 2015, Africa had 3,500 new tech-related ventures and $1 billion in venture capital. By 2019, 6,500 tech start-ups have been established, with $2.27 billion investments in tech start-ups.
The continent’s Internet of Things (IOT) is estimated to be $12.6 billion by 2021 in Africa and Middle East. By 2019 financing for Big Data start-ups inched to $9.8 million.
So what does it all mean? Let me start with the lesson from the Bible. It says to your faith add… My question to you is: what are you adding to your education?
Today, I ask you to add new skills, entrepreneurship, and make the university not just about knowledge, but about transformative knowledge, one that is enabled to create the next great businesses for the world.
Transformative knowledge is best captured by the World Economic Forum on human capital: “The knowledge and skills people possess that enable them to create value in the global economic system”.
This is quite instructive! We must not look at knowledge in terms of local environments. Knowledge, to be transformative, must also have global relevance.
You can measure the extent of progress of nations by how much they spend on research and development. The most innovating country in Africa is South Africa. Not surprisingly its universities are doing much better on innovations. A report about to be released by the African Development Bank found that of 24 universities surveyed, 23 have technology transfer offices.
Today, South Africa has developed the largest 3D printer in the world. This is already positioning it to be able to be competitive in industrial use, such as to develop parts for airplanes and shape aeronautics.
Despite this, our review of the readiness of countries for the use of innovations as drivers of growth showed a pattern: of 16 African countries looked at, on a score of 0-100, they all scored between 3.28 to 5.37. On a scale of 0-100, Nigeria is at 3.68.
What this tells us is clear: Nigeria needs to urgently spend a lot more on research and development. That’s what others are doing.
Take for example the case of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They have just set up the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence; the world’s first University dedicated only to Artificial Intelligence. It will train masters and PhD students. And they already have over 3,000 applicants, drawing the best professors and innovators from across the world.
And guess why? They recognise that the size of the Artificial Intelligence market will be worth $15.7 trillion by 2030; just eleven years from now. Dubai, which Nigerians flock to today, as consumers, is already building itself to the AI hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the world.
Only those that see the future will invest for the future. Only those who see the future can move to higher grounds.
My favourite Baptist hymnal echoes in my mind. Lord, please set our feet on higher ground. O Lord, please set our nation, Nigeria, on higher ground.
This is not just a prayer. It is something I believe in very strongly. This is what led me to donate $1.1 million, representing the combined prize monies and matching funds from my 2017 World Food Prize Award and my 2019 SunHak Peace Prize to create the World Hunger Fighters Foundation, to support the youth entrepreneurs in food and agriculture.
And how excited my wife, Grace and I, were two weeks ago to unveil our first set of 10 Fellows – called Borlaug-Adesina Fellows – at the World Food Prize in Iowa, in the United States of America.
They are great talents, just like those I see in front of me here today.
The youth are not the future. They are the present. Our collective responsibility is to prepare the youth to thrive today to drive the future, through entrepreneurship.
So, what is the path to the future for entrepreneurship and universities. Let me offer seven short suggestions.
First, all students in universities must be supported to become entrepreneurs. Not only grades should matter. All must pass the entrepreneurship requirement. That way, universities become knowledge transmitters, as well as entrepreneur developers.
Second, universities should set up technology business incubator and innovation hubs. They should be connected to venture capital and angel investors.
Third, governments should set up financial systems that support young people. Instead of talking about youth empowerment, we should focus on youth investment, for the future. Governments should set up Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks. They will be banks that support hope, not those that hinder hope. Banks by the youth, run by the youth, for the youth.
Fourth, private sector should be encouraged to locate research, technology and innovation centres on university campuses. Students should be supported to have internships in these centres. Universities should set up endowed funds to invest in ventures of their students.
Fifth, what is not measured does not get done. The measure of the growth of countries should not just be GDP. Nobody eats GDP. Rather, we must begin to measure the contribution of the youth to the GDP – what I call Y-GDP. And that can only happen when we support small and medium sized enterprises of the youth.
Six, Nigeria needs to set up a National Science and Innovation Fund, devoting about 20 per cent of its oil earnings to driving innovation for the faster tech-enabled growth of Nigeria to power the Nigeria of the future.
Finally, we must believe in the youth. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for and the substance of things not yet seen. Our hope must be in the youth. And that hope must be brought quickly from the future into the present. For hope delayed, is promise denied.
As I look around here today, I see hope. I see a generation destined for success. I see a cohort of graduates, prepared to be global change makers.
Go ahead and become entrepreneurs! Take on the future from today. Reach for the stars. Or better still, become the stars yourselves!
Lift your eyes to the hills, for your help comes from God, the maker of heavens and earth. He will not suffer your feet to be moved.
Instead he will set your feet on higher ground!