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The Entrepreneur (3): A Catalyst for sustainable change

Image: Mrs. Ndidi Nwuneli

On November 12 this year, I was at the Abuja City Park to witness the 2015 LEAP Africa Social Innovators Programme (SIP), a one-year fellowship which supports social innovators, whose ideas and initiatives offer effective and creative solutions to challenges in local communities across Nigeria. At the occasion, there were 20 of such young men and women who had undergone the mentoring of LEAP Africa and their stories were as diverse as they were simple. Yet all of them reveal the difference we can all make in our society if we show enough care for the wellbeing of the other person.

From Kelvin Ogholi whose project helps local farmers to make more money through providing them with innovative lost-cost feeds to Bashiru Adamu who has taken it upon himself to arm convicts with employability skills to Elvis Austin who founded the SpellAfrica Initiative (SAI) in 2010 to improve the poor standard of Nigerian students in English Language to Isaac Omoyele who is helping to reduce the number of children that are out of school and Raquel Jacobs who provides mentoring and after-school support to children in public schools, the fellows are intervening in hitherto neglected yet critical areas of our national life. Also, 20 SIP fellows for 2015/2016 were unveiled that day.

Noteworthy, however, is the fact that all these were made possible by the intervention and mentoring provided by a lady, easily Nigeria’s foremost social entrepreneur whose impact on our society is very huge. I am talking of no other than Mrs. Ndidi Nwuneli, who has for the past 15 years been helping to bridge the gap between skills and jobs creation among the young of our society.

When I started this series in June this year, I promised that it would encourage young people to ask themselves some salient questions: What are my talents? What are the needs around me that I can deploy those talents to meet? What am I passionate about that can become opportunities for self-actualisation? The idea is to celebrate the young men and women in our midst who started out with nothing but their dreams yet have become successful in their chosen fields and are making invaluable contributions to our society. Mrs. Nwuneli happens to be one of such people.

Following her early years as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, Mrs. Nwuneli (who turned 40 in March this year) returned to Nigeria in 2000 to fulfill her passion for promoting entrepreneurship and leadership development. Eventually she became the pioneer executive director of FATE Foundation Nigeria, a non-profit organization committed to promoting entrepreneurial spirit among young people. But she was prepared for the role. Mrs. Nwuneli read multinational and strategic management at the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, before she earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.

But by her real education came from more than conventional schools. On a trip to Guatemala in Latin America, according to her account, what Mrs. Nwuneli observed did not match all she had heard about the country. “I said to myself, this is supposed to be one of the poorest countries in Latin America and in the world, how come it is so much more advanced than so many African countries?”

In the course of interrogating that question, Mrs. Nwuneli came to the conclusion that four key principles made all the difference: leadership, effectiveness, accountability and professionalism. Those four broad principles she believed were often lacking in both political and business interactions within the continent would form the acronym for LEAP. That discovery became the foundation for what has become the highly regarded leadership training and coaching institution committed to empowering, inspiring and equipping a new generation of leaders in Nigeria.

However, aside LEAP Africa, established in 2002, there is also NIA birthed a year later and which stands for Ndu, Ike, Akunua (Life, Strength, Wealth). Both organisations help to strengthen the capacity of young people in public and private sectors. While NIA empowers female university students to achieve their highest potential in life, LEAP Africa provides leadership, ethics and management training and coaching for youth, business owners, social entrepreneurs and the public sector.

It is indeed significant that Mrs. Nwuneli practices what she preaches to young people. For instance, in the process of doing some policy and strategy work for ECOWAS, she learned that countries within the sub-region import 90 percent of processed foods while letting between 40 and 60 percent of locally-grown fruits and vegetables waste. That was an opportunity she could not allow to pass hence the venture into the business of processing and distributing locally-produced food to major retailers and fast food chains.

Established in November 2009, AACE Food Processing and Distribution Limited is an agribusiness and agro-processing company which sources its produce from farmers in rural communities in Nigeria and across the West and Central African region. Through its innovative product line, creative packaging, competitive pricing and distribution network, ACCE Foods seeks to displace imports of farm produces available in Africa. Just recently, AACE Food Processing and Distribution Ltd commissioned a newly developed food processing factory in Ogun State with the aim of supporting the farmers and the food industry, thereby creating more jobs for Nigerians.

To date, the company works with over 800 farmers most of whom it helps to benefit from microfinance while providing farmer-clusters with storage technology. This direct relationship has enabled ACCE Foods to build reliable sources of raw materials and to improve the lives of small-holder farmers. Her husband, Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli who also holds an MBA from Harvard, is her partner on this initiative. Their strategy is simple: produce enough high-quality foods locally and displace imports while the vision is for AACE to become a regional multinational company that can wear the label ‘Proudly Nigerian’. In addition to this, the Nwunelis also run Sahel Capital Limited‎, a fund management, investment and financial advisory firm.

A multiple awards winner with global recognition, Mrs. Nwuneli has provided policy, start-up and advisory services to the World Bank, IFC, DFID, Ford Foundation, Oxfam International, UCAD, Center for Middle East Competitive Strategy and many Nigerian private and public institutions. She is, however, more known for LEAP Africa which has, since its establishment, published numerous books, including: “Defying the Odds: Case Studies of Nigerian Companies that Have Survived Generations” etc.

Whichever way one looks at it, the story of Mrs. Nwuneli, who commands an army of committed change agents running several social and capital projects, is one of great inspiration, especially in our kind of society where people hardly give back. She keeps coming up with new ideas and initiatives that will bring about sustainable development in our country and on the continent and in the process, making significant impacts. To advance this society and make it thrive, we need more people like Mrs. Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, MFR.

The verdict by Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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