People address social problems in different ways and Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin chose to use Technology, a male-dominated space, as one of her empowerment vehicles for helping young girls. In this interview, she uses her foundation and early years as a roadmap to help others get started.
– By Lanre Solarin
Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is the founder and Managing Director of Pearls Africa Youth Foundation (PAYF), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that promotes the cause and advancement of vulnerable young girls and women in underserved and underprivileged communities in Nigeria for the purpose of economic independence, through different long term projects with lasting impact.
As a social entrepreneur herself, Abisoye refers to aspiring social entrepreneurs as change agents; folks not comfortable when they come across social problems.“Often times they move to action to create a system that can resolve this issue or empower people to resolve the issues themselves. By living in the environment in which that problem is predominant, they usually have a higher sensitivity towards identifying social problems.”
According to her, a social problem is any situation, condition or behaviour that has negative consequences on a large population or number of people; this is often generally recognized as a condition that needs to be addressed.
Common social problems include: poverty, inequality, corruption, illiteracy, unemployment, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy/early and forced marriages and many more.
The Pearls Africa Case Study
Pearls Africa started in 2012 with little or no growth at all.
We had loads of impactful events for 2 years without media coverage because we did not have the means to. Most especially the network and relationship were lacking. Also being that I did not know it as a major sector that deserves to be recognized as such, I just felt it was part of life and not to be showcased.
When we started GirlsCoding late 2015, it was challenging getting brand new laptops for the girls but then with contributions from family and friends we were able to get used laptops and eventually we spent more money servicing the PC’s. My friends also played a major role by volunteering to lecture students.
I have learned that when you are just starting out, you are first your own PR manager. We started reporting our stories and journey on social media before major print media and bloggers came calling. I feel we owe it to the Nigeria media house, both print and online, for the international recognitions we have gotten.
We also had partnerships with well-known organizations that were able to give us technical assistance. Sometimes,when looking to collaborate for growth,money isn’t the first thing to look for; there are other forms of support like recommendations, office space usage on weekends, mentors or instructors from their companies, etc.
Initially,most of our funds came from family and friends. Later on, we applied for a small grant from the US Embassy in Nigeria and we got $8600 in 2016.
It hasn’t been easy getting bigger grants despite quite a number of applications, but we are not relenting. We have learned to keep our overhead cost low, and have dedicated volunteers who help out despite not being paid enough, knowing that most of the girls don’t pay to acquire these skills. I work at the NGO full time and this allows me to give in my 100% to ensuring the continuous growth of Pearls Africa and also to constantly interact with our girls to see how well the trainings are helping them develop too.
As a form of financial support, we offer our computer coding classes to the privileged children at a premium to help offset the cost we bear for equipping girls from marginalized society for free. Our ultimate goal of providing young girls and women with an opportunity for a greater future through I.T training, skill acquisition, internships and mentorships is our constant motivation.
Solving Social Problems
Pearls Africa was created as an intervention to equip girls within the ages of 10 and 17 with a marketable and functional skill to enable them have a voice in the society and thereby adding value to themselves and the GDP of the Country in the long run. We have sought and found vulnerable female children and adolescents in public schools, slums, orphanages and IDP Camps and we bring them into our Technology school for free to learn a 21st century digital skill from which they can earn a living. Also, we have been able to provide a bridge between girls at the lower classes of our society and the middle class professional women who support and mentor them.
At Pearls Africa, we run a number of projects to address the issue of gender inequality especially with regards to employment opportunities. Our projects include;
- Girls Coding (ICT/computer programing for girls)
- Empowered Hands (vocational skills for girls)
- EducateHer (scholarship to send girls to school)
- GC Mentors (professional ladies serving as mentors to our girls)
- Girls in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics for undergrads) and
- A cultural exchange program where we connect the haves and the have nots together for both parties to learn empathy and aspire to be better.
Our programs extend further into the provision of a Safe Space for girls, where mentors address questions from girls on personal health care, career choices, child abuse and many other aspects of their lives. After their training, we get Internship opportunities for trainees who meet certain criteria.
Opportunities for Social Entrepreneurs
The Nigerian society today needs more social entrepreneurs because a lot still needs to be done in almost every sector in Nigeria from health to education, wealth creation, technology, agriculture(this is very crucial as it’s mostly not considered to be a thing), banking, and many more.
Those who want to empower through skill acquisition will need to secure partnerships with other tech related companies to help provide some basic needs for tech training which can be very costly to maintain. Basic needs include data services, a computer laboratory and skilled manpower, to teach these technology skills in a very impactful and sound way.
Pearls Africa Youth Foundation is looking to scale and expand to other states, as we presently support girls in Plateau stateand Oyo state for instance.
We will continue to organize many impactful trainings for our girls, we will also be having mentorship sessions by professional ladies for our girls to give them all the support they need. We plan to get #GirlsCoding to other states in Nigeria and to other African countries in future.
On the long run we will be setting up a centre for girls, which would be able to support a thousand girls per session. This will also serve as a home/shelter for the homeless and a capacity development centre.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read more articles.