– By Lanre Solarin
Tosin Ashafa is an investor, entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He is the Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer of Cantagali Limited and Rio Construction, two companies with complementary capabilities in civil construction, real estate development, property marketing and facility management. He is also affiliated with other companies in various roles and capacities such as managing partner, advisor and director. These companies include Trequity Capital, Macaulay & Cole, Muster.NG, Lidya and Africa Courier Express.
Tosin is deeply invested in philanthropy and grassroots social activism which is demonstrated by his endowment of the BTA Education Fund through which school children are financially enabled to achieve their pursuit of education. He deliberately seeks to create opportunities and expand the capacity of young people to take an early interest in politics and leadership roles in their communities.
In this interview, Tosin reveals his drive, beliefs and hope for the future.
The Birth of a Social Mission
Living in Nigeria has made me understand and appreciate the resilience of low-income people and the daily struggle that characterizes life in developing countries. I have seen first-hand how people can live around abundance and wallow in squalor. I am quick to recognize this and remain humble because the essence of privilege is to make us aware of the personal responsibility we have towards alleviating the suffering of others.
I am guided in my life’s journey by the philosophy of empathy. Having traversed extensively in the field of entrepreneurship, business and democracy development, I have become enthusiastic about using mechanisms, systems and processes put in place by capitalists and politicians to redefine what it means to be committed to the good of others and the world.
I have always been passionate about people and the prevalent social disparity in our society has always been in my consciousness. As I grew older, I could only think about how best to address this disparity. Education seamlessly occurred to me as the right solution.
Upon my return to Nigeria in 2006 after my education in the US, I took it upon myself to do everything in my capacity to drive a systematic and sustainable social change that could address education in Nigeria. Education is a leveller of sorts – a platform that ensures equal access to life-changing opportunities. This thinking birthed my educational initiative which I hope improves the capacity of all people who benefit from it to contribute meaningfully to the social and economic development of this country.
Education is regarded as the tool to change any society. Through the BTA Education fund, I solve the problem of access to education for brilliant but indigent children by rendering assistance in forms such as the provision of scholarships to secondary and university students, donation of learning aids to schools, feeding of school children and mentorship.
These solutions are provided through various channels and partnerships which are managed in conjunction with known organisations like the Ovie Brume Foundation, ScholarX and FoodClique Support Initiative.
On Passion and Profit
An average entrepreneur is in business solely for the profit. As a social entrepreneur,you want to drive a social reform in a chosen field of interest with the same passion and rigour of a business entrepreneur but with no incentives in form of profit or other financial gains. Considering this challenging path, venturing in social entrepreneurship requires not just passion but a shrewd entrepreneurial zeal to see it through.
“My passion is fuelled by the disparity between the various socio-economic classes in this country and by my daily experience and interaction with these people while navigating the city of Lagos. I personally believe education and entrepreneurship will not only bridge this social class gap but it will bring about sustainable economic and social development.”
I believe I have a long way to go in seeing through the solutions. Education is a huge sector with a lot of challenges and considering where we are coming from as a nation, solving the problem of education in Nigeria cannot be handled by government or few individuals. All hands must be on deck – the government and the private sector. The government of Nigeria budgeted 7% for education in the last national budget which is way smaller than the recommended 26% by United Nations. Government can do better.However, with my passion and zeal, I will ensure I adequately contribute my quota towards ensuring that there is an appreciable difference in the status quo through my activities and initiatives.
The Joy of Empowerment
Nothing gives me more joy than seeing the smiles on the faces of these school children whenever I engage them. It’s my single biggest motivation. It has made all the walk through the journey worth it. Interacting with them helps me feel at peace and there is renewed hope I have for this country. This has not only been exciting for me but rewarding as well. I am driven by the nurture that whoever educates a child is building a nation and I believe my involvement is my contribution to the growth of this country.
But the work and the journey never end and I hope that Allah keeps us alive so that we will continue to do more. I hope that all scholarship recipients of the BTA Education Fund get to do well in their various fields. This is reward enough and will keep us motivated to do more and expand the program’s scope. So far, we have been able to reach out to youths in Lagos but we definitely hope to extend the program to youths all over Nigeria.
The Economic Effect of the BTA Education Fund
Education is the cornerstone of every nation. Provision of quality education is one of the 17 global sustainable development goals and it is aimed at ensuring equal access to affordable education and the elimination of gender and wealth disparities. This is in line with my social enterprise and I believe that with my current progress, a significant impact will be made on a national and continental level.
So far, the feedback is immense. The impact that easily comes to mind is the feedback from St. John’s RCM School, Ayeteju, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos. This is a school I adopted and I have been seeing to their needs. The last time I was there to donate educational materials, a teacher randomly walked up to me to tell me that the number of students coming to school have drastically increased and it is not unconnected to the last outreach we had in the school where we also donated food and other educational materials and learning aids.
If this approach is replicated and well managed, I believe the impact in years to come will be overwhelming. Imagine every wealthy man adopting a public school and judiciously seeing to their needs as a form of philanthropy.
A Continent with No Problems
I see Africa as the emerging hub of modern civilization. Every new technology, new innovation, new business model would be tested and implemented in Africa being a virgin ground and only education can make us all inclusively part of this coming revolution.
I see Social Entrepreneurs trying to reach personal/organizational milestones with the entrepreneurial zeal of Richard Branson but lacking the compassion and passion of Mother Teresa. A social entrepreneur should be able to demonstrate and combine both characteristics and attributes.
My advice to social entrepreneurs would be this, “Whatever you do, don’t forgo your passion. That idea of yours could the solution to a daunting global challenge. It takes perseverance, patience and time. You must give your all to see it through.”
An Empowerment Opportunity for The Nigerian Youth
Tosin Ashafa seeks to create opportunities and expand the capacity of young people to take an early interest in politics and leadership. He gives, and is willing to give his time, which is usually in form of mentorship, giving inspiring and practical advice on business, entrepreneurship, politics and leadership.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.