Tosin Faniro-Dada startup enabler - the spark youth empowerment platforms in nigeria

Tosin Faniro-Dada – The Start-up Enabler


Tosin Faniro-Dada is the Head of Start-Ups at Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. She shares her journey and challenges from being an accounting professional, to a social enterprise executive. She also talks about her vision for the future and some advice to young women.

Tosin Faniro-Dada startup enabler - the spark youth empowerment platforms in nigeria

I am not one of those people who always had a concrete plan of what they wanted to do. I started my career in accounting, audit to be specific. I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers ‘PwC’ in Boston. I spent three years auditing mutual and private equity partnership Funds, my biggest clients were Goldman Sachs Mutual and Private Equity Partnership Funds, and Putnam Investments. While at PwC, I got my master’s degree in accounting at Boston College, and also became a Certified Public Accountant.

I moved back to Nigeria in 2010 and worked at Asset & Resource Management Holding Company (ARM) as a Financial Analyst in the Hospitality and Retail Fund for three years.

I moved to Banking in 2014 and worked at Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) in the Oil & Gas Upstream division of the Corporate Banking Group.  After Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank), I joined the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund “LSETF” as the Head of the Funds Strategy and Partnership division.

Now, I head LSETF’s program for tech startups and innovation-driven-enterprises called, Lagos Innovates.



I started my career at 20. I wish my main goal in University was not to finish as early as possible. I wish I took time to enjoy the experience and diversity of being on a campus with thousands of people. So, I would say working in a big company at such a young age made me a bit socially awkward, because most people on my team were older and related with each other better.

I had a good meeting with my manager who was female and Indian, so we connected as we were both minorities. She gave me the best advice, which is that you can be the best person academically, but you will not get far if you are not sociable. So, very quickly, I learned how important it is to bond with your team, clients, partners, etc.

I also found the banking industry a bit challenging. I did not like the inflexible hours, and the lack of openness to change. Honestly, I think Banking is probably the toughest industry I have worked in. The culture was completely different from the two previous places I had worked. But one thing I learned very quickly in the bank is to focus on the outcome you want to achieve. Focus on the big picture.

So, I found a way to turn my challenges to opportunities. I had never worked in a bank prior to Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) but I quickly became the go-to person on my team. I spent personal time understanding the industry I was covering by taking online courses. This way I understood the industry better and I was in a better position to recommend tools to help the team achieve its objectives faster. I also learned to work around my inflexible hours.


Spark to Success

The spark of my success is working at the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. Prior to this, I had never worked for a startup or development agency… it was strictly finance. So, having young and smart people come together for a common goal and seeing the impact of our interventions, changed my entire perspective of where I want to be in 5, or even 10 years.

LSETF is changing lives everyday through her interventions. We are solving Lagos’s biggest problems such as unemployment, access to finance, access to capacity building, access to market, access to infrastructure, etc. and I feel honored to be part of the team doing this amazing work.


Importance of Vision

I am not your traditional professional. I never really had a set vision of my future. I think It maybe because I am an accountant and I am used to dealing with historical data…so, I cannot tell you that where I am today was part of my vision. However, I live by 3 rules: Be focused, Be consistent and Be flexible.

I have finally found a path that I am happy in and where I would like to grow but I didn’t start there. However, I was intentionally open to different opportunities because I could not figure out my passion. Eventually, my curiosity and openness led me to a life changing experience.

So, if you have a vision, that’s amazing but always remember to be flexible because that may lead you to a life-changing experience.


Note to Younger Self

I would tell my younger self to step back and enjoy life in college as opposed to obsessing about finishing in three years instead of four. Take time to learn new things, e.g. learn a language, do an exchange program, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

I would tell my younger self that she has a right to be in the room no matter how young she is, she has a right to negotiate and to speak up when she is not happy about anything.

I would tell my younger self to be more patient, less emotional and demonstrate emotional intelligence. I once turned down a very good job offer because I felt the Human Resource representative that I worked with was rude and incompetent.

Lastly, I would tell my younger self that life isn’t always about numbers and there’s no science to everything.


Friendships and Partnerships

Friendships and partnerships are a major factor to my growth. I have a circle of amazing friends who support me. Funny enough, I found out about LSETF through a very good friend who constantly looked out for me and would send me job adverts, and even recommend me. My friends encourage me, advise me, and keep me in check.

Partnerships are important, as you can leverage their experience and learning to achieve your objectives. At LSETF, we are always happy to work with partners to help widen our reach and provide expertise in areas that we are testing. We have worked with so many partners in the past, such as VISA, FCMB, UNDP, IBM, Stanbic IBTC, etc. These organizations have helped us deliver our interventions.


Next Frontiers

I am so excited for our talent program called The Lagos Innovates Talent Development Program. With the sudden urge of tech startups, the need for tech skills has become a necessity. The objective of this program is to subsidize the cost of program attendance by tech startup founders, subject to a maximum of 80% of the program attendance cost. The program will run as  a student loan program. This program will launch in March 2019.

I am also excited about IBM’s Digital-Nation Africa Project which LSETF is implementing in Lagos state, in partnership with America Tower Corporation (ATC). The project intends to help address the digital skills shortage specifically amongst the millennial population of Africa. D – NA, through a free online learning environment delivered on IBM cloud, provides a vast range of enablement resources, ranging from introductions to key digital technology through the provision of on-line courses covering IT topics. This training will be available for free at digital centers in Lagos state and will launch in March 2019.


Dear Young Woman

I would say to them to first identify what makes them happy and be consistent. I will advise them to be open to different opportunities that come their way, because if you are like me and you can’t figure out what your passion is, then it makes sense to grab every opportunity that you believe will add value to your career. Finally, I would ask them to network as much as they can. I cannot over emphasize the power of networking, it’s a powerful tool that can accelerate your career.

I think it is also important to stay focused. I always focus on my work regardless of what’s going on around me. My primary focus is to deliver good work, and I believe that your work will always speak for you. So even if you are in a challenging environment, no one will deny your experience, expertise, skills, and the value you are adding to the team.


Government Policies and Schemes in Nigeria and Africa

Yes, I think laws and policies in Nigeria and Africa should be passed to favour women. I think there should be specific quotas for women. At LSETF, we are mandated that 50% of our beneficiaries must be women, however, we have taken in upon ourselves to increase this number to 60%, to ensure that it’s clear that we are here to support women.

So basically young women should be focused and consistent, sociable, partner with each other and be flexible. You never know when you can have a life changing experience.


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.

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