Access to feature, participate and compete in the global marketplace is not the exclusive right of developed and advanced economies of the world. Emerging and recovering countries also have this right. However, due to lack of infrastructure, misinformation and misconception, many African countries and people from less privileged backgrounds have been stopped from accessing the global marketplace. This is happening despite the shortage of ICT experts and interestingly these talents are available in their numbers in these so-called emerging countries who have inadvertently been kept out of this marketplace. To promote equality and ensure equal participation in the global marketplace, Zwart Talent Foundation has launched. In this exclusive interview with the Chairman of the Zwart Talent Foundation, Nelson Tosin Ajulo talks about how the Foundation is expanding access to the global marketplace for Africans and the disadvantaged, his plans for the Foundation and much more. Excerpts
First, can you tell us about yourself? What’s your background?
I am a startup investor and the founder of TBEC Group of Companies, a multi-faceted company with diverse arms in Information Technology (I.T) industries, Education, Social and Events Planning, Tourism and Hospitality, Advertisement, Entertainment, Health & Fitness, and Consultancy. I am a seasoned economist and business strategist, with 11 years of senior management and Board level experience in key roles in multinationals, and I have also garnered international working experience in different countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. TBEC Group of Companies leveraging the latest technologies can quickly help address a lot of social-economic challenges and its vision is an inclusive just future.
Can you tell us about the Zwart Talent Foundation?
Zwart Talent Foundation is the gateway to leverage the enormous population of African youths in order to get them out of poverty through ICT education. We know that Africa can become a superpower and the story of the continent can shift from the current negative story of poverty now to a story of triumph and Africa being a huge tech centre. That image of this amazing place that everyone wants to visit due to the innovation happening on the continent.
This comes from revising and reversing the damage that has been done years past and reorienting the public on the right way to go, the right skills to learn and knowing their right in the global marketplace. As well as the need to participate in the global marketplace which is meant for everyone.
Imagine that there is a household that does not know that there is a marketplace. The house would be suffering and they would think they have to grow or provide everything themselves. This is not supposed to be the case.
This is one of the challenges that Nigeria is facing. The country is detached and disconnected from the marketplace. The marketplace is there for everyone to participate and it is everybody’s right to participate. And this marketplace is called ‘the global marketplace’.
Unfortunately, because of lack of infrastructure, the misconception and misinformation that there is no quality education, Africans do not deserve to participate in the global marketplace.
What Zwart Talent Foundation wants to do is to equip Africans with a worldwide educational structure that will equally allow them to participate in the global marketplace.
How is Zwart Talent Foundation solving some of the social problems being faced by Africans in the area of education, job and poverty?
It is the knowledge that we are impacting on people and the access to opportunities we are providing them. Many believe that the way to address poverty is to give free money and free food to people. This is actually not sustainable. These are the things you do if you want to continue the inequality.
Unfortunately, that is what a lot of Western aid is centred on. As a social entrepreneur, I think this is actually a controlling tool rather than a helping tool.
To really combat poverty, you need to equip people with the right resources and tools to help them function in the current digital economy. They would be paid for it out of respect because they are smart and brilliant.
And what it takes to bring that out is having the right education i.e quality education. Quality education is not about the quantity or substance but about the relevance to the current economic demands. It is about the skills that are needed in the labour market.
But since there is not enough decent work creation in most developing or recovering countries from the colonisation and exploitation that has been done in the past would allow them leverage on the global marketplace where there is an excessive need for tech expertise.
With our knowledge and technological expertise at Zwart Talent Foundation, we have seen the trend and we know that there is a huge gap and need for digital skills and also that the world is shifting towards the digital economy.
We equip people with quality education, to get them ready for the global marketplace and eventually get out of poverty. Normally, for the typical education industry, you have to go through it for 5 years to become eligible to work and start practising.
But with our robust training programme, you only go through a 6 months training and a one-year internship and you are equally qualified in terms of field production as someone who went to universities. This is where we see the power of innovation. The investment cost is not only monetary but also the time invested. That is the sum-up of the total investment put into place.
For people who are from a less privileged background, four years is a lot of time in relation to learning for just 11/2 years. Imagine a 15-year-old, if she goes through the training she will complete the training at 151/2. At 161/2 she completed the training and she would become a junior developer. She would be earning the same as someone who went to university for 5 years who is also a junior developer.
That is the innovation and social innovation we are seeing where people can come out of poverty quickly and faster than normal. This is what we are trying to do as a company.
How does Zwart Talent Foundation stand out ?
We are a not-for-profit organisation and we aim to help our society and world to be more equal and balanced. As a company we are only able to help 50 and 100, 200 maximum people every 6 months to gain this knowledge. This is 600 in reference to millions of people living in extreme poverty is nothing and even other institutions or training centres either in Nigeria or any other parts of the world can only assist a handful of people because of limited resources.
What is unique about the ZwartTalent is that we do not just end the education at the training stage. But rather, we ensure that our students or candidates are employable. Employability is a crucial aspect of the training and that is what our internship does. It helps them to build their portfolio and have them work on tested projects. Yes, more people are doing the training now but they do not have the means of internship or employability. But with what we are doing now we are ensuring that they have access to internship training and possibly an employment route in the future.
Another innovation is that our training is handled by senior experts in Zwart Tech who are employed in top companies in the US, and the UK. They have gained a huge technological transfer.
Compare this to the typical education being taught by someone who has never coded in their life teaching people how to code in a theoretical form.
Hence, with the experts and partnerships invested in ZwartTalent, the programme should be very expensive. This is not the case. We have made the programme free at zero profit to the candidate because he or she only pays for what they get at the end of the programme when they get employment. This is important so that there can be continuity and other people can also benefit from the project. So that it will get to a point where it will need zero external funding. This is where the programme actually becomes powerful and a systematic way of helping the community.
In terms of delivering on the plans of ZwartTalent, who are you partnering with?
We have Zwart Tech which is responsible for the training, we have a psychological and training company from the Netherlands that is in charge of the soft skills training. There is the International Sustainable Education Foundation (ISEF) that is responsible for the funding generation that is needed to kickstart the project. We also have TBEC Group of Companies that assists in the programme coordination. DonnaKnows, an Artificial Intelligence company that automated our selection process faceless and unbiased. We have quite a number and we are looking forward to more coming on board to join this social impact project.
Beyond Nigeria, is Zwart Talent Foundation present in any other country?
Yes in the Netherlands and Nicaragua and it is the same structure. Whenever we think of poverty we think about Nigeria and Africa as just being the only poverty centres. But even in the 1st world countries, there is also a segregated minority.
In fact, the difference between somebody who is successful and who is not is information, and exposure. It is the access to opportunity. So, the people who are living under the poverty line in the western world are different. Majority of these people below poverty in places like the Netherlands where we also plan to launch this programme are also minorities. We will equip them with the right information and skills needed to enable them to participate in the digital economy because digitalisation is worldwide.
What are the criteria for joining the Zwart Talent Foundation?
The criteria for joining the Zwart Talent Foundation specifically the Zwart Academy are that you must be between the ages of 15 and 22, be able to read, write and understand English and you must be interested in tech. Applications to join the Academy will run from September 1st to 15th and classes are expected to start in October. As an edtech startup that promotes gender balance, 70% of the admission will be reserved for women.
We know that this is the ultimate way to compete at the top as the future of work evolves from the analogue system that we have now to a digital-based economy that is needed.
This is the quickest way to get out of poverty and the quickest way in the relativity of time spent in the programme and it is the cheapest in terms of the upfront investment commitment to the programme.
What are the challenges you faced in setting up the Zwart Talent Foundation?
The challenge is securing funding for the programme until it becomes self-sustainable. The other challenge is getting the cooperation from the government. Some governments are more concerned about brain drain. They are worried that whoever they train won’t stay back to contribute to the economy but jet out to Europe and America to find work in order to earn more. The government should not be concerned about this. They should be more focused on what they can give to the citizens to help people from the less privileged background to be equally competing. The empowerment of people to be able to eradicate poverty.
Where do you see Zwart Talent Foundation in the next decade?
We are building a digital school that helps create a more just world. We see making quality, sophisticated and most advanced skills or training being totally free for everyone. We plan to become a world of solidarity where the strong help the weak to become strong. And when the weak become strong. we can all be strong together. So we are trying to build a global campus and a whole new education system whereby there is trust in practical learning.