Oyindamola Johnson is the convener of Elevate Your Game. He is a professional social entrepreneur with over eight years experience in innovation projects in Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and North America. In this interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, he speaks on his brand’s mission to connect emerging leaders and young professionals across Africa.
What is your business all about?
I am the Convener of Elevate Your Game, a brand platform connecting emerging leaders and young professionals across Africa and the rest of the world to their tribes, as well as providing networks, resources, platforms, and information through which they can speed up change. Our vision is to kick-start a movement and be the catalyst to boost the potentialities of Generation X, Y and Z, thereby enabling them to function effectively at the intersection of passion, purpose and impact. We do this through our career coaching and professional development services. We host, facilitate and deliver impactful training sessions for organisations as well as individuals. We also consult for organisations and help them provide tailored solutions for their human capital and talent management needs.
When and how did you start your business?
A couple of years ago, I returned from a year-long stay in the United States where I lived and worked in New York, as part of the Atlas Corps Fellowship. Atlas Corps provides fellowships to rising nonprofit leaders from around the world to volunteer overseas for 12–18 months, network and develop skills by working at US nonprofits. Afterwards, the fellows return to their home countries to work on programmes relating to their fellowships. Upon my return to Nigeria, I discovered that a lot of things I took for granted in the US were things that young people, emerging leaders and fast-rising professionals lacked access to. It dawned on me that several thousands of dollars was invested in me over the course of one year, not for the purpose of going back home and reverting to status quo or complaining about the situation of things, but simply for me to see it as an opportunity to leave my footprints in the sands of time. It was at this point that I fully immersed myself into the learning and development, nonprofit management, as well as human capital management sector which gave rise to what I do today both in my personal and professional capacity.
How many entrepreneurs have you trained so far?
Both formally and informally, I’ll say that I have had the opportunity to train close to 1,000 entrepreneurs over the past five years, across different sectors as well as countries. For example, when I was in Malaysia in 2016 on the invitation of the Government of Malaysia and Ministry of Finance to be part of the Volunteering for International Professionals (VIP) Fellowship, in conjunction with Impact Hub Kuala Lumpur, I trained close to 100 entrepreneurs on how best to leverage social media, impact storytelling and digital marketing to scale their businesses. I have had the opportunity of living and working in Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia and the United States of America, and I have been deeply involved in conducting training sessions in all these countries both in my personal capacity and on behalf of other organisations and institutions.
What interests you in training entrepreneurs and others?
I strongly believe that asides being an important means of stimulating economic growth and bringing about productivity on the part of the citizenry, entrepreneurship is a mindset and should be a way of life. A way of life in which we are constantly asking questions, a situation in which we are not looking at the glass half empty, but half full, a state of mind in which we critically look at society’s problems and see it as our duty to proffer lasting solutions. By the way, this is a mindset that everyone should have irrespective of whether you have a 9: 00 am to 5:00 pm or you’re running your own business. This has given rise to a new set of individuals called “Intrapreneurs” and these are people who engage in entrepreneurial activities within the context, framework and ecosystem of an organisation. So, while an intrapreneur remains an employee of an organisation, such person applies the same principles of entrepreneurship such as tenacity, accountability, having a growth mindset, risk-taking, vision setting, and so on to tasks, projects, duties and assignments delegated to them within the organisation where they work. While they have a 9: 00 am to 5:00 pm schedule, they, however, do not have a 9: 00 am to 5:00 pm mentality and will always go above and beyond the call of duty each time, through treating their work as if it were theirs. So, working with both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is something I find joy and fulfilment doing because I realise that there is a ripple effect and through this, I am contributing to the growth of the larger economy, as well as empowering others to meaningful, impactful and purposeful work that benefits them and society at large.
What have you recently done to improve your skills as a trainer?
As a trainer, it is very important to be ten steps ahead of yourself, and five steps ahead of others. You need to be ahead of yourself in order to create a culture and environment in which you’re constantly pushing yourself, and the only competition you see are past accomplishments. On the other hand, you also need to be five steps ahead of others in order to remain relevant, fresh, and innovative. One of the ways in which I have constantly improved myself and my skills as a trainer is through registering for online courses especially in fields and sectors that I function in most.
What are some of your expansion plans?
Within the next five-years, we want to expand and have a footprint across Africa, as well as become the go-to organisation when it comes to accelerating human capital for Africa’s growth and development, with young people at the centre. My book “Elevate Your Game: The Ultimate Guide to Help You Gain Clarity, Make Local Impact and Grow Global Influence” will be out soon.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your profession, especially as a trainer?
Some of the challenges faced include lack of access to quality training venues, and even when available, the prices might be a bit steep. Also, almost everyone is a coach today and this has sort of watered down the value that people attach to the training sector. Perhaps, due to the seemingly low barrier of entry and lack of proper organisation, anyone can simply organise a quick training session with the sole purpose of ‘cashing out’, but with little to no attention paid to impact and measurable outcomes as a result of such interventions. Some organisations also are yet to come to terms with the fact that learning and development should remain an important part of their budget, but what you find is that when some organisations need to cut cost, budget that was earlier assigned (that’s if any was allocated in the first place) to training, as well as learning and development, is often the first casualty, and such funds are either reduced or cut off totally. I have also seen instances where trainers have to follow-up on funds several months after delivering training sessions for organisations and this definitely impacts the morale and sustainability of trainers in the long run.
How do you think the government can improve the challenges entrepreneurs usually face in Nigeria?
While we appreciate the efforts of the current administration in terms of its initiatives and programmes to kick start enterprise in the country, the truth remains that there is still a long way to go. Nations aren’t born in a day, and it takes sincere and genuine efforts as well as hard work to create that enabling environment that we all want. To provide a vision for tomorrow, we must first ask ourselves how we got to where we are today. Failure to do so will only mean that we will end up repeating the same mistakes that have brought us where we are today. It is beyond identifying palliative measures that serve today’s needs, the question is what future can we imagine, where are we heading as a people, and how can business and enterprise play a leading role in taking us to that future. I can identify funding, access to constant electricity, enabling laws and policies, inclusion of young people in decision making, gender mainstreaming, and a couple of other novel ideas, however, we must move beyond “subsistence corporations” which are businesses to solve today’s problems, to building institutions that will last generations and leave behind a legacy. What is our comparative advantage as a people, and how can we shape a future that we all want, this is a conversation we need to have, and to start working actively on.
What is your advice to entrepreneurs out there?
To every entrepreneur out there, I’ll like to say that structure is very important. Most entrepreneurs are quick to say that funding is the major problem; while this has its own merits, the truth is that if you lack an effective structure, no matter the funds that are pumped into the business, it will simply go down the drain eventually. So, having the right structure that supports growth is very important. I’ll also like to add that people are always watching, so it is very important to remain consistent with what you’re doing and to ensure that you pay attention to your brand as well as the experience that customers get from interacting with you. At the end of the day, your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room, and this is based on their perception and experience of your offering. In conclusion, be known for quality and let integrity remain your watchword at all times.