#SBS2017 : The Real Winners and Nigeria’s Path to Economic Development – JJ. Omojuwa

Capital is very expensive in Nigeria:

Nigeria is a tough place to start a business, and even a much tougher place to run one. When you check the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business Report, you’d actually see that doing business in Nigeria that was a tough ordeal has only gotten tougher over the years. From its best ranking of 120 in 2008, the country sank to the depths ranking 170 in 2014 and 2015. There was actually a downward spiral between 2012 and 2014 when in 2012 the country was ranked 138. The 2016 number at 169 was just an insignificant movement from 170. The poorest ranking is about 190 with the best country ranked 1.

Capital is very expensive in Nigeria yet we need capital amongst other factors, to create wealth. Accessing loans for your new or active business is a tough ordeal. For most people starting small businesses, they are more likely to get help from family and friends than they are to get loans from the banks. But when friends and families themselves have fallen on hard times, it then means we need a new wave of helpers more than ever before. With interest rates as high as 24 per cent and collaterals as unreasonable as documents of landed properties – from someone looking to get started in business – things are not looking pretty at all.

The current Muhammadu Buhari administration through the office of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has committed to a timeline of improving the ease of doing business but while they get on that and we continue to put them on their toes, I have personally decided to intervene in my little way.

The Small Business Support Fund:

The Small Business Support Fund is an attempt to help the smallest of businesses, those who need just N50,000 or N80,000 or some N120,000 to either get something started or get something going. I have received emails from people needing just N35,000 to get something started. The person actually broke it down to the last N500. I was so impressed I did so little a background check I sent the money. But I believe this can be an organized system.

I do not believe people should be handed cash, I believe loans are better because they put some pressure on the beneficiary to commit to the business the resources are being accessed for. But I have decided to start with grants. A lot of focus will be on those already running small businesses and with the passion and commitment to get going who just need a little push to advance to the next level.

How The Winners Will Be Decided:

Using the #SBS2017 hashtag on Twitter, the instructions to prospective beneficiaries is also strategic in that it tests the person’s ability to commit to the simplest of instructions because I am of the belief that anyone who cannot comprehend, understand and act on a simple instruction cannot run a business successfully, whether or not that business is small or big. So we will weed out those who missed the instruction. I will have zilch regret doing this because it just can’t be so hard to obey the simplest of instructions. A strategic instruction was for prospective beneficiaries to post social media images indicating situations/moments when they posted something, anything related to their businesses. I may be wrong but I am of the opinion that if one spends the amount of time many people spend online, it is hard for one to claim to be passionate about one’s small business without tweeting about same at all, in a whole year. That is my way of weeding out those who suddenly have businesses they need cash for who really never had any. That is not to say there aren’t genuine business owners who just did not get to tweet about same at all.

Why we can’t solve all the problems:

When I tweeted about the fund, I got hundreds of thousands of requests via tweets with many stating they needed the cash to support one business or the other. The numbers have since reduced drastically once the receipt of proof of running a small business was thrown in the equation.

But We Will Do More:

This is a first but it is only a first of many. I intend to commit to small businesses for a long time. I am now moving from the unorganized support to small businesses mostly via unsolicited requests from even folks I have never seen in my life to something more organized, strategic and intentional. The beneficiary businesess will be monitored and supported with publicity via Alpha Reach (@alphareach) a company I work with. There will be an offline end to this too. We will go on the streets and hand support cash to businesses with potentials, whose owners can show clearly why they need the support and how they intend to use the support.

Since starting this, as to be expected, many have been copying me in issues and problems other than those the fund is meant for. I guess that must be because they assume that if one has money for one good, one must have money for another. But one lesson I learnt early as a giver is to understand I will never be able to solve every problem or everyone’s problem so I have learnt to do what I can, then move on. It is as simple as that. I pray for those I can’t help, I pray for those I can help and also help them. It is a privilege to do this and I pray that I will have the capacity to do more. My life mission is to make the life of others, especially the underprivileged better. I have done this in many ways in times past but it never feels enough.

Going Forward:

My hope is that, many privileged people will pick on this and also commit to small businesses. I do not believe that one has to have a fat bank account to start something like this. I do not have anything close to a fat bank account. The beautiful thing is, the fund has received far money from donors than I initially put into it. These are donors who saw the tweets and decided to be part of it. It takes one to start but it takes many to make lasting change happen. The winners will be announced on this platform later today and they will share over N2million on Saturday. I am excited and if you would love to be part of this in the future, please shoot me an email via info@thealphareach.com . Only donors should send an email over, helps me to manage the process. I will delete emails from non-donors at source. Prospective beneficiaries should follow @Omojuwa on how to benefit in the future.

I will always speak to power, to those running our country, to keep them on their toes, to make our country better but one thing I will do better than being a critic is to also do something about some of the problems we all see around. Small businesses are critical to our economic development and when they thrive, our country will thrive.

PS: I’d love to say thank you to all the donors who committed their resources to this. Some of them I had never engaged until this. We will all thrive and prosper more than ever before this year.

© JJ. Omojuwa

PS: See a list of the winners below. They eventually ended up sharing N2.7m. The next round of funding will be within the half year SBS 2017 First Round Winners .