By Prince Osuagwu
Award-winning business executive and Chief Transformation Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr Olubayo Adekanmbi is a hands-on Data scientist of cognate industry experience in Strategy, Marketing and Analytics. A graduate with Distinction from the University of Reading postgraduate school, United Kingdom, Adekanmbi’s remit includes driving a holistic programme aimed to accelerate business performance, innovations and advanced analytics.
He is the convener of Data Science Nigeria non-profit, Author of “The Future is Shared” and Artificial Intelligence for Starters.
Adekanmbi says he is driven by a vision to build an AI-first society where Artificial Intelligence is effectively deployed to solve local problems.
So it was not surprising to see him spearheading this year’s edition of MTN’s staff-led corporate social responsibility initiative, 21 Days of Y’ello Care.
Like in everything Adekanmbi is involved in, this year’s edition organised a national Y’ello Hackathon competition that addresses five of the SDGs with the aim of encouraging technological innovation and solution that will help solve some issues faced by Nigerian youths; conducted business skills training for unemployed youths in informal sector in partnership with the National Orientation Agency, Lagos.
Speaking with Hi-Tech in this interview, he exposed other plans aimed at making Nigerian youths better technology experts to face the future.
21 Days of Y’ello Care: How it all began
I will start by what MTN as a company stands for. We have a vision to use technology to make the life of people better. Essentially, use technology to enhance, enrich and make life better in how people work, live and play. We use technology to drive impact in health, education and in community development, in social empowerment and those things.. That is why, at all times we are looking for how to deploy solutions, use our products and services and social engagement, even our foundation, social interventions and many other things we do to reinforce that sense of purpose which captures our commitment to the collective good of the society.
So when the 21 days of Yello care came up, we felt that since the focus was on youth, we should tap into these modern times when a lot of youths are becoming very active in the developer community. We looked at Yaba and many parts of the country and felt that to provide a platform for these young brilliant Nigerians to showcase their ideas, will mean helping them to refine their thinking.
We know that Hackthon creates a solution but most importantly, it allows them get the business mindset that helps in up-scaling their business model and make it more market ready. So adopted the Hackthon model where young Nigerians could be motivated to think of specific problem-solving methods that align to sustainable development goals around poverty, hunger and community development, social intervention and health.
So that’s the story of embedding Hackthon into 21 days of yello care. We also brought in partners who can invest, scale up the ideas and also help the youths leverage MTN capacity so that they can own businesses and employ more Nigerians.
Why the partnership, is MTN short of financial muscles to do it alone?
MTN business model is ecosystem driven, which means you get more when you work with others. Our success as accompany has been because we have several partners that we work with, vendors are employing many Nigerians and driving businesses. So when we articulate the whole objective on Hackthon, we also ask, in delivering this solution, there are other enablers that they will require, facilitators that they will require to be able to take that idea to the market, why not partner with those.
For example, Seamfix Chinook Capital provides seed funding of up to $25000. They are well known in seed funding business model; breeding budding businesses, incubating them and providing direction. That was the whole idea, to identify partners who are experts in those areas because MTN believes that we are who we are by partnering with the best of the best. So that was why we partner with all of them to bring in their expertise in their various areas of specialization so that we all work together to create something that impacts positively in the society
Low hanging fruits Nigeria can leverage on from the hackaton?
Nigeria is full of very brilliant people. within one week we got over 100 ideas. To be very honest with you all the ideas are great; it’ s just that some of them are not aligning to our objective and some of them in terms of going to market, might take longer time, but we are looking for those that are quick. Those guys were meant to know that their ideas are great, and we have asked them to continue to fine tune them for impact.
Interestingly, our partners are also interested in mentoring some of them, even after. The five people who presented before we settled for the final three were rewarded. Each person got a laptop, just to encourage them to refine their ideas more now that they have laptops.
We were looking for ideas that align with the strategic theme of this year, two ideas that our partners can also immediately take to market, that was why I said we partner with the company that was ready to provide as much as $25,000 seed funding.
To what extent did winners’ solutions align with MTN value?
When we were reviewing the various brilliant submissions we received, we were keen on projects that have very strong social impact, addressing social gaps and not just great ideas but ideas that are implementable within the context of who we are as a people. Which means the ideas that considers the challenges and things that are true to us as a people. way of payment, road traffic because some people have ideas that are not well localized and we are looking at that and the ease of deployment. How can it be deployed and how many people can they impact.
On the three people that won today, one is about blood; blood is a critical matter in this country and the issue of ambulance, incubator, for new kids that are born which happens every second across the country. Blood is a thing that everybody needs. So somebody now built a system that allows different hospitals to network themselves to know who has got what on a real time basis so that life can be safe. It is something that is speaking to the gap in our society.
Another idea is that which helps mothers who are giving birth. We understand the complexity, and like I said before, these have developed on easy to deploy format, cost effective, highly impactful. How to help women to manage that process with efficient and effectiveness. That aligns with our value as a company because we respect life.
So we feel those technologies are well aligned to preserving life.
The third one is about cancer, this is something that many people are not talking about and yet a lot of people are dying. So we saw a company that built very robust process that provide counseling, cheaper drugs to a community of people who are in that situation. Through the platform, they can talk to themselves, and these align to who we are as a company. We have the platform, so people who have the problem and survived can talk to people, sharing their experiences and in doing that boost the hope of the people.
So when you look at all of them, they align with our values of social impact, innovations that have value to community, innovation not necessarily driven by money but to preserve life
What does MTN gain in this?
It is the welfare of everybody and that is one point that always amaze people that when we do our CSR we don’t care whether you have MTN SIM or not. Our season surprises which we do every December, that is irrespective of the network or where you are. The MTN foundation initiative, it has nothing to do with the network where you are on. All these young guys that won awards today, we don’t even know their network. It is important to establish that primary principle is the goodness doing for all. It is a social goodwill that is what we want to do. We want to add value to the community where we do business bioecaie we are obliged to continue to add value to our community and that’s what is driving us. We are not looking for immediate gain.
We give scholarships to students across the country; the requirement is not patronise MTN. We know that some of them may be on another network. So it’s not commercially driven.
Are there monitoring mechanism to ensure these winners do not misuse the funding?
MTN is always committing for the long haul which means that we take time to understand where we are going and how we can deliver value on a long term bases. That is the reason why we are bringing these partners so that where we stop this tact, that circle of impact will continue. After we’ve discovered them, supported them then there are incubation centre that already have established hubs and there are investors who provides seed funds that builds systems and best practices they exists.
So when we build those layers of impacts as soon as people are done we can hand them over. So I can assure you that we build that layer of impact and mentorship, management support, platform support, seed funding, incubation and then we will get to the point of accelerating those ideas to the next level. We have identified partners that can always be there to support. Of course, on regular basis we do general engagement to know how these things are going through. We’ve taught it through and we’ve put in place mechanism to make that happen.
How much funding did MTN commit in this CSR?
I think MTN has given so much in terms of providing the platform, the knowledge, best practices; the financial value cannot even be quantified. That is the kind of thing we want to create; that is much more than money. It is the overall social benefit that we are creating. If you look at what we have done in foundation and any other thing we do, our philosophy is that every day we must continue to give so much to our community.
So I tell you that MTN has given so much and we will continue to give so much as a company that is genuinely committed to the welfare of our community and every Nigerian.