CEO and CO-Founder JumpStart Academy Africa: Omotola Akinsola
I stumble on my words when I try to describe this gem. I met her for the first time a few years ago, and that evening is still very fresh in my memory; that's the kind of impact Tola has on people. Her unique personality, perspective on life, dreams, charisma, and the list goes on and on; are all simply enthralling. When I started blogging, she was the first person I wanted to feature. She inspires me in ways, I'm not sure I can put in words. Honestly, describing her deserves a post of its own; but, you reading her story is better than whatever words I can put together. Without further word-stumbling, I introduce you to my Friend and Sister....
Who is ‘Omotola Akinsola’
Nigerian by birth, a global citizen by destiny. I am a local of Ibadan, Gaborone, Columbia, Saint Louis, and Boulder. These are the cities I have lived in and had transformative experiences. I am Social Worker by training, a Social Good Engineer by Choice. I was born and raised in Yemetu Oja, Ibadan along with my siblings.
What are you passionate about and why?
I have passion for creating and designing programs and systems that work for the greater and common good of the society. I am passionate about transformative education, youth, leadership and social entrepreneurship and living green.
What/Where did you study?
I hold a Master's from George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis having earned a Bachelor’s in Social Work with a double minor in Leadership Studies and Psychology from Columbia College. I have certification from Waston University (www.watsonuniversity.org), a semester long incubator program for student-leaders, innovators, creators and entrepreneurs.
Tell us about Jumpstart Academy Africa?
Jumpstart Academy Africa is a for-impact, social venture, which utilizes entrepreneurial leadership and mentoring to solve Africa’s human capital problem. Across Cameroon and Nigeria, high school students are learning leadership and entrepreneurship as part of their school curriculum tailored to the context of their communities. The idea behind Jumpstart Academy Africa is simple using the principles of ethical leadership and entrepreneurship, students can learn the skills needed in today’s transformed and transitory world. Beyond acquiring skills, students receive training that enables them to innovate across different sectors – to be job creators as opposed to the old rhetoric of job seekers. Through this project, with an emphasis on marginalized youths, we enable boys and girls across public secondary schools to obtain and practice employment relevant livelihood skills via leadership and entrepreneurship training, improve learning outcomes for these students and foster their personal and professional development. Overall, our core programming focuses around impacting our scholars in these three areas: academic excellence, enterprise creation and civic engagement.
What/Who inspired you to start Jumpstart Academy Africa?
Growing up and living in Yemetu, I saw different kind of social classes and I wanted to provide opportunities that enhance people’s lives. I did not want to believe that just because you were born in poverty, it means that is all your life will be about, and you couldn’t amount to something great. I was inspired by the experiences I had growing up, the tug-of-wars between the haves and have nots. I was also inspired by reading about people like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. I wanted to live my life how they did. I found inspiration and insights from the lives of these individuals and made up my mind that my life will be about creating good and helping people achieve their purpose in life. I have always believed that education should be more than rote learning and this is what is prevalent within the Nigerian educational systems, especially among the vast public school system we have. Students are not encouraged or challenged to think beyond what they are being taught which traditionally is all about academic learning that students eventually do not find useful to help change their lives or communities. I wanted to change that and ensure education becomes transformative
What was the inspiration behind the name “Jumpstart Academy”?
Lolz, that’s a very good question, I toiled with different names before deciding on JumpStart Academy, I chose this name because I wanted to bring forth greatness in people that the society might not believe in. I wanted to ignite something and help them birth newness of purpose and zeal for life. I couldn’t think of a better name that expresses these things better than JumpStart Academy. The organization serves as the ignition to jump start passive potentials and possibilities.
Walk us through the step by step process that you went through to start your organization/ how long did it take?
I started toiling with the idea since 2012 after taking a class with one of my favorite professor at Columbia College, Dr. Tamara Burk and working closely with Dr. Ned Laff. These two professors were instrumental in helping me think outside the box. They were not afraid to ask tough questions. Since that was my last year in College and I had always believed I didn’t have to first get a job before doing good and helping people. I started doing research, which was the first step, I wanted to test my assumptions and ensure that the services I wanted to provide where needed and no one else was really doing it. So after I did my research with the help of friends in Nigeria, I then went on to drafting what the organization will be all about. Starting from the mission statement, vision statement, objectives, structure, purpose, the demographics we will be working with, I identify potential people or organizations to partner with, drafted up volunteer/staff job descriptions and created a skeleton of what the organization will be about and how it will run and a typical day in the life of the organization. I sent the draft to my professors and they gave me insights, suggestions and ideas. From there, I moved on to identifying people who could help transform the paper draft of the organization into real life. I employed the help of a friend I knew from childhood who I knew was passionate about youth and development. His name is Boluwatife Onasanya, with his help we were able to recruit our first set of workers/volunteers. After getting the dream team together, the next thing was hitting the ground. By this time, it was now 2013 and I was in graduate school for my master’s education. I had to think about funding, how were we going to have the means and resources to run the organization and there was registering officially as a non-profit organization. That took us a year and eventually, during the month of November in 2013, we received our certificate of incorporation after spending over 100,000 naira and following-up. Note that, we started working while we waited for our non-profit status to be granted and also, I ensured we were registered in the United States as a non-profit as well in order to ensure that we could raise funds from both Nigeria and the United States. The team began doing the groundwork from March 2013 after meetings and planning and we eventually started working with students officially in September 2013. I will say it took a year to prepare the ground and get things together before we officially launched the organization.
How did you prepare yourself for the challenge?
Hmmm, I started preparing since 2011, saving up money that I got as income through my various student jobs because I knew that funding was going to be hard to find. I knew that the culture of giving to nonprofits is not really established within Nigeria. Also, I knew I couldn’t do the work alone so I made sure I found people who cared about the area we would be working with and who had different skillsets to bring to the table. Since I have been reading a lot about world changers and people who work on making a difference, I was able to mentally prepare for the journey even before it got started. I had learned from reading about the lives of Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and others that the road will not be easy but it would be worth it and I decided that if they could make it happen, I will as well.
How did you select the team of people that work with you?
First, it was important to pick people who had a passion for the area we worked in, secondly, it was necessary to do call out for volunteers through social media, word of mouths and flyer postings. The most important criteria to eventually select who was part of the team was, a passion for creating positive change and the willingness to learn how to make it happen.
What are the highlights of JSAA so far?
We started out in Nigeria and in January of 2014, we opened another branch in Cameroon. We have had over 3,000 students apply for our programs. We have scholars from our programs in various institution of learning across Africa, our scholars have created jobs, they work on impacting their communities for good and we look forward to doing more in the future. We have been recognized by different medias such as Forbes, ThinkOyo among other medias.
What was it like being a student and starting an organization?
It was not a small matter o. My house mates in graduate school started calling me ‘Ghost’ because I head out before 7am in the morning and wouldn’t get back until after 4am in the middle of the night. That was my life 6 days a week. It was only on Sunday afternoons that they got to see me. There were constant meetings via skype and phone calls. Nigeria was 7 hours ahead so when it is daytime in Nigeria for my team, it was middle of the night for me. I still had to maintain a great grade in other not to lose my scholarship, while I was working as a graduate assistant. It was like doing three jobs at the same time.
Tell us some challenges you overcame that led you to where you are?
The first challenge I will say I overcame was conquering the fear of speaking up and speaking out about what I cared about. I use to be so afraid of failing that I did not want to put myself out there because the truth is, I had some failure in the past. In secondary school, I had to repeat S.S.1 and it was not funny at all and it scared me but I was able to rise above it and instead push the fear out and decide to live for something beyond playing it safe. Also, while running the organization, the initial money I saved up to get started ran out and asking people for money did not result into money, so it took a while and I had to figure out a way to fund the organization and continue the work.
How did you raise the resources you needed?
I mentioned before that I had a certification from Watson University, well Watson University was critical in helping bring forth resources in the most meaningful way. While at Watson, I met my Co-founder, Madelle Kangha, a passionate individual who I know will change the world up for good. She had already started her organization and we decided to partner up and become one and hence how the ‘Africa’ ended up being part of our name, so instead of just JumpStart Academy in Nigeria alone, we decided we wanted to work and make a dent in West Africa and hence we called it JumpStart Academy Africa. Through the partnership with Madelle and the help of the founder of Watson University, Eric Glustrom among other people that taught and trained us, we were able to reach more people willing to invest in our organization. We started with family and friends and then friends referred us to other people they knew and gradually our network grew. We also look for ways to partner with other organizations and that helps in ensuring we have access to the resources we need to do the work.
What are the future plans for yourself?
My future plans are loaded. I recently got married…whoop whoop...,
I also started a 10 acres farm called JumpStart Agro last year and I am hoping to grow it and ensure it becomes a household name. I am hoping to learn and train more to better equip myself and our staffs to do better in carrying out the mission and vision of the organization. I am looking forward to furthering my education with a Ph.D in the nearest future and also looking at crafting and designing a new kind of University system that I hope to launch within 5- 10 years from now in Nigeria, something that will be of quality, yet affordable and that will be more about practicing the theory learned than sitting on it and doing nothing with it. I am also about to launch a school match services that help students looking to study outside their home countries to the school of their choice and ensure they can present their best self to have access to scholarships and opportunities to explore and learn.
Where do you see JSAA in five years?
I see JSAA becoming a household name, I see our name easily being identified with academic excellence, enterprise creation and community developments across board. I hope we will have expanded our programs beyond the cities we operate in and work more in other cities across Cameroon and Nigeria. I see us having our own state of the art facility and running programs that breed job creators and not job-seekers, solution providers and not people who just complain but do nothing.
What advice do you have for students aspiring to be like you?
One, have faith in something other than your own strength or power. For me, my faith in God, in Jesus Christ was strong so when challenges and trouble came, I was sustained. You will need it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and can serve as inspirators when the going get tough because it will. Do not be afraid to create your own path, do not allow anyone else other than yourself define for you what is possible. Don’t be afraid to share your dreams and seek help to make it possible. Above all, choose to live out our values, do not compromise it for anything. The road won’t be easy but I can tell you that it is worth it. SO get started ASAP!
I hope this inspires you as much as it did to me. We should all join Tola to CHANGE OUR WORLD.
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