Gbenga Sesan On Digital Inclusion, Entrepreneurship, & Tech PolicyJun 21, 2021
"All of the money that [some African governments are] using for surveillance...and to identity and 'neutralize' opposition figures--we should move away from that, and invest our resources in a climate of innovation," Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, told Derek Silva on this week's episode of Priv8.
"Then, young people see the internet as a place where they can build tools that can be sold globally."
Paradigm Initiative was created by Sesan in 2007 as a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion. The Initiative currently focuses on providing training for underserved young people, advocating for technological policy, and digital opportunities. This work is carried out from six different offices that are spread across the African continent.
While the organization is a non-profit, Sesan explained that entrepreneurship is an important part of its work: "We work as a non-profit, but we take advantage of the entrepreneurship model of making sure that we exchange our skills for resources that can help us do the work sustainably."
Defying the odds
The origin story of the Paradigm Initiative stems from a moment in 1991, when a teenage Sesan was denied access to a computer lab. "My school had received two computers," he said. This was a big deal: at the time, "there were not so many computers in all of Nigeria--[at least], definitely not in schools."
"The teacher literally looked down at me and said, 'computers are not for people like you. You can't understand how to use them'...So, I decided that I was going to learn whatever it was [that I needed to know], and that I was going to teach other young people."
Providing access to digital education can empower individuals and their communities
The Initiative's work can be difficult given the political circumstances in some African nations. Still, Sesan believes that equipping individuals with the tools they need to be self-empowered will change the world for good. "For most [of our trainees], the moment they get their first job, it means that they've started a journey towards being employed for a long time," Sesan said.
"I see my story in theirs: these are people who otherwise would have ended up without jobs, and would have been frustrated. Some of them might have gone into crime. But because they have digital skills, they are able to start earning an income."
As a result, "We've seen a lot of economic growth on a personal level," he said. "What we'd love to see next is to scale that to a level where we can work with policy makers and institutions such that this economic opportunity is multiplied into communities, into states, and into countries and [international] regions."
Click here to listen to Derek's full interview with Gbenga. New episodes of Priv8 are published every week--so don't forget to subscribe on your favorite streaming service.