Saddled with a plethora of socioeconomic burdens, yet with at least half of its population under 24 years old and largely unemployed, Africa is lagging behind the West in a lot of ways. However, it is often pleasing to hear of Africans who are making success out of their lives and giving back to the continent that has brought them forth. Even as the clamour for accountability in leadership and governance in government and corporate circles continues to mount, it is worthy of note that many young Africans in Diaspora are doing their bit to make the world a better place, in the simplest of ways. Millions4One.Org, a network of Nigerian volunteers across the US and Nigeria, is making positive impact in the lives of young Nigerians by raising funds and executing bits of interventions in the society. In this exclusive interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Millions4One.Org co-founders Tes Akinsipe and Bukola Olaoye share about their volunteering experience, and their passion to be the change they want to see in the world, starting from Nigeria and Africa.
Could you tell us about yourself?
Tes Akinsipe: I am Tes Akinsipe, I am Nigerian. I graduated from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Nigeria and the University of Texas at El Paso. I am a technology enthusiast and currently work as a Software Test Engr. In my spare time I love to read, participate in charitable/non-profit activities, and attend sporting events. I grew up in Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria and my endeavours and successes in life would not have been possible without help along the way. I am very appreciative of that. I strongly believe in giving back, giving another kid out there a chance to reach his or her potential so I co-founded Millions4One. I also have here with me Bukola Olaoye, President of Millions4One.
Bukola Olaoye: I am Bukola Olaoye, I am Nigerian. I studied at the Lagos State University – Lagos Nigeria. Over the years, I have learnt the value of lending a helping hand, no matter how little. I have a great passion for helping the children (our future) in need who for one reason or the other need a ray of hope. I have been privileged to volunteer and work with several non-profit organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and LINKACHILD Ltd/Gte. I love seeing hope in situations that have been rather tagged hopeless hence my belief that the time to start is now. I am a Millions4One volunteer and currently serve as its President.
What do you do at Millions4One and how did you start the initiative?
Tes: Millions4One uses the power of volunteerism and collaborative work to solve socioeconomic problems by engaging in charitable activities in schools and communities in Africa (we are currently focused on Nigeria due to the human capital resources and logistics at the moment, but our long term goal is to have a foot print on the entire continent). We identify a project (a need) through our volunteers based there, we estimate the cost and viability, raise money, and get the project done. The idea started from recognizing the potential in volunteerism and how much it can do for Africa’s development. Millions4One was started by a group of volunteers in September 2009, but the organization did not begin its operations until April 2010. Millions4One is completely run by UNPAID volunteers. In order to drastically reduce operating costs, we have volunteers who donate their professional skills ranging from project management, graphics design to photography and so on.
How often do you organize outreach programmes and could you tell us about some of the projects/activities you have carried out in the recent past?
Bukola: We engage in two types of outreach programs, the primary one being executing projects and solving problems in Africa. The second one is mobilizing US–based Africans to volunteer in their local communities. In February 2011, we heard of a school, Bright Elementary School in Anambra State, Nigeria. Many of the students did not have enough writing books and/or bags to carry their books. Some kids actually had their books in plastic (nylon) bags or in their hands, so we provided them with about 2,000 note books and 325 backpacks. Also in May 2011, we provided school uniforms to 100 students at Anglican Primary School Ilogbo Eremi and Zunve Primary School, both in the Badagry area of Lagos State, Nigeria. We selected and raised money for those two (2) projects last year so they count towards 2010. Our goal for 2011-2013 is to do three (3) of these kinds of projects per year. In May 2011, we kicked off the local US volunteering initiative in Columbus Ohio, and since then we have been volunteering on a monthly basis; our local team there walked at the March of Dimes March for Babies in May and also raised some money for that organization. Also on Saturday 11 June 2011, our volunteers were at Mid-Ohio Food Bank giving their time. For now, all our funds come from the US, so volunteering in our local communities in US is a way for us to give back.
How do you raise funds and other support for your projects, aside from your personal money?
Tes: The founding members of Millions4One do not really see their donation to the projects as ‘personal money’; we see it as a normal donation; our mindset is that we don’t just identify a project (a need) and offshore the responsibilities of finding the solution to donors. We are and will continue to be an integral part of the solution. So as our donors out there give, we also give towards the same project. In fact, Millions4One members make financial contribution on a monthly basis. A few of our friends and family also support us financially when we need to raise money for a project. Also, people buy our T-shirt, so some funds come in from that too. As far as raising more funds is concerned, we understand that people give more to a cause they believe in so we will continue to organically grow our volunteer base, so the bigger our network gets the stronger our financial base becomes.
How can one become a member or volunteer for the Project?
Bukola: By sending us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, once we get your mail, we will get in touch with you and take it from there. You can also leave us a message on our Facebook fan page http://www.facebook.com/millions4one, we will get back to you within 24 hours. Millions4One currently has members in eight (8) US states and Nigeria. We will quickly get you in touch with them, depending on where you live.
What challenges have you encountered in raising funds and gathering support for your projects so far?
Tes: Some US donors would like to claim their donation(s) on tax returns, so since we are in the process of applying for a 501(c3) status – a tax-exempt status recognized by the US government, I can say we have missed a couple support opportunities because of that but not anything that slows us down in any way. We should get a 501(c3) status approval before the end of the year and this will also go a long way to add credibility to the image of the organization. Aside from that, we have not had any real challenges raising funds. We have been lucky enough to have people who believe in our cause and have been generous enough towards it. In terms of gathering support for projects, I would say the challenge has been logistics and this is due to the fact that Millions4One focus on inner cities, and it is a challenge to get to such locations on occasions. It is easier for a volunteer to visit or move materials to a school that is in the city compared to visiting a school several miles away. This is a challenge that we actually expected based on our mission, so our volunteers on the field do not look for what’s easy, they go for what must be done, whatever it takes.
What are some of your future plans for Millions4One?
Bukola: We are planning to officially launch the organization in Nigeria next year and start building a volunteer base that will be going out on a monthly basis to volunteer. We expect this initiative to be fully grounded within the next two (2) years, but hopefully sooner. Many individuals based in Africa, especially Nigeria. have been asking us how they can support us financially, so we plan to build a convenient system through which they can contribute; this is planned for 2012. We plan to have a local volunteer network in each of the major US cities within the next four (4) years while we continue to ramp up our local volunteering initiative. Expand into Zambia and/ or Ghana by 2013. In Nigeria, the failure rate of the NECO exams has been really high in the last two years, especially for Mathematics and English, so one of our volunteers suggested we launch a free after-school tutoring program where Millions4One will hand-select the teachers and provide all the materials needed by the students, so we will most likely be looking at this next year. These are some of our future plans, there are definitely more.
How do you ensure accountability in use of funds, especially in building credibility with your donors across the globe?
Tes: Transparency is at the core of Millions4One. Boldly displayed on our website homepage is a total of how much we have raised since incorporation (http://www.millions4one.org). Our 2010 financial breakdown (income and expenses) is available to anyone that requests it. Also, once we add the functionality to our website; we will be posting this annually. Millions4One is incorporated here in the US and that means we have to file tax reports; we report annually what the funds raised were used for. Funds must be used for the purposes for which they are meant. We are even required to keep receipts. Getting a professional auditing service on an annual basis is another idea that we are looking into. So if you are a professional auditor and would like to give your time, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Any other thing you would like to tell our esteemed readers?
Bukola: Except in very rare situations, Millions4One does not give money to organizations or schools, once a need gets submitted to us, we will investigate the need, identify the impact of proposed solution then we bring the materials needed, not money. Millions4One team admits that we don’t know everything or always have all the best answers, many great ideas will come from you, our volunteers, so we will love that you join us, let us work together and make this world a better place. We believe there are many people out there waiting to make a change, we want to say that we are the change that we seek. Join Millions4One so after all is said and done let it be said that you and I cared, we shared and we changed the world. Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter http://twitter.com/millions4one or visit our website. Help us spread the word.
Tes and Bukola, thanks for your time!
Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. He believes in the inspirational power of words and pictures, which he explores in helping to make the world a better place. He blogs at Gbenga’s Notebook (www.gbengaawomodu.com).