Adekunbi Adeoye is a dynamic graduate of Law from the Obafemi Awolowo University. Her passion for human capital development led her to start her own business as an undergraduate which involved getting short-term jobs for her colleagues. Today, that desire for productivity and personal development has transformed into SESEWA Suport Services- A social Enterprise designed to help undergraduate and graduates develop skills as they kick-start their careers. She spoke with Seye Joseph on how she conceived the idea and her experience at the just concluded Mandela Washington Fellowship in United States of America.
My name is Adekunbi Adeoye, I am the Executive Director and Founder of Sesewa Support Services, Sesewa in our local parlance means ‘Se isewa’– is there a job? Our organisation provides internship opportunities for undergraduates and fresh graduates in Nigeria and other African universities. Sesewa is a driven by excellence and a desire to bring a new edge to recruiting and professionalism in the workplace. It’s aimed at cultivating and maximizing the innate potentials of the Nigerian youths by providing them with platforms for development.
Our Vision is to have students who are ready and able to take on the challenges of 21st century workplace and we achieve that by providing a platform that are related to work, internship placement, volunteering placement, job shadow opportunities and Sesewa apprenticeship program such that they can be ready to start a business if they decide to or work in any organisation.
For how many years have you been running this business?
I started it as an undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University when I was in 400 level. For me, it was a privilege to find opportunities for my colleagues who were looking for internship placement. On fulltime, I started in 2012 where I started finding placements for people and running it as a fulltime organisation.
How has it been running an organisation like this since 2012?
It has been an interesting journey because as an organisation in a blue ocean, we have had several first time experiences. An organization like ours never existed before now; people did internships but there had never been a company that had all its systems and structures designed for internship placement and that is what we do at Sesewa. So it’s been very challenging when it comes to developing the business model, systems and structure, putting it side by side with best practices around the world. We have been able to place at least 300 interns in different organisations, we have helped about 60 entrepreneurs host businesses across Nigeria where we place our students in, we run a training school which allows us to train our students before they get to work in different organisations, as at the beginning of this year which we have trained over 312 of them.
Do you partner with other organisations?
Yes we do. Our partners are companies who realize that internships can provide them with an early opportunity to gauge the talents of this generation and also seize the opportunity of selling themselves as a quality place for students to begin their careers after graduation. Our partners also have the exclusive opportunity of previewing and selecting interns after every training session. As a partner, you can be a part of our career fairs which creates an avenue for companies to meet their prospective employees. All our interns go through our unique placement process which ensures that they have the right motivation and personality to suit specific requirements of organizations.
Internship and volunteering seem not to be something that is lucrative in Nigeria, how do you convince people to get involved in it?
You are very right. It is our task to encourage people to engage in internship and we use advocacy a lot to guide people on what is important to do, enlightening students and the organizations that want to take interns. We offer advice to both parties on what to do and the advantages that lies for both of them.
Is it true that there are no jobs in Nigeria?
Well, where I stand, I will tell you that there are a lot of jobs in Nigeria. Human capital is something that everybody is in high demand for. However, I do not think that the jobs we have in the country is enough for Nigerian graduates, we need to create more jobs but the jobs that are available we don’t find enough people to take the jobs, own it and perform it.
Let’s look at the skills to match these available jobs, are there skills to match some of these jobs?
There is a big skill gap because the education we receive in this part of the world only prepares us to be employed, they don’t give us practical understanding of what we study. That’s why you can find a student of computer science who has not seen a computer before. You find people in the industry using old systems to execute 21st century jobs and that is a great challenge young people are facing. They write JAMB, write post-JAMB, they spend four to seven years in school and when they graduate they are only schooled not really educated so there is a skill gap between what they study in school and what is required in the work place.
So how would you advise them to meet up with the available jobs?
My advice for them is to take their future more seriously. There is so much information now, an individual can practically become a professor online and that is the good news about this generation. Everything they need can be found online, they must guide themselves with 21st century information. We offer students real value for what they have to know. We have job shadow opportunity, internship placement and all sorts that can give them hands-on experience on what they want. Once they guide themselves with information they need, attend our training schools, get an internship, they are most likely preparing themselves for where they want to go. For example, I started this organisation after an internship and I created an opportunity based on that experience. So, young people have the potentials to do more than what they are doing if they apply themselves in a right place.
So do you charge them?
We don’t charge students when they come to us applying from our online platform. We operate a training school that comes at almost no cost when considering the value that we deliver. We are able to do this because we have an organization that supports us. Interns get paid for their internships of which we take placement fee which is really low.
Let’s look at the dichotomy between the BSc. degree and Higher National degree, are there difference between the two?
I think everywhere in the world, organisations are looking for people who can add value to them, someone who will be valuable to them irrespective of where they graduate from. If you take a poly graduate or university graduate, what is the likelihood that the person is going to be valuable to your work? Our educational system should revisited where a school can say that if a student graduate from this school or department, they should be able to say that this is exactly who they will be or what they will be. We just keep going to school; there should be a clear understanding of the culture that these schools bring out. Over the time the differentiation has happened due to the results and products from these institutions.
You shared an article on social media where an organisation is not considering university degree as prerequisite to employ people; do you think that is a good judgment for employing people?
University degree tells you that the person has gone to school and to study for a course, the outcome of the individual as a person is what actually distinguishes them. The article is from Ernst and Young, the organisation has realized over time that the degree has no direct relationship with the performance of individual in a workplace. We as a country, we are not there yet. Education is still very much relevant to the development of an individual. Our ability to place emphasis on education and not just school is what will differentiate between the people who go to school or not.
You just returned from United States of America where you participated in Young African Leadership Initiative, what was the experience like for you?
My experience at the Mandela Washington Fellowship allowed 500 young people from Africa to go United States to understand what it is for an American student to go to school, to be taught. It also exposed us to how businesses are done. I had the opportunity to be sent to the University of Texas in Houston where I had to meet over 20 businesses in a very short period to understand their mode of operation, when they hire, how they think and sorts. We were attached with 20 people from different African countries which allowed us to respect one another and learn from each other. With the experience I got to understand where Nigeria seats in the development of other countries in Africa, I also got to understand that businesses in Nigeria must be looking at things from global perspective. So now, I can’t continue to say Sesewa is a Nigeria business because it is not about me. It is about the continent that is in need of change makers, I think the summit was such a great opportunity to hear from President Obama and to hear him share thoughts about the plans America has for Africa because countries are looking towards Africa. Recently, United States said they will give Nigeria, $2.3 billion and everybody was saying what they want us to do with the money. Africa is now on the rising, there are great opportunities and investments in Africa, there a lot of things to do in Africa, if people here don’t grab the opportunities, other countries are looking in that direction.
In the subsequent years, where should we be seeing Sesewa?
In the next 2- 5 years, we see Sesewa taking its place as the forefront internship organisation in Nigeria, an organisation that show legacies on how the internship business should be run in Nigeria and we still see ourselves being at the forefront advocating for policies that affect young people especially in internship placement becoming a prerequisite for graduation in Nigerian universities and polytechnics.
Organisations don’t run themselves it takes capital and some other things, how do you generate fund to run Sesewa?
Till date, I have invested my money, skills and time into the business. What has happened in the past is that we generated products and services that can bring in money for us. We have only gotten a thousand dollars grant. Aside that, all the money we have spent in this company have been generated by the company through its product and services.
There are competitors in this sector, how do you intend to outrun them?
Competitors! All of a sudden, I woke up one morning and saw that I was not the only internship placement company in the country anymore. In the real sense, I don’t see competitions. We are all advocating for something crucial and having more people in this industry saves me the stress of having to explain the nature of what we do every time being that internship placement is becoming a household name. I also believe if there are “competitions”, people will now begin to listen to us as we grow into a strong force. Competition is good for the industry to grow and to help people to grow. So I think it is a welcome development.