That Doesn’t Make Me A Bad Person

It’s over, 2013 is already being compressed for archiving. There was a new moon on the first day of the year for good joss. Meanwhile Venus is in retrograde so I am feeling nostalgic and reflective but I’ve been reading other people’s nostalgic reflections and resolutions instead. I’m not in a hurry to face mine. I’ve never kept a New Year resolution in my life. Besides MY New Year starts on my birthday a few days after January 1. I love to  indulge an extra day or two of festive hedonism. That doesn’t make me a bad person you know.

Even as I enjoy another glass of Pinot Grigio blush, for breakfast, I reflect seriously upon the intricate web that is my life within this web of life. An ancient web running backwards and forwards. Holding you in place even as you jump around in a delusion of freedom.  What patterns I am weaving  into this framework? Colourful? Interesting? What is the quality of my portion of this web? What has my web caught this year? What do I want to catch in my web? Does that sound spooky yet? And Machiavellian? Such is life. That still doesn’t make me a bad person.

I reflect on my weaving these 12 months past. Brutal honesty is required here. Courage is required here. Because we learn by confronting our fears, our insecurities and our failures and it’s really hard to face that shadow. However, successful entrepreneurs teach us to look for the lesson in every situation. So what are the top 3 lessons I’ve learnt this year? I will limit myself to the top 3 because this post and every post till further notice will be 500 words or less. There are many lessons of course, daily, weekly, monthly. I’m still waiting to grow up.

Why 500 words? I don’t read anything that is longer than 500 words anymore. If it’s more than 500 words and I have to read it I stop reading after 500 words give or take a dozen. I’ve started reading 20 books this year. I have half-finished books lying all over the house. I read them 500 words at a time. And like all bad managers I think everyone is like me so that’s how I settled on 500 words. Five hundred words are generous anyway. Some folks  that know about these things predict the future of reading is Twitter and all you get over  there is 140 characters. And I’m down 444 words already.

My horoscope says the planets are aligning auspiciously and I’m going to have a stellar year professionally and romantically. It says my love life will finally find harmony,well I hope so or it is war baby. I guess that means I should keep on dancing, drinking, writing, learning and loving you and me no matter how hard it gets. And none of  that makes me a bad person.

I go to reflect on my top three fuck ups and lessons of 2013 and what that means for 2014. Do you have any? Would you like to share? No? Good.

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Buses Around the World

I can’t remember the last time I took a bus. Actually I can, it was sometime post the June 12 protests in Lagos. It was the only means of transport available. Nigerian buses are smelly, crowded, randomly timed (buses don’t move till they are full) and high risk modes of transportation because you never know whether the driver is actually licensed as he hurtles down bad roads at 120 kilometers per hour.

The mad rush for a molue captured quite eloquently by an artist unknown
The mad rush for a molue captured quite eloquently by an artist unknown

The English bus service is as civilized as the British of course, on time, clean, and only crowded during rush hour when the natives commute to and from work and they are generally happy to stand in orderly queues to board the bus and are sure that there will be another one coming if they miss the first one. The UK bus service is geared towards a structured economy, while I think the Nigerian bus services have always reflected and serviced our super entrepreneurial hustle economy.

Modern British buses have retained the character of their older predecessors. This is an old 'route master'
Modern British buses have retained the character of their older predecessors. This is an old ‘route master’

In Nigeria we have the molue, the danfo and the luxurious. In the good old days of my misspent youth the ‘luxury’ buses were called by their company names – like The Young and Chidiebere.  They usually had quaint philosophical anecdotes written on the side like “At all, at all Na em bad Pass”.  In the UK you have coaches, with free newspapers, free wifi and lots of advertising.

There is a philosophy lesson  on every Lagos bus (and once upon a time on most other commercial vehicles too)
There is a philosophy lesson on every Lagos bus (and once upon a time on most other commercial vehicles too)

I came across a site that calls itself Buses Around the World, not a single one of the more than 20 galleries featured buses from Africa (South Africa does not count here right now for inexplicable reasons). I googled ‘buses around Africa’ – all I got back were bus schedules for – did you guess right?- yes, South Africa. Apparently they are the only African country with scheduled bus routes online.

There is barely any mention of the quaint buses of Dakar, brightly colored and more than just a means of transportation, they are little works of art themselves. Perhaps a photographic project for the future ‘Buses Around Africa’. Or is it too late already? Have we forgotten them in our mad rush for sleek modernity and copy cat western inspired progress and development?

Bright colored buses certainly takes the drudgery out of bus travel in Senegal. They are called demm dikk - coming and going
Bright colored buses certainly takes the drudgery out of bus travel in Senegal. They are called demm dikk – coming and going

I wouldn’t say anyone bus is better than the other by the way, I enjoy the diversity. I would like to say that in Nigeria specifically and in Africa more generally we should do more to preserve the unique nature of what is ours. Lagos BRT buses are so soulless and without character, but I guess Lagosians are just happy they get them to their destination on time and in one piece I hear, and I get it.

Of course like all Nigerians I’ve been slightly embarrassed by the molue and the danfo in the past. It’s not clean or standardized or meet any of the other standards of oyibo and western life and living.  I guess it reflects our general unhealthy embarrassment with things African and ancient. It took a trip to the UK to make me see that? Let’s hear it for the molue, even though I shall probably never get on one.

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of  delightful 'African pop art' paintings.
Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of delightful ‘African pop art’ paintings.

NEW BLOG POST: My Top Twenty Lessons of 2012 for Beginning Social Entrepreneurs

1. Be ready to forego some of your creature comforts.  Ain’t easy raising capital. Accumulate your cash.

2. Be ready to be disheartened and disappointed. Don’t waste too much energy on it.  Depression is for the birds

3. You will alienate family and  friends.  Don’t worry about it. They’ll come round when your successful and rich

4. Be methodical. Build your pyramid. The base is always wider and takes more work to build than the top.

5. If its not part of the plan and doesn’t add recognizable value AVOID IT. That includes negative people, get rich quick schemes, unsolicited advise, well or ill meaning people who think they know more about how to run your life than you do and ‘deals’.

6. Remember to service your debts. You don’t want creditors making life complicated but you don’t want to spend all your money paying debt either. Find a balance you can maintain.

7. Always remember your debts.  Be it a debt for a kindness, goods or services. The friend who gave you her couch for some weeks. The vendor that let’s you pay your bills a little late.  You get the drift? The Favor Bank is serious business.

8. Stay in touch with positive energizing people. Its easy to retreat into your shell and sometimes its necessary but its important to stay in touch and cultivate positive progressive people  who make you feel good and who you’ll want to work with in the future.

9. Don’t look down on the ‘little people’. Learn some humility. Life is tough enough. Compassion is a healthy healing feeling.

10. Persist till you breakthrough. Believe that you can. You will

11. Live within your means.  Scrutinize all gifts. You might have short term gratification but you need long term sustainability. Delay gratification.

12.  Entrepreneurs are risk takers.  Learn to mitigate risk. I learnt to swim at 5 by jumping into the deep end of the pool and flailing around till I got a hang of it. Nowadays I pause to make sure there’s a life guard on duty and maybe ask for some basic tips.

13, Listen to your gut, your intuition your instincts. If it feels ‘wrong’ pass it on. Not every opportunity is the right one.

14. Know exactly what you want and keep your aim on the goal. Everything else is a hurdle to jump, move around or avoid.  Prioritize accordingly.

15. You got only one person to please. That’s yourself. If you can go to bed at night hungry in a strange bed yet still feel you’ve done a good job you are an entrepreneur.

16.  Find the eye of the storm. If it passes over you grab a rock and cling on with your finger nails. This too will pass.

17. Well minded opportunism is a great asset, the Universe is conspiring with you already. If it seems right don’t hesitate, GO FOR IT

18.  Be kind to yourself. Self care and self love. Eat right. Exercise. And be happy.

19.  Believe in something bigger than yourself.

20. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. ignore the psycho babblers.

feminism31.jpg

NEW BLOG POST: My Top Twenty Lessons of 2012 for Beginning Social Entrepreneurs

1. Be ready to forego some of your creature comforts.  Ain’t easy raising capital. Accumulate your cash.

2. Be ready to be disheartened and disappointed. Don’t waste too much energy on it.  Depression is for the birds

3. You will alienate family and  friends.  Don’t worry about it. They’ll come round when your successful and rich

4. Be methodical. Build your pyramid. The base is always wider and takes more work to build than the top.

5. If its not part of the plan and doesn’t add recognizable value AVOID IT. That includes negative people, get rich quick schemes, unsolicited advise, well or ill meaning people who think they know more about how to run your life than you do and ‘deals’.

6. Remember to service your debts. You don’t want creditors making life complicated but you don’t want to spend all your money paying debt either. Find a balance you can maintain.

7. Always remember your debts.  Be it a debt for a kindness, goods or services. The friend who gave you her couch for some weeks. The vendor that let’s you pay your bills a little late.  You get the drift? The Favor Bank is serious business.

8. Stay in touch with positive energizing people. Its easy to retreat into your shell and sometimes its necessary but its important to stay in touch and cultivate positive progressive people  who make you feel good and who you’ll want to work with in the future.

9. Don’t look down on the ‘little people’. Learn some humility. Life is tough enough. Compassion is a healthy healing feeling.

10. Persist till you breakthrough. Believe that you can. You will

11. Live within your means.  Scrutinize all gifts. You might have short term gratification but you need long term sustainability. Delay gratification.

12.  Entrepreneurs are risk takers.  Learn to mitigate risk. I learnt to swim at 5 by jumping into the deep end of the pool and flailing around till I got a hang of it. Nowadays I pause to make sure there’s a life guard on duty and maybe ask for some basic tips.

13, Listen to your gut, your intuition your instincts. If it feels ‘wrong’ pass it on. Not every opportunity is the right one.

14. Know exactly what you want and keep your aim on the goal. Everything else is a hurdle to jump, move around or avoid.  Prioritize accordingly.

15. You got only one person to please. That’s yourself. If you can go to bed at night hungry in a strange bed yet still feel you’ve done a good job you are an entrepreneur.

16.  Find the eye of the storm. If it passes over you grab a rock and cling on with your finger nails. This too will pass.

17. Well minded opportunism is a great asset, the Universe is conspiring with you already. If it seems right don’t hesitate, GO FOR IT

18.  Be kind to yourself. Self care and self love. Eat right. Exercise. And be happy.

19.  Believe in something bigger than yourself.

20. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. ignore the psycho babblers.

feminism31.jpg

NEW BLOG POST: My Top Twenty Lessons of 2012 for Beginning Social Entrepreneurs

1. Be ready to forego some of your creature comforts.  Ain’t easy raising capital. Accumulate your cash.

2. Be ready to be disheartened and disappointed. Don’t waste too much energy on it.  Depression is for the birds

3. You will alienate family and  friends.  Don’t worry about it. They’ll come round when your successful and rich

4. Be methodical. Build your pyramid. The base is always wider and takes more work to build than the top.

5. If its not part of the plan and doesn’t add recognizable value AVOID IT. That includes negative people, get rich quick schemes, unsolicited advise, well or ill meaning people who think they know more about how to run your life than you do and ‘deals’.

6. Remember to service your debts. You don’t want creditors making life complicated but you don’t want to spend all your money paying debt either. Find a balance you can maintain.

7. Always remember your debts.  Be it a debt for a kindness, goods or services. The friend who gave you her couch for some weeks. The vendor that let’s you pay your bills a little late.  You get the drift? The Favor Bank is serious business.

8. Stay in touch with positive energizing people. Its easy to retreat into your shell and sometimes its necessary but its important to stay in touch and cultivate positive progressive people  who make you feel good and who you’ll want to work with in the future.

9. Don’t look down on the ‘little people’. Learn some humility. Life is tough enough. Compassion is a healthy healing feeling.

10. Persist till you breakthrough. Believe that you can. You will

11. Live within your means.  Scrutinize all gifts. You might have short term gratification but you need long term sustainability. Delay gratification.

12.  Entrepreneurs are risk takers.  Learn to mitigate risk. I learnt to swim at 5 by jumping into the deep end of the pool and flailing around till I got a hang of it. Nowadays I pause to make sure there’s a life guard on duty and maybe ask for some basic tips.

13, Listen to your gut, your intuition your instincts. If it feels ‘wrong’ pass it on. Not every opportunity is the right one.

14. Know exactly what you want and keep your aim on the goal. Everything else is a hurdle to jump, move around or avoid.  Prioritize accordingly.

15. You got only one person to please. That’s yourself. If you can go to bed at night hungry in a strange bed yet still feel you’ve done a good job you are an entrepreneur.

16.  Find the eye of the storm. If it passes over you grab a rock and cling on with your finger nails. This too will pass.

17. Well minded opportunism is a great asset, the Universe is conspiring with you already. If it seems right don’t hesitate, GO FOR IT

18.  Be kind to yourself. Self care and self love. Eat right. Exercise. And be happy.

19.  Believe in something bigger than yourself.

20. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. ignore the psycho babblers.

feminism31.jpg

Chasing my Dreams.

I’m passionate about writing but I dream of building a successful socially responsible enterprise not winning the Caine Prize. It doesn’t matter what it does. It just has to be a successful model of a social enterprise.

I’m 14. I love flipping through the travel mags. Day dream of far away places. I love the luxury hotels. I apply to the London School of Tourism & Hotel Management. I will build the world’s greatest chain of luxury hotels. Father won’t have it. ‘You will stay here. In Nigeria.’

Hotel management isn’t on the JAMB form. I choose Law. The only course available to me with my mix of O Level subjects anyway. All science but no maths. I’m in a hurry. Won’t retake my O level exams. I chose Unijos, my father chooses IMSU.

I’m in a hurry to matriculate, graduate, serve and start MY life. Take charge of me. I’ll build the biggest law firm in Africa employ dozens of lawyers and introduce innovative legal services to help thousands of clients and citizens.

After 5 years in Lagos as a worker I move to Abuja shortly after Abacha takes over and open a law firm. Lagos is chaotic. Crime is worse. New robbery reports and rumours everyday. I’m robbed three times at home. Mugged several times on the street. I feel paranoid. Time to leave.

Abuja seems peaceful and calm. Little crime. Discreet poverty. Street lights work. Water in the plumbing. Regular power supply. When Abacha’s infamous GMC vans drive by or park I feel safe not threatened. Some of his BG’s are friends. We drink together after work. Their vans parked outside.

I’m upset because my proposals are constantly being hijacked. Only a favoured few get jobs from this administration. Other lawyers get fat selling and re-selling over priced properties.

Its 1997. Abuja Agams-Nikova & Associates Ltd started out as a law firm but now designs social innovation projects for public and private sector clients. I’m the architect. I draw the elevation and the floor plan. I let others do structural or electrical but I understand the concepts. .

My enterprise proposals are innovative and cutting edge. I design social innovation models for Nigerian Railway Corporation, Nigerian National Parks Service African Federation of Women Entrepreneurs and several private sector organisations.

The workload is growing fast. Need capital to expand. Raising capital is hard. Do I borrow it? Steal it? Or Marry it? (or fuck it?) I try to borrow. ‘Do you have collateral?’. The banks aren’t lending. There is another banking crisis. CBN mops up. Liquidity tightens. Clients can’t pay on schedule.

I start all over again. Park the enterprise building and the dreams a little bit. Learn some structural and electrical engineering so to speak. I painstakingly build a small non profit project in rural south east Nigeria. Pay attention to the detail. Penance.

I read prevalence and incidence rates for domestic violence DV in Owerri are almost 90% while volunteering at the FIDA Family Law Centre in Abuja. Personally and professionally its a hard decision but the right one.

Obasanjo is sworn in as President after 14 years of military rule. I’m encouraged Nigeria is a democracy again. Maybe I can become that most despicable of things – a politician. Start at the grass roots since I’m in Imo State. They shoot a local politician. He was a vocal reformer. Like me.

Its 2006. I’m a ‘serial social entrepreneur’ according to Ashoka my new employer. I meet lots of other SE’s. There is a name for what afflicts me! Others have it too! I’m relieved and empowered. I help some great SE’s emerge, evolve, and flourish.

We’re all looking for capital to grow. There is very little available to invest in great new ideas. I use my position to talk to banks and private equity firms. Banks are risk averse, private equity is expensive. public funds don’t meet our needs.

A number of focused social venture funds are emerging in the west but they only invest in projects already worth $1 million or more. The SE’s I work with in the region are no where near that value but have outgrown microfinance. .

At the 2008 global HIV/AIDS Conference world leaders announce they’ll commit $16 billion to continue the war against the disease. I meet a doctor in Owerri who tells me how patients receiving free ARV drugs sell them so they can eat and feed their families.

Why won’t world leaders set up an economic fund with $16 billion instead? Help SME’s start up and flourish in the Third World? Why won’t national leaders? The media still reports stories of Abacha’s family suing the Swiss banks for giving us back our money.

I dream of an accessible social venture fund that makes small and medium size investments in African SE’s. I dream of innovative enterprising African SE’s building local economies, adding value and creating wealth.

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