A Conversation with Tolani Odukoya

A Conversation with Tolani Odukoya- 2018 Millennium Fellow, Founder and Executive Director of The Mindset Initiative

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Not everyone is born with the right to an education. “For me, my passion was born out of pain” -Tolani Odukoya

Tolani Odukoya grew up in Lagos, Nigeria in a low-income community. Since his mother could not fund his education, he had to create his own opportunities. In high school, he started working at a local car-wash in order to put himself through secondary school and support his mother financially. Despite spending a significant amount of time earning money to support himself and his mother, Tolani excelled academically and was extremely intelligent. His school-teacher recognized his talent and supported him to go to university.

Having gotten the opportunity to get an education, Tolani founded The Mindset Initiative in order to increase access to education in low-income communities like his own. He explained that in the current educational system, most students pass through school and end up with no tangible skills that can be applied to solve real-world problems. His organisation endeavours to fix this problem by training children between the ages of 12 to 16 on relevant 21st-century skills that prepare them for future employment while also empowering vulnerable girls and women. These children are taught a variety of skills including leadership, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and design via what Tolani calls integrated education. In an increasingly digital world, Tolani has leveraged on teaching technology and innovation concepts and has placed a special focus on computer skills including programming and coding.

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He shared the story of a 13-year-old girl in the Makoko community in Lagos. The entire livelihood of the Makoko community depends on fishing. In fact, most of the children in this community do not go to school. Rather, they learn how to fish. However, this 13-year-old girl from Makoko was able to develop a mobile app that better-connected fishermen to buyers at a fair price, thereby aiding the economy of her community. Tolani said, 'if this young girl could develop such an innovative invention to meet a need in her community using creativity and technology then any child can too, provided they are exposed and empowered with the necessary skills.”

Tolani credits the success of his organisation in no small part to his Millennium Fellowship experience. The Fellowship taught him how to transition his vision to action and exposed him to the relevance and the needs of his community. It also taught him how to become a leader in his community and how to channel his passion productively. He explained that his experience at the Millennium Fellowship taught him the concept of “servant leadership” and how essential it is to be a “servant leader” to thrive and positively impact the lives of others in any organisation.

“I was passionate as an individual but didn’t know how to lead. Once I became a Fellow, I was able to connect with the content of the Fellowship.”

Since leaving the Fellowship Tolani has not only managed to become a leader and launch his educational non-profit but he has also been able to strategise about the future. He hopes that his organisation will one day be a part of the government and that integrated education will be the norm in Nigeria and in Africa at large. He also hopes to continue raising money for his organisation through crowd-funding and grants.