Ekiti, despite being one of the smaller states in Nigeria, has a young and innovative population which holds the potential to unlock US$443 million of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for the region’s economy. This information was shared by Olusiji Aina, an Economic Advisor and Advisory Board Member for the US-Africa Trade Council, who spoke at a panel discussion at the recent Youth Event held in partnership between Innovate UK KTN Global Alliance Africa and The Convergence.

With more than 2,000 young people in attendance, the panel was moderated by Eloho Iyamu (Head of Programmes at the Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation), and together with Olusiji Aina, Chief Kola Akosile (Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture), Illesanmi Ade–Ademola (Chief Executive Officer at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Hub), and Uchendu Egbuna (Chief Executive Officer of Elab Impact Consulting), the group explored the potential of innovation to unlock investment and job opportunities for the youth of Ekiti State.

Expanding on his claim, Aina added, “The young people of Ekiti are in a very advantageous position. On one hand, they have been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, while on the other, they have direct access to Nigeria’s large consumer demand. This means that there are ample resources available for them to develop new and exciting products, which can be sold to a market where there is a lot of potential revenue to be generated. If we can help young people to build and scale new businesses, the region stands to benefit tremendously.”  

His thoughts were echoed by Akosile, who agreed that youth innovation in Ekiti State is a vital component of the region’s future success. He added that young people should not shy away from entrepreneurship as a viable career choice amid youth unemployment. Rather, they should embrace the region’s long-standing culture for artisanry – where citizens often build their own homes – and called on attendees to apply this mindset to their careers by becoming innovative artisans.

Source: Innovate UK KTN

However, as Ade-Ademola pointed out, becoming a successful innovator is no easy task: “You can have a great idea, but without the proper support, you won’t get far. This is because as a young person, you don’t have the money, experience or business connections to help you take your idea off the ground.”

In response to this, Ade-Ademola stressed the need for greater support structures targeting youth innovators and entrepreneurs in Ekiti. He added that this demands a multi-stakeholder and collaborative approach which would see the establishment of more technical schools and colleges, where young people can gain a common grounding in how to set up, run and think like a sustainable business.

Expanding on this point, Egbuna introduced the idea of establishing a series of innovation sandboxes for Ekiti’s youth: “I say this because theoretical knowledge of entrepreneurship is one thing, but to truly be innovative, you must understand how to create value. This is something that cannot be fully taught academically. It needs to be complemented with experimentation and hands-on experience, because it is only through trial and error that you become better at creating value and identifying gaps and opportunities in the market.”

To this end, Egbuna explained how sandboxes offer a safe space for young people to ideate, develop prototypes and test them in the market with minimal risk, with the eventual aim of bringing a consumer-optimised product to market. “You must remember that successful businesses are built on well-designed and delivered products. So sandboxes can play a significant role in driving business growth, job creation, and ultimately socio-economic development.”

On enabling youth innovation in Ekiti State, the panelists agreed that support should be provided by a diverse range of organisations, and that no one entity should be solely responsible for empowering young people in the region. Instead, they called for a cooperative and collaborative approach – one where members of the public, private and civil sectors co-create relevant, sustainable and impactful support programmes and mechanisms, to provide young innovators with the knowledge, resources and guidance needed to become successful entrepreneurs.

The panel then concluded with a call to action for the government, the private sector, and society at large to come together to support and invest in young people, and to empower them to drive innovation and development in Ekiti State and beyond.

To learn more about the Youth Event and panel discussion, you can watch the recording of the day’s proceeding here: https://youtu.be/TjvsscOKja0 

About Innovate UK KTN Global Alliance Africa

The Global Alliance Africa project is a six-year project funded by UK Aid through Innovate UK (GCRF) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Four project-level interventions were piloted in 2021 in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, with one of the interventions focused on place-based Innovation in Ekiti State.For more information, please visit www.ktn-uk.org/programme/africa/

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