Can anything good come out of Ajegunle, a popular Lagos ghetto? Many good things have come from the place; the latest being the achievements of students of Caro Favoured Schools, Awodiora. At the eighth regional Junior Achievements Company of the Year Competition featuring 50 pupils aged 14 to 18 from 11 African countries, a student-based socio-technological firm, Inventive Explorers Company, affiliated to Caro Favoured Schools, made Nigeria proud. It won the Junior Achievements Africa Company of the Year 2018 Award, Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports.
Guests at the Hill View Guest Centre, Teiman Abokobi, Accra, Ghana, venue of the awards, were in the mood for celebration. But to the pupils, the yearly regional contest was not for merry making as anxiety was high among them.
For the representatives of the host country Ghana, the Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe, the stake was high.
Forty pupils competed for the grand prize – Company of the Year Award – and other awards by pitching their firms and products. They engaged in a boardroom experience with a panel composed of international and Ghanaian professionals and influencers. Also in attendance were business professionals, students and dignitaries from participating countries.
The innovative ideas that were presented by the student teams confirmed that Africa has a strong cohort of budding entrepreneurs who can take action for the benefit of their countries and Africa.
The grand prize was won by Inventive Explorers from Nigeria, which developed a rechargeable, hand-held traffic light for sale to schools, local communities, and police stations. The second position went to Nazware Innovations PTY from the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), which created a digital voting app for schools to eliminate lines and other voting delays during election.
Vermo from Ghana and Nyunyiza from JA Kenya tied for the third place.Vermo uses virtual reality to make learning more interesting and fun for students, while Nyuniza uses data analytics to make farms more efficient, especially when using scarce resources like water.
The theme of the competition was: ‘Tech the future by storm’. The keynote speaker, Dr. Tetteh Nettey, urged the students to persevere in the midst of challenges. He said: ‘’Failure is never a destination but a stepping stone to success.’’
The Inventive Explorers Company’s rechargeable hand-held LED traffic light device did not only win the grand prize, it also won the FedEx Access Award (which recognises a business that exhibits the principles of global connectivity), Coca-Cola award (acknowledgement of demonstration of team work) and best facilitator in Africa award.
The student company also got a prize of $1000, while AjegunleTo The World gave an award of N500,000 to the students in appreciation of their hard work.
Inventive Explorers Company’s success did not come on a platter of gold. Since joining the Junior Achievers Nigeria (JAN) in 2013, it has failed four times. Its success was as a result of perseverance, hard work and learning from its past mistakes. In June 2016, the school emerged winner of Junior Achievements Company of the year award and represented Nigeria in Zimbabwe but did not come home with any laurel. But in 2017, it came third in western region contest and that qualified it for the national competition where it came second.
Caro Favoured Schools Managing Director Mr. Ebuka Ughamadu, who led the team to Ghana, said he was not surprised when his school was announced as winner of grand prize, because they had done their homework.Ughamadu won the best facilitator award.
“At the competition, I saw hard work. But after seeing other presentations, I was not troubled. Before the ceremony I told the students not to panic, but be themselves and have fun because we have done our homework in Nigeria. My pupils got confident and bold. The award presentation to Caro Favoured School in Ghana last year, was the most memorable day in my life.
“Also, announcing me as the best facilitator in Africa made it a worthy day to celebrate. There were four pupils on the contingent, a teacher-representative, and two JAN representatives.
“This feat has opened the pupils’ eyes to opportunities like scholarship outside the country. I thank Junior Achievements Nigeria, the pupils, and the school. Interestingly, only one student is a science student out of the four students who represented the company. The programme has encouraged science students to learn marketing, accounting and related fields,” he said.
Back home in Ajegunle, it was a rousing welcome to the African champion, Caro Favoured Schools.
Recalling the heroic welcome, Ughamadu said: “When we got to Lagos airport, delegates from our school were there to receive us. It was the loudest reception I have ever received. On arrival on December 9, we rode in a convoy of four buses from Mile 2 to the local government secretariat drumming and rejoicing through the streets. Our joy knew no bound as no one thought an African champion could come out of Ajegunle, a slum.
“In fact, on that day, the school was shut down in order to celebrate the award. Up till now, we have not met with our major sponsors. But we are grateful to JAN, AjegunleTo the World and the school PTA. The lesson from this feat is that institutions should not just be places of awarding certificates and degrees. They should expose students to the various opportunities, potential and challenges their parents face in the larger society.”
The winning product
JAN, which was founded by Mrs Simi Nwogugu 20 years ago, gives assignments to schools after teaching the students entreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. It will then ask the students company to go into their communities and identity problems, which they should proffer solution. At Ajegunle, traffic congestion is a major menace. Leaving home for school and back has always been a huge task and sometimes affect students’punctuality at school. Sometimes, the students have witnessed accidents on the road and as such, they decided to identify the role they need to play. Ajegunle roads do not have any standing functional traffic light even with the menace of the trailers and tankers on its roads.
The unique features about the product are that it is handy, rechargeable and its light can travel up to 100 meters in the night. In the day, it can travel about 50 meters. The life span of the battery is up to five hours. Also, it comes in various sizes and LED bulbs.
The students also felt that the use of a red flag and hand gestures by traffic wardens to direct traffic is cumbersome and less effective, hence the design of the rechargeable hand-held LED traffic light device. In a way, the students felt that the use of a red flag makes motorists to feel like they are buffalos.
Inventive Explorers Company’s vision is to invent with the ability to explore. Founded on January 15, last year, the company sold shares that yielded a capital of N74 000, as part of their initial investment.
Head of Finance, Miss Uchechukwu Fredricks said: “Last year, JAN introduced to us a company programme that will be manned by SS2 students to carry a social responsibility programme for our community. We are a company of 20 members and a 10-member executive. We carried out research on what is lacking in our society. We thought what could also solve such a problem. We arrived at producing a handy traffic light device. To raise capital for the project, we sold shares to investors.
‘’After producing the device, we were expected to also do corporate social responsibility to the community. This made us to carry out the painting of Zebra Crossing on some major roads and put caution signs in the area.”
The school’s Proprietress, Mrs. Caro Ughamadu, described the feat as a journey of consistency and God’s work. “Having nurtured the school to this level, it was not a surprise package because we worked hard for it. I know I have been digging deep to get that goldmine. Today, I am glad that we are number one in Ajegunle, if not in Lagos. Something good or even better can come from Ajegunle.
“The school started from lesson classes, then nursery to primary. After primary, we sent the pupils to other schools to continue their secondary education. But with pressure from parents, we had the secondary school. Since 2008, the school’s West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) results have been excellent, except for a session,” she noted.
Principal of the school, Mark Okoh said the school was sure it would do better at the African level. He added: ‘’We knew the hurdles to cross, and each of the stage prepared us for a higher challenge. The news of the award was a mixed feeling of surprise and assurance.’’
He, however, noted: ‘’There were challenges of funding and bureaucratic bottlenecks, which slowed down our planning. The bottlenecks were many, but we turned them into opportunities.’’
Caro Favoured Schools’ feat is an example of a successful town-gown synergy that is essential in the socio-economic growth of Nigeria. Since 1999, JAN has impacted over 900,000 youths covering 22,000 classrooms in over 30 cities with 2,500 volunteers in the country.