‘I have passion to help young people realise their potential’
Misan Rewane is passionate about using education to impact on youths and effect change. Now in her early 30s, this young lady has previously worked at Monitor Group, Technoserve, Bridge International Academies, and The Center for Public Policy Alternatives. She has also co-founded IMPACT Initiative (a youth development non-profit organisation), and Designing Futures (an education incubator). Her activities have definitely made her a force to reckon with when it comes to positively influencing the young minds. She is Chief Executive Office (CEO) and co-founder of West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE). Using her vocational training model, she reaches out to millions of youths across West Africa, opening them up them for employment opportunities and getting them set to face the real world. Victoria Olisa met the lady with an iron will to replicate models in several jobs across African shores during their graduation ceremony recently in Lagos.
I was born and raised in Lagos. I attended Corona School and Lagoon Secondary School. Later, I travelled abroad to study at Stanford University, and Harvard Business School. I had always wanted to be a teacher when I grow up, as I enjoyed learning and had a great admiration for those whom my formal learning was their responsibility. However, besides my teachers in school, most people I shared this ambition with were not quite thrilled by the idea, as that happened to be the “beginning of the end” era where teachers were no longer appreciated and looked up to in our society.
All about WAVE
Admission and training in WAVE academy is free as we charge placement fees which only come up when we have secured them with a job, which is equivalent of their first month salary. After that, we don’t make any demands from them. The course is for three weeks, of which they undergo entry-level skills training on teamwork, communication, problem-solving, time management and managing expectation. We also send them to various organisations and companies within this period to exercise what they have been taught. Presently, 35 people just graduated bringing our total number of WAVE alumni to 528. There are jobs that we have made available for them. One other thing we do is to establish relationship with employers who will take these people. We have four academies in Yaba, Lekki-Ajah, Festac and Maryland, which give people access to attend any close to them.
Her driving force
I have been passionate about helping young people realise their potential for as long as I can remember. From community service in secondary school to volunteering to tutor children in reading and math during my university years, most of my extra-curricular activities had involved working with children and youth. I’ve been involved with another organisation, the IMPACT Initiative, (which works with secondary school and university students to discover their academic and career potential) for the past 10 years.
While doing my NYSC in 2011, I was struck by the number of job vacancies I would receive from friends and contacts seeking great candidates but moaning at the lack of such. On the other hand, I would meet young people everyday that shared their struggles on the job market, and these were chronic issues, not just a temporary state of affairs. Young people didn’t seem to have the skills and mindset that employers were looking for. So, the idea for WAVE came the following year from brainstorming with fellow Harvard Business School (HBS) classmates who were similarly West African and passionate about the youth unemployment problem in the region. We met at the end of our first year of Business School when someone said to me, “You should speak to these guys who seem to also be interested in development stuff in Africa.” So, I chased them up and we had our first meeting in the Harvard Innovation Lab, chatted for hours about what a solution could look like … a one-time meeting became monthly, then weekly meetings. Then we got funding from HBS to do some on-the-ground research to test the viability of the idea. We applied for the HBS New Venture competition and won the runner-up prize, which gave us the seed funding to implement the idea.
Initiative behind WAVE
WAVE’s mission is to increase incomes for unemployed youths in West Africa and we do this by getting young people ready for work and connecting them to the right entry-level jobs. We identify self-motivated young people who are willing to learn and desperate to change their disadvantaged circumstances. We train them intensively for three weeks in work-readiness skills and connect them to entry-level jobs in high-growth industries. 80per cent of our alumni go on to get employment in the hospitality; 70-75 per cent are into retail sectors (retail is actually growing faster than hospitality for us) through our own network of employer partners and another 5-10per cent with employers outside our network. Another 5-10 per cent go back to some form of education, part-time employment or self-employment. We look forward to run an independent evaluation of our impact this year that will examine what the employment, income and career trajectory has been for the close to 500 young people who have graduated from the program since 2013.
Challenges faced over the years
Well, lack of integrity, accountability and inability to trust that people will deliver on what they commit to do and finding it hard to hold them accountable in those situations. From late payments to vendors executing poorly after they’ve been paid.
Young people’s expectations of what they are entitled to; we had the capacity to train 600 youths in our academy last year, yet we struggled to operate at 50 per cent of our capacity because we couldn’t find young people who were willing to take the first step of starting at the bottom with an entry-level job (and pay) that’s not an “office job.” Most people feel they deserve to earn more when they don’t have the commensurate experience or haven’t even demonstrated what value they can bring to the table (which is more than what one says in an interview – value addition is best demonstrated when you start the job).
What we tell our trainees is that their first year on the job will simply be about learning while adding value – it will not be about making enough money to save for anything. The skills and values we teach them at WAVE will allow them to stand out in that first year such that in their second year, they’ll be able to request a raise or even be promoted because they’ve demonstrated they can be an A-player regardless of how hard or menial the work may seem. Thus begins the trajectory of growth and development with the commensurate income growth. Not many young people are willing to make that sacrifice and take the first step. They’d rather “sit and wait” for the “right opportunity.” That being said, of the 3,000 eligible applicants we had last year, less than 600 of them fit the profile we were looking for and demonstrated the willingness to learn and self-motivation we seek in our candidates.
Five years from now, we would like to see our models replicated across several job markets beyond Nigeria, with employers “hiring for attitude and training for skill,” therefore being more inclusive of non-traditional (non-graduate and non-credentialed) candidates. We would like to have influenced the incorporation of life skills and soft skills into secondary education curriculum in Nigeria and other West African countries so that young people graduating from our secondary schools can transition seamlessly into the workforce if they do not have the option to further their education.
My role models are the young people we serve who go through so much in life and still keep giving it their best.
Advice for youths
Dream big, start small.
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