‘You don’t have to be a billionaire to make a positive impact’ – Oluwatola Assan
Today, she is an entrepreneur and the Founder of Fortunate Hands foundation; A non-governmental organization with a vision to care and help improve the wellbeing of the less privileged children. Growing up, her mother not only ensured going to church was compulsory, but she also made her apply what was preached in the church to her daily life, this informed her decision to give back and start an NGO In 2015; where she gives hope to kids in rural areas, enroll them in school and also give them scholarships.
Tola is running her organisation passionately and also combining her educational knowledge for positive results. The young humanitarian who works 9 to 5 alongside running an NGO, shares her aspirations with me in this inspiring interview.
I was born in Lagos to the family of Stephen & Moji Assan. I am the 4th of 4 children so I grew up around siblings. Growing up, my parents didn’t have it all, but we were okay. I attended a boarding house in Epe called Lagos State Model College Igbonla; where I attained my high school degree. The boarding house experience wasn’t exactly pleasant but one common theme between staying in a boarding house and living at home during the holidays was church.
The church was a must while in school and my mum also made sure I went to church while I was home for the holidays. I remember one consistent topic even back then was giving and its benefits, that principle stuck with me and surely has some impact on what I do today.
Inspiration behind Fortunate hands
I always knew I wanted to help others but founding an NGO for that purpose was never in the plan.
I got the inspiration for fortunate hands from a couple of things of which spending time with God would have to come first. I started attending church at a very young age and giving is one of the principles that stuck with me, I can say for a fact that helping the needy comes with benefits. One day I was spending time with God through his word and he directed me to the bible verse that says, “Carry each other’s burdens”. As soon as I read that, I got the vision for fortunate hands foundation; a vision to care and help improve the wellbeing of the less privileged children.
Prior to the NGO being formed, I would render a bit of help to others here and there, but it got to a point I realized I wanted to do more. I know I am failing if I am able to count the number of lives I have touched.
I have to admit I also got some of my inspiration from beggars on the streets, especially those with their children. Each time I walked or drove past them, I felt the urge to help them.
I also get continuous inspiration from the events we have in slum areas; the atmosphere is always the same. The kids always seem so content despite their living condition and I feel joy in my spirit just spending time in such areas and having fun with them.
Nigerian’s and Philanthropy
Only a few Nigerians genuinely support the type of work and this is a good medium to create more awareness. For some reason, most people are unaware of the slum areas that exist, and Lagos alone has about 14 of such areas.
According to trading economics, 50.2% of Nigeria’s population lived in slums and this number can only have increased due to a growing population. Other Nigerians who are aware of such areas have concluded that the improvement of the wellbeing of those who stay in such areas dwells with the government and do not see it as their responsibility. The truth is, one doesn’t need to have billions of Naira to leave an impact in such areas; a little goes a long way. Today the support is quite minimal, but I am sure we will get there as we continue to create awareness.
Balancing it all
Balancing a 9-5 job, a business and a non-governmental organization keeps me very busy. I am not a perfectionist, but I like to be on top of things, I am cognizant of the fact that nobody can treat your business like you so I try to do as much as I can myself. When we have events for the foundation, I get help from the project coordinator and that goes a long way in keeping a balance. I also try to audit my time daily that way I know where I need to focus more time and what activities I need to cut out of my day to maximize my time. I make sure to have “me time” and take a break when I need to.
Challenges from a nongovernmental organization standpoint are numerous. Getting people to buy into a vision they just don’t understand can be discouraging and that is why being passionate about what you do is pivotal to the longevity and impact of the organization. There are a lot of hurdles we have to cross to make a good impact which shouldn’t be so. The biggest challenge comes from the government, they make it difficult to do simple things like enroll kids in school because they require a few letters and approvals; In 2018, the organization was able to enroll a few kids to school in the Ajegunle community and while I thought we just had to select kids, take them to school and make a payment, that sure wasn’t the case.
Another common challenge we face is with the community heads of these slum areas; most of them act as though they are doing you a favor by letting you visit their community.
On giving up
The thought of giving up is an inevitable temptation in life but Christianity has helped me to see it as a no option. Severally, I have thought about just saving up my money for other things that some of my mates own but then I am reminded that is not an option because helping the needy does come with benefits, though not immediate but eternal.
Sometimes I get burned out between running a business, doing a 9-5 and planning events for the organization but I am like I said, giving up is not an option.
In March 2018, I lost Tomi my 15-year-old niece after a brief illness and that was really a trying time because we were very close. Severally I went to church and would remember her during worship and just run out crying, I would go into the toilet at work and cry because I couldn’t focus. This incident did impact my following through on enrolling few kids in school, I wanted it to be for her.
Being a Woman of Rubies
When I hear the word Rubies, precious comes to mind and every precious thing takes time to be created.
That brings me to the bible verse that talks about been “Fearfully & wonderfully made”, which happens to be the theme of our next event in Makoko. I am a woman of rubies because I am fearfully & wonderfully made by God, I hope to be able to make every life touched feel the same way.
Advice for women
You can do anything as long as you are willing to put in the work and go through the hurdles
You can start that business today using funds from your paycheck
You can renew your mind by constantly reading books
Never assume the other person knows, verify by doing your own research
Never be afraid to ask questions from people doing well in that field you want to go into
Build your network and
Remember, you don’t have to be a billionaire to make a positive impact.
As long as you put in the work and never give up, you are unstoppable.
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