Modeling, data and above all, people — Dr. Tayo Oyedeji mixes in all of these ingredients in his recipe for an all-inclusive economy.
“Economic inclusion, the opening up of economic opportunities to under-served social groups, is integral to achieving a transition toward sustainable economies,” he said.
Oyedeji is a professor, business leader and entrepreneur with expertise in marketing and technology. He runs a group of companies with operations spanning technology, advertising and real estate. He works with the business managers to create value for employees and shareholders.
“Economic inclusion means that we need to develop models for including the most vulnerable in the economy,” Oyedeji said. “It’s everything from providing jobs to providing access to financing for disadvantaged communities. This includes jobs, banks and credit unions, investments, economic opportunities, and entrepreneurial support.
“The government has a major role in this regard, but corporations and non-governmental organizations also have a part to play,” he said. “We need to think beyond the big economic centers to rural areas and pockets of poverty within our cities so we can include more people in the economy.”
For Oyedeji, the objective is to develop “business models that consciously make a difference,” pointing to the innovative Grameen Foundation as a good example.
“The first goal of a business is to remain a profitable going concern,” Oyedeji said. “However, a profitable business will struggle in a floundering economy. Businesses must think beyond the bottom line. They must seek ways to include the most vulnerable in our communities.
“Governments must become a true servant of the people,” he said. “The rich fund campaigns, but the poor are the majority of voters. The government must incentivize corporations and entrepreneurs with a social cause.”
This means entrepreneurs must develop models that address social issues.
“I am working on a free primary healthcare model,” Oyedeji said. “It provides good primary healthcare services to rural areas.
“We need to focus on educating the masses,” he said. “Otherwise, everything else will fail.”
Oyedeji has been disappointed by the results of seed funds, thinking that a combination of those funds plus mentorship and education might work better, especially with an added emphasis on female participation.
“I am particularly bullish about educating and empowering girls and women,” he said. “Empowered women often build up the community, while empowered men often build up themselves.”
He emphatically agreed that lack of money knowledge contributes to less economic inclusion, drawing from personal experience.
“We grew up with parents who never domesticated money,” Oyedeji said. “We never learned about stocks, shares, money markets or mutual funds. I had to take a six-week course on personal finance to get me on the right financial path.
“We often underestimate the values of things we don’t know,” he said. “It’s impossible to lift yourself out of poverty if you don’t learn to save more, invest more, watch your investments and grow your investments. That’s why I teach personal finance.”
He cited challenging youth unemployment statistics: almost 50 percent in South Africa; about 38 percent In Nigeria; and about 25 percent in Kenya.
“We need to get our young people working,” Oyedeji said. “If we can provide education and job opportunities for young people, this continent would soar.”
Impatience and the temptation of a fast return have proven to be detriments.
“Crypto currencies, foreign exchange trading, sports betting and all these quick-money models are thriving because people want it now,” Oyedeji said. “It’s difficult to wait and invest carefully, but it’s the only way to lasting success.”
To that end, he is trying to build a pan-Africa financial literacy training model that will be simple and straightforward.
“Some models include starting a business to fund the social enterprise,” Oyedeji said. “For instance, have a bank that funds schools in poor places. Other models would find ways to deliver quality cheaply. My mom runs a school that charges $100 a year and provides great education to poor kids.”
The objective is to empower people so they can sustain themselves economically.
“We must start with education,” Oyedeji said. “Across Africa, free, public, elementary education is a mess. Schools are dilapidated; teachers are unmotivated; and the kids barely learn. Middle-class people have migrated to private schools.
“We can’t fix anything until we improve the education system,” he said. “My kid’s public school in America has a recreational swimming pool. That’s unfathomable in Africa, but the politicians all have private jets.”
Redirecting budgets toward education is a must.
“Our people have more money than we give them credit for,” Oyedeji said. “A lot of them just don’t know how to grow their money. So, they spend it on frivolous things.
“Without a social net, people can’t dream lest they fall and die,” he said. “Apple, HP and Amazon all started in a garage. The founders knew that they wouldn’t die of hunger if the businesses failed, so they dreamt. How many Africans can work on a business for two years with no income?”
That brought Oyedeji back to women entrepreneurs.
“Female empowerment is the most important resolution we must pursue,” he said. “Without empowered women, our entire continent will fail. Women grow communities.”
As meager as economies are, Oyedeji credits them with at least beginning.
“Let’s start from where we are, but we must never stay there,” he said. “We must learn to dominate the global market. The S&P 500 is calling. Dow Jones is calling. We can’t just exist in our little world anymore.”
Another challenge for economic inclusion is colorism.
“People of color have been subjugated for the past 300 years,” Oyedeji said. “Our skin color is synonymous with poverty and degradation, but it’s a mirage. Black people are rising up everywhere to demand economic empowerment. We must educate ourselves to win in today’s world.
“Nobody will give us anything,” he said. “We must fight tooth and nail for every advantage we get. I remembered a white professor once asked me why I worked so hard in grad school. I told her it’s because I am black and African. We must do twice as much to get half as much.”
Though daunting, surrender is not an option.
“We can’t stop working and fighting because of the pains of racism and injustice,” Oyedeji said. “We only justify their skepticism about us when we don’t give life our best.
“We must recognize the injustice, fight against it and work hard to reverse years of discrimination,” he said.
One way to battle for success is with an ally.
“Partnerships on the individual level are part of the solution to economic inclusion,” Oyedeji said. “My friend is a tech guru but horrible at finance and management. So, we have a partnership that builds tech businesses. He runs tech; I run operations. That’s how we win.
“Too many African governments are also trying to run businesses,” he said. “They need to butt out of businesses and partner with the private sector to move us forward.”
For Oyedeji, these elements will bring economic inclusion:
- Educate people.
- Provide jobs.
- Empower women.
- Build social enterprises.
- Teach financial planning.
- Build sustainable partnerships.
- Eliminate the stigma of racism.