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Inspiration Africa: “We have to collaborate and see how we can make a quick impact.” – Tokunbo Durosaro, Director, Oando Foundation

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” – Aristotle

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” – Sydney J Harris

The mind has to be the most intriguing aspect of the human race, because therein lies the power to carve out both negativity and productivity. In the words of the late Icon and Global leader, Dr Nelson Mandela; he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”

As part of our goal in celebrating the doers and changers of the African Continent, Today on Inspiration Africa, we talk to Ms Tokunbo Durosaro, Director of the Oando Foundation, an education charity making a difference in its own little way by focusing and adopting primary schools across Nigeria. The goal of the Oando foundation is to catch them young and help in securing the best educational foundations for the next generation of children.

We sat down with her at her 10th floor office with a magnificent and productivity muse view of the city of Lagos, and she shares with us her journey and experience over the past decade as former Corporate Communications officer of Oando and now Director of the Oando Foundation.

Here are excerpts from her chat with us. Be inspired!

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Can you tell us a little bit about Ms Tokunbo Durosaro, and the work you do with the Oando foundation and a little something different from the press write-ups so far about you?

I am Tokunbo Durosaro, I have been here at Oando for 14 years. I was actually charged with doing the rebranding of the company when I first started; I headed up the Corporate Communications department. I am married with two beautiful kids, a boy and a girl, thankfully.

A couple of years ago the Executive Management of Oando looked at our Corporate Social Responsibility portfolio and felt there was a lot more we could do than just having a CSR department in the organisation and thought why don’t we start a foundation that focuses on education? Considering the statistics and the issue with education in Nigeria, and as a Nigerian organization employing Nigerians, we wanted to ensure that there was some form of hope and future for the kids coming up after us, hence birthing the Oando Foundation.

Before your position as the Director of the Oando Foundation, you worked with the oil and gas section of the company as Chief Corporate services officer; why do you think you were selected to head the charity aspect of the organisation, and how has it been leaving the corporate aspect of oil and gas for the more humane and emotional field of education charity under Oando?

I still ask myself that question, why was I chosen to head this very humbling position? Firstly, I think it’s because of my communications background, being able to communicate with people as well as my PR and marketing expertise. I had been with Oando for 10years at the time; it was a new challenge for me, yes I do agree that the Not-for-profit world is completely different to your mainstream business sector, but still; you are running business all the same and things have to work. Once you set out with that strategy, there are a lot of people looking up to you to make sure that you are doing what you say you are doing; so if you don’t have the funds you have to look for the funds. In this sector, you cannot afford for things not to work, promises cannot go unfulfilled; e.g. you are paying scholarships of amazing little children with great potentials and you can’t wake up one day and say you can’t pay scholarships; I have to find the funding for scholarships. You have to run it like a business and things have to work.

Not-for-profit is challenging because you are dealing with multiple NGO’s and you are also dealing with children, children are very sensitive, you have to ensure you communicate with all your stakeholders and make your vision as plain as possible, as they are the ones executing on the field, if they don’t see your vision, how then are they able to understand, dream, live and breathe your vision on a daily basis?

Most charity organisations shy away from education because it requires more funds/resources in terms of scholarships cost and all, why has the Oando foundation chosen to concentrate on education?

We had a big strategy session with our consultants where we mapped out where we needed to make optimum impact, we brainstormed and weighed between the choices available and the help needed, we had to deliberate on Health issues, climate changes, women empowerment and education just to mention a few. We looked at some of these things, comparing our vision with what other foundations already had on ground and realized the focus on Primary education was next to none, a fact rising from the long term investment required in primary education – People were not focusing on primary education because there are no quick ways to it, it will take a long time to realize your investment, and at the same time we realized catching these potentially great minds meant we could make life long impacts by catching them young. A lot of organisations mostly focus on secondary and tertiary education, so we thought this is a gap in the market, this is an issue to be addressed, let’s catch them young; let them understand the importance of education at an early age because if they do, they are likely to succeed in their education.

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With your work so far, how can the education system in Nigeria be revamped from your personal perspective and that of the Oando Foundation, as a spokesperson for the foundation?

More “Private-Public Partnerships”! The population of this country has grown over the last decade and a lot of the resources from the government have spread very thin because of the impact of population growth. The reason I say “Private-Public Partnerships” is because as an organisation that employs Nigerians, we have to build the capacity of Nigeria – I believe every organisation in this country should adopt a school at least, if you think of it; if every corporate entity adopts a school and go into “Private-Public Partnerships” with the government they would be able to help with the resources constraints, they would also be able to look at the infrastructure, teacher trainings et.al.

In terms of Foundations and Corporate Social Responsibility, there is no point in Tokunbo or the Oando foundation doing one school and another corporate organisation comes along and tries to do it all over again; we have to collaborate. For instance, Oando Foundation takes infrastructure, another foundation takes teacher trainings or health education; we will probably get a lot more done. Foundation work is not and should never be about competition, we have to try to do something for the better good of this country, so I think we have to come together, we have to collaborate and see how we can make a quick impact. There are currently 10.5 million children out of school, and with 2015 around the corner, millennial development goals 2015, time is almost up; have we achieved access to basic education? Unfortunately not! A lot of work needs to be done and Oando Foundation alone cannot do it, this would take collaboration and more private partnerships.

When you give children six years of primary education, what’s next for them?

A lot of people have asked me this question – We choose 10 best students every year from our adopted schools to advance to secondary school which kind of helps them. I believe there are quite a few scholarship initiatives that are available and a lot of people focus on the secondary and tertiary education. We also focus on the girl child; it is a catch 22, as we can’t put all the kids from our adopted schools into secondary schools. But our initiative gives them that much needed foundation.

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Many people would ask that an organisation as big as Oando and their massive pockets, why would the foundation be focused solely on education, why not the much needed healthcare services?

We have chosen to do education because there are quite a lot of organisations out there with focus on helping in the healthcare sector. What we are trying to do, is to partner with those who will bring health education into our schools. There are a lot of health issues and other health education topics that we are no experts on, so we are looking to partner with those who have the extensive knowledge on these issues.

How does Oando Foundation plan to lobby with lawmakers like most private institutions in the UK and US to help pass positive laws with regards to education, laws that ensure that parents are accountable for their children being in school?

I think there are laws, whether they are enforceable or not is another issue. Delta state started something called the “EDUMARSHAL”, they have marshals on the street during school hours who enforce the right measures when they find kids out of school during school hours. Don’t forget, we are dealing with extreme poverty. An illiterate parent that needs food on the table will not understand the long term effect of education, they need that child to bring that money home and now or else they will starve, so you have to balance that, when you also look at the girl child most are used as domestic workers.

In most developed nations, 20percent of their GDP is used on education while in Nigeria education gets about 8 percent which is really small, again you can have the policy, but if you don’t have money to fund it, there is little you can do.

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The Clinton Global Initiative?

There are two things that we have going with the Clinton Global Initiative – One is the Oando Foundation and the Clinton Initiative to adopt a 100 schools by 2015. The other, is the British Council initiative to get 30,000 girls back into school.

There are currently 36million girls out of school globally, of which 6million of those are in Nigeria and we really need to help the girl child in Nigeria, they are just as important as the boy child and this has reinforced our commitment. With that said, we are going to be doing a lot of advocacy campaigns; the British Council is quite strong and grounded, they will be pushing their advocacy via the traditional rulers, the chiefs , the community and then the parents, as they are the ones who need to be educated on why their kids need to attend school.

If you had to describe your experience in both the business world and the charity field in a few words, what would they be?

In Business –

Aggressive, Fast track – you have to get things done quickly, you have to be efficient, effective and focused.

In the Not-for-profit

You have to know how to BEG! It is a humbling experience, because you see the people who don’t see or appreciate what we do with the public schools, but you have to keep working, which is really humbling and satisfactory because helping one child goes a long way.

It is also a bit challenging, and can sometimes be overwhelming and emotional especially when you achieve success with one school and you get to another school and discover how bad things are, and you are gobsmacked knowing you have to start the whole process again.

What drives you?

Success and Passion! I want to succeed in everything that I do, to achieve my set objectives. I have objectives to meet and that drives me. To be able to hear “Toks” this is what we want you to do and be able to run with it and succeed at it; that alone gives me satisfaction.

You are a big supporter of women in business, what are some of those things that you think women should do/know in order to get to the next level of their careers/endeavours?

Never give up, never ever give up and “Never be Emotional. I used to be emotional when I was much younger and I had to take that out the window, never give up and never take No for an answer.

I never take NO for an answer; I believe there is always a way to get things done; where there is a will there is a way to see things through.  Men don’t give up, they always find a way to ensure things work, so women need to be focused and never give up. Women are blessed with the ability to multitask; we take care of our homes, children and still chase our careers. It is in us, don’t be lazy and be a good role model.

Do good girls get the corner office?

Getting the corner office or rising to the pinnacle of your career is based on performance. I will not give you kudos if you are not doing well at work, we are here for a purpose, we are here to achieve something and we have set targets; but I think you have to be harsh, aggressive, determined and focused. When you work in a team – a football team comes to mind, tired players are swapped and non performing ones are benched and so sometimes you have to make those harsh calls because you have a goal to meet, you have a set target and you have to make sure you achieve it or you will be replaced.

So, it is hard to say any man or woman has risen up the ladder without getting a few people’s feelings hurt along the way, but you are not at work to be liked, you are there to do your job; you have to make people understand that it is not about me not liking you or your liking me. I guess stereotypically, people see women who are achievers /successful as aggressive, that is just a stereotype – If you look at the Margaret Thatcher’s of this world, the Condoleezza Rice and all those high achieving women, I am guessing they are not easy people to deal with. I think it is all about the person, they must have put in their best to achieving something and success with their lives.

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Mr Wale Tinubu, the CEO of Oando is a widely recognized and celebrated business giant in the Oil and Gas sector. How has it been working with such a distinguished businessperson and what are some of those lessons you have learnt from working with him?

 I will never forget what Mr Wale Tinubu once said to me – “Only the Paranoid Survive”. Be paranoid that every single thing is going to go wrong, when you are paranoid about things going wrong, then you better find a way to fix it and that remains one big lesson I have learnt from him. When I set out to achieve a goal, I am paranoid about everything going south; I ask myself, if this goes wrong what should we do? How do we fix it?

He is also an excellent boss; I have to say; obviously that is why I have been here for so long, he lets you do the job because he believes he has hired you as an expert, he doesn’t dictate to you what to do, instead he lets you set your targets and run with it. He is much focused, ambitious and works hard at a very fast pace; you have to keep up with his work ethics and that has helped me in the way I think and do things.

If you had a room full of aspiring young business people, what are those things you’d like them to know about succeeding in the business world today?

Be honest, be ambitious, do your research, always know your facts, know your environment and your competitors. Have a goal/mission and stick to it, too many young people start goals and quit so easily along the way. Set yourself realistic targets, you have to be professional; being professional sets you apart and shows a clear difference between you and others. Your integrity also matters, always keep to your words, if a document is due; make sure you put it forward as promised.

Lastly, 30 years from now, what would you want the world to remember Ms Tokunbo Durosaro for when your name is mentioned?

A strong successful woman with a lot of energy and passion! A determined woman who is passionate about her work, a goal getter!

Olushola Pacheco

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