Did Teni the entertainer lie to us?
‘But my papa no be Dangote or Adeleke, but we go dey ok yea yea
….I go call M.C Oluomo’
-Teni the entertainer, Case
The lines above are the most well known from Teni the entertainer’s hit song, Case. She insinuates, that even if you don’t have parents who are rich business men like Dangote or influential politicians like Mc Oluomo or Adeleke, it’s still possible to thrive in today’s Nigeria. But how true is that?
Nigeria is a very low trust society, where ‘family names’, ‘connections’ and reputations matter a lot. Is it really possible for a young person to get ahead without the social capital that these associations bring?
Princeton Researchers John Darley and Paget Gross performed an experiment where students were divided up into two separate groups. One group was shown a video of the subject 9 year old ‘’Hannah’ growing up in a poor environment. The other group was shown the same child, growing up in a wealthy environment.
Subsequently, the entire group was then shown the same video of ‘Hannah’ being interviewed about maths/social science and general knowledge. The students that thought ‘Hannah’ grew up rich rated her as more sociable, intelligent and articulate, than people that thought she grew up poor.
This experiment shows that very notion that a person grew up poor, makes others view them as less intelligent/capable. So there is already solid sociological research that Teni the entertainer lied to us.
Furthermore, this piece from the Economist concludes that the easiest way to be successful and wealthy in life is to be born to the right parents.Although it varies between countries, overall majority of people that are born into poor families stay poor.
If you want to live the American dream, move to Norway
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility (a person’s ability to move to from a lower to a higher social class) for the family and children, are achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.
Unfortunately, the United States has a far lower level of social mobility that even its own citizens believe. In the US, for example, over 50% of children from the highest-income families get a university degree while this figure falls to 7% among the lowest-income families.
Nigeria is similar in that social mobility has not improved since independence.A recent World Bank study concluded that in Nigeria, sons could expect to make 60–70% less than their friends if their father earns half of their friend’s father’s income.
The countries where social mobility is the highest are the Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Basically, you are far more likely to live the ‘American dream’ in Norway than America.
So should all people born into poorer families give up on their dreams? Definitively not!
Here are five things you can do to increase your chances if you live closer to Surulere than Sweden:
1. Get into a good university
Getting into the Nigerian Ivy league will help give a solid educational background. Often you will have to work a part time job to support your studies through university, so an ability to manage time and financial discipline are essential.
Unlike your rich friends whose daddies will be making phone calls to get them the juiciest jobs. Your father will not be making any calls. Therefore it is imperative for students from poorer backgrounds to work towards a first and at the very least a 2:1 as your CV will be the only thing speaking for you.
The Alumni networks of prestigious universities are also useful career building tools for example, the famous ‘Nsukka Mafia’ . The Nsukka Mafia are a group of massively successful Nigerians that all attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka include Kingsley Moghalu, Obi Ezekwesili , Arunma Oteh and Godwin Emefiele. They have gone on build global brands and are among the most accomplished Nigerian’s on the planet.
2. Work in financial services
The Economist explains that the best type of industry to work in when trying to level up is the financial services industry.
There are many exams you can take to make your CV look more impressive as entry level finance professional. Take them all.
The accountant next door suggests exams like ACCA, CIMA, ICAN, CPA, ICAA. For aspiring investment bankers, you may be better off doing an MBA. Poor kids are less likely to be able to take the 1–2 years off work required to do a full time MBA, but there are plenty of online MBA options that allow you to work whilst you study. Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) made history as the first university in the Nigeria to have a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) programme accredited by NUC to be delivered in e-learning mode. It costs just N20,000 per course. There are also foreign options for as low as $5000 for the entire online MBA program.
You also MUST be excellent at what you do in the office. Working your way out of poverty is serious business and you must make yourself indispensable at work.
3. Realise it will take longer
Mr Jim Ovia describes in his book how he supplemented his income with revenues from his labour intensive used car business. He partnered with a local mechanic to refurbish older cars, respraying them and repairing any mechanical faults to go on and sell.
Without the networks, security, mentorship and relationships that a wealthy family gives you it may take a lot longer to reach your goals.
You may have perhaps start a less glamorous business to provide the cash flow and stability to get to the business/career that you want.
It will also take longer for a person to be able to trust you enough to become your career sponsor. And in Nigeria today, it’s difficult to ascend in business, corporate life or a political career without a sponsor.
4. Grow your network
Poverty isn’t just a lack of money, its isolation from the type of people that can help you make the most of your talents. As explained in this video, poor kids simply cannot access the networks that rich kids naturally have access to.
I remember a quote from Politician Newt Gringrich after he literally ended Speaker Jim Wrights career in one of America’s most interesting political battles.
‘I have watched colleagues body language towards me, its actually improved. If I had gone after O’Neil this hard I would have been an outcast. Wright was a good technocrat, but poor at using political power. He was a loner. That isolated him from both goodwill and information’ (Paraphrased)
I think this is exactly the type of isolation that many young people from poorer backgrounds face. They simply have to work harder to access the goodwill and information to help them build their businesses/careers.
But here are two hacks:
a) Use social media to your advantage and follow people like @momentswithbren and @ogbenidipo on Twitter for the latest scholarships, career advice and grant opportunities.
b) You also must remember that networking is just another word for giving. Learn to build authentic relationships with people and add value/continually find ways to be of service to that network.
5. Be aggressive about self development
When I first started university I couldn’t afford a computer. But I eventually was able to save up and buy a used, desktop from a friend and housemate in the computer science dept who refurbished it for me.
When Matt was sitting on the floor with a bucket load of tools, trying to get my old dusty computer working, I had no idea that he was opening me up to a whole new world of learning via educational websites, online short courses, personal development youtube videos and lots more.
Access to the internet opened up a whole new world of learning and growth for me. Make sure the the internet works for you too. Use websites like Coursera and Edx to make sure you stay at the top of your field. Mastermind groups and accountability partners can also help you develop yourself.
Carla Harris, who I referenced earlier in this article calls this building performance currency; your performance on the job! Harris says ‘ You gain performance currency when you under promise and over deliver’.Ensuring that your on-the-job skills are in tip top condition helps you do that.
Now back to Teni the entertainer. Did she lie? I think its a much more difficult route, but I do believe there is a route to success for young people from poorer backgrounds. The five steps above, should take you closer to your goals.
We can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us,
But even so, we are free to choose,
Free to become great by choice.
Written by Dr Ola Brown (Orekunrin)
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