Olawale Aganga-Williams is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and an expert. He is the Founder of Olawale Aganga-Williams Foundation (OAWF) and the Managing Director, AGFRO Limited, a United Kingdom (UK)-based real estate firm. He is an aspirant for the Ojo Federal Constituency, House of Representatives.
Born February 1, 1985, Aganga-Williams started his primary education at Saint Mary Primary School, Okokomaiko, Ojo Local Government Council of Lagos State and later attended Ijebu Ode Grammar School, Ogun State for his secondary education. He proceeded to the United Kingdom where he earned a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies from South Bank University and also bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Information and Technology from Middlesex University, London.
In this interview he spoke on his passion for the less-privileged in Nigeria and his philanthropic work in Ojo Federal Constituency among other issues.
What informed your decision to float OAWF?
AS a visionary person, I have a strong, vibrant and unflinching commitment towards empowerment of men and women to realise their dreams. My love and passion for humanity made me set up OAWF years ago and the foundation’s aim is to continue to affect the lives of Nigerians positively. This foundation is committed to the growth and progress of everyone, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, tribe, gender, or age.
OAWF is birthed on the urgent need to provide an atmosphere where Nigerians are secure, prosperous and free of poverty. It’s main objectives are to empower Nigerians by providing training opportunities where skills can be learned, jobs for job seekers, education for children and youths, scholarships for the underprivileged as well as an all-inclusive government.
If you have never experienced poverty, you won’t feel the pain of those suffering. I understand that we can’t help everyone; we can’t solve every problem in the country and everyone’s needs can’t be met at the same time, but I also believe in small steps. If we build one shelter today in a local council that could house 500 and provide them with soft skills, give scholarships to those that want to go to schools, then some number of people will be positively impacted.
We are not just looking at one aspect of life, we are trying to focus on where we can actually help people that are going through difficult times in their lives.
Is this philanthropic gesture meant for Ojo people alone or are you considering other areas of Lagos?
I was born in Ojo; I went to primary school in Ojo. There is this friendly joke, ‘if anything good can come out of Ojo,’ So, I said if there is anything good that has come out of Ojo, I’m one of the good things. And I am a proud Lagosian and a proud Nigerian. I grew up in Ojo and I know the challenges there and I am aware of the problems currently facing the people.
They say charity begins at home. So, it’s right for me to start my foundation in Ojo and focus on Ojo people for now. But we have a mission to go international and reach other parts.
How do you intend to achieve this? Is there any mechanism put in place to ensure that those who get the shelters are really the people that really need them?
I think the first thing to do is data collection; we need adequate data. For example, we are currently working on giving out wheelchairs to 100 people and 60 clutches to disable persons. So, the beneficiaries are people known in the area. Everything we are giving out is intended for people that need them. For the wheelchair programme, we have collected data.
In terms of the housing, I understand the difficulties, but I am assuming that they will go to people that need them. The people we are giving accommodation are people that have gone through our shelter system, then through the training programmes and have a job and can pay for food or whatever rent that comes with the property. So, they would have gone through a five or six months period living with us, after which we can allocate their own property to them.
Data is a big issue in every country, even collecting the names of people on a street alone could be a difficult issue, but the foundation is currently collecting data of the people in the area.
Apart from feeding and accommodation, what other things is the Foundation doing?
We are also looking at relief grants.
You came from a wealthy background, how did you become homeless in the UK in your early years there?
That was just I in my own world. My parents and everyone asked me to come back home and I refused and then my funding stopped. But for me, I know some people might look at it in a different way; it was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made. But also, it was the best decision. After a couple of years, it was the decision I made that shaped me. I am thankful for how it happened.
What category of people are you planning to house and provide food for?
We have a number of challenges in my constituency, including erosion and hunger. Many of the market women do not have enough to cater for certain things. So, with the food bank palliative, our focus is to feed as many people as possible and with the support of our partners, we look towards feeding thousands of people.
One thing I tell people is that we can’t continue with the way things are currently being done and when we talk about empowerment, it shouldn’t be just food; it should include training programmes, passing out skills to people so they can learn and be able to stand on their own. So, the major thing is to create awareness for what we are doing.
What is your plan to ensure a reduction in the housing deficit in Nigeria?
Other countries have had the same issue. London had the same issue, because there were few accommodations with more people. So, they tackled the issue by building affordable homes.
In Nigeria, politicians talk about affordable homes just to score points. I think it’s time we need to be sincere and be open to our people. Now is the time we need to show love to one another.
When we talk about affordable homes, the homes should be affordable and the process of getting that shouldn’t be difficult. The data from the Federal Government should be able to identify those that need the homes. The land is not enough in London, but the case is different in Nigeria. We have massive land but there is no property on the land; we need to build more affordable homes and also empower our people with the right skills to get better jobs.
There is little we can do as an NGO, if the government looks at the current state of its people, then it can fine-tune things and make things better for its citizens.
Are you willing to partner with the government?
Our charity’s main focus is feeding the people, training and empowering them, providing them with shelters. So, regardless of how much we want to do these things, we still need the government.
For how long do you see yourself doing this?
I recently secured 500-hospital equipment for Ojo. So, by the grace of God, we will be here for a long.
What are your targets for each of your goals?
The target for this year is to feed at least 10, 000 people and we have only fed 3, 000 and trained 200 people.
What changes did you notice when you returned to Ojo years after?
It is painful to see the current state of Ojo; the roads are worse. The challenges they are facing now are the same challenges they were facing then. The major concern of the people is roads, unemployment, hunger issue, erosion and others.
Have you ever started any project and stopped for religious concerns?
One of our major issues is religion. Religion has kept us in the boxes and hindered so many skills and potential. We have continued to live in a certain way and as long as that continues, we won’t realise our full potential. Culture and religion, especially in Nigeria, are the problems we have.
We pray too much, we focus so much on the heavenly matters and we forget we live on earth, and on the truth, are our challenges. So, instead of praying, why don’t we start working? I am a Christian and I believe in prayer, but let’s work and pray.
We want a better Nigeria and we know that our problem is leadership but we still go to church instead of voting and tackling the issues.
Courtesy: The Guardian