According to two prize-winning Nigerian entrepreneurs, the keys to successful social entreprise include focusing on a problem, empathy for people who have that problem, and iteration for a high-quality product.
Dimeji Falana and Dare Adebayo graduated from the same computer science programme at University in Nigeria in 2010. Soon afterwards, they started a business as software developers, winning big clients such as banks and the Nigerian government.
But they always knew their computer programming skills could be used to serve causes closer to their hearts.
Indeed, when they were still at university, one of their friends was experiencing difficulties running a school that was seeing increasing rates of enrolment but deteriorating quality of schooling.
So Falana and Adebayo developed a programme to help speed up teachers’ administrative processes and tasks, allowing them to focus on improving their teaching and classroom practice.
Fast-forward to 2018, and their solution has caught on. They are now serving the needs of 300 schools in 14 states in Nigeria, and plan to expand to other African markets, where they hope to help address a wider issue, as African schools are seeing expanding rates of enrolment but the quality of education is suffering, partly due to a shortage of trained and motivated teachers.
Initially this work was just a side business, but in 2016 Falana and Adebayo were already working with 66 schools. “I was like: ‘This is making sense!’” said Dimeji Falana. “So we incorporated and launched it officially in 2016. And within that time we’ve been able to grow.”
“We’ve been cash-flow positive since the inception.” — Dimeji Falana.
According to its website, Edves is an easy and secure web-based portal that encompasses all school management needs. It assists schools to track growth and to manage admissions, payments, report cards, homework, and parent-teacher communication. It serves the needs of teachers, parents, students and school administrators.
“It takes on average 2 weeks for teachers to prepare end-of-the-term student reports for 200 students with pen and paper. But with Edves, it takes them just 2 days,” explained Falana.
Edves also offers teacher training. “These are training sessions to allow the teachers to use the platform so they can delve deeper into what they need to do to provide quality education… curriculum training, tech training — so many things we train teachers in!” exclaimed Abedayo.
“It is important to keep iterating the products or the service and your processes.” –Dare Adebayo
“We’ve been cash-flow positive since the inception,” says Dimeji Falana. “People buy it and we use the money to run the business…. We have been profitable for a long time, but we want to raise the funds so that we can quickly do more and then expand outside of Nigeria”. Edves has won grants from DFID, USAID, the World Bank, the British Council, and Seedstars.
What is their advice to entrepreneurs?
“My advice would be to make sure they are sincere with the problem they are solving, and that they have empathy for the people that have the problem. Empathy will be the driver. When they run into problems, this will come back to their minds to say, this is what essentially we will need to solve so that these people can get out of this mess,” said Falana.
Dare Adebayo emphasized that understanding users’ needs will also help drive the development of better processes and a better product. “It is important to keep iterating the products or the service and your processes. If you don’t change your process, it means you will keep on getting the same result. But if you keep optimizing your processes, you will keep getting better results.”
Said Falana: “It is important to add the intention to the process. So, this is the problem we want to solve, and we are doing everything to solve it.”
Dimeji Falana and Dare Adebayo co-founded their first business serving the needs of schools in 2010 with no money. They both trust in the promise of a better future and are committed to making it happen. Their plan today is to expand to 1,000 schools in the next year, and to serve 5,000 schools in Nigeria and other African countries by the end of 2019.