Ever asked yourself what social enterprise or who social entrepreneurs are? According to Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. Ambitious and persistent, they tackle major social issues and offer new ideas for wide-scale change. Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better. They come up with new solutions to social problems and then implement them on a large scale.
Recently, the media was agog with news of the launch of Nigeria’s first online university –Beni American University (BAU), which seeks to absorb a great number of students, thus reducing the rate and number of students who are without proper higher education. According to its website, BAU is West Africa’s only low cost international academic institution dedicated to the advancement and access of higher education to everyone. The high-quality low-cost global educational model embraces the worldwide presence of the Internet and dropping technology costs to bring university-level studies within reach of millions of Nigerians.
The university, founded by Gossy Ukanwoke, a 24-year old Nigerian Management Information Systems graduate from the Girne American University, was created to fill up the valley in the Nigerian educational system which is primarily due to infrastructure challenges. As a sister to his first startup, Student Circle network, an academic social network that brings over 10,000 free academic notes, essay and journals from over 200 universities globally, Ukanwoke’s BAU “is a proper university with a proper learning structure.” This also means that at the end of the Degree or Certificate programs, students receive a certificate and their transcripts. According to Ukanwoke “Beni American will continue to set examples in the African continent.”
Ventures Africa’s Busayo Sotunde recently sat with Gossy Ukanwoke, who has been described as Nigeria’s Mark Zuckerberg, to get insights to his social enterprise and what it aims to achieve in the society.
VA: You recently launched Beni American University, an online university. What was inspired this?
GOSSY: There is an obvious gap in the Nigerian educational sector that is primarily due to infrastructure challenges. An online university can allow us to accommodate as many students as possible with very little burden on infrastructure.
VA: Why the name Beni American University, if it is targeted at Africans? Brand-wise, why not a name that sounds more African?
GOSSY: Having a name that sounds more African is a myth and actually makes no difference. Beni American University does not sound non-African because we have American within the name. The American is a descriptive. It says that kind of model the university is running. The same way you have Universities of Science and Technology, Universities of Agriculture, Open Universities etc.
VA: What is the goal of the Beni American University and what are the opportunities presented by the institution?
GOSSY: To provide world class education and training for our students when they are with us and to provide opportunities beyond their study after they graduate. We believe that there is a high level of unemployment to continue pushing out thousands of graduates with no entrepreneurial or hands on skills that can allow them become productive without seeking for regular employment.
VA: What is Beni American University’s business model?
GOSSY: The university is a social enterprise. We provide world class learning at the barest fraction obtainable when compared to universities with similar qualities outside Nigeria. The university is a privately funded entity.
VA: Before you established the Beni American University, you had the Student Circle Network (SCN); what is the synergy between the two businesses?
GOSSY: Students Circle Network has continued to exist as a Free Resource Repository for students globally. It is an entity that its goals do not overlap with the goals of Beni American University. Students from BAU can continue to use SCN like the hundreds of thousands of students who use it daily. However students who use SCN who feel that they need to take the step upwards towards gaining a certificate for the learning they do online, they can sign up with BAU and take our courses.
VA: You once said that you created Beni American University out of the concern and challenge to do something about Nigeria’s failing educational system, what has been the acceptance level so far especially in Africa?
GOSSY: The reception has been exceptional and encouraging. We have students apply daily from all parts of Africa and Nigeria. People are excited at what we are doing and they looking forward to when we can start to accomplish the goals that we have set out.
VA: So far, how many users have subscribed to Beni American University?
GOSSY: In the case of Students Admitted, we have 115 students across Africa.
VA: What are your aspirations concerning the institution?
GOSSY: We are hoping to take Beni American University physical as well. In this scenario, we will have our online university and a concurrent physical university. In line with this, we have announced our acquisition of expandable development land and our visionary plan to develop a multi-million dollar 10,000 student capacity campus in Adija, Benue State.
VA: What is the organisation structure like and the staff strength at the moment?
GOSSY: BAU has a standard organisation structure that every university has. We have staff strength of 32.
VA: You are quite young; have you ever worked under anyone before?
GOSSY: Yes I have taken internship jobs before I got into the university.
VA: What business/ management stuff are you reading at the moment and which have you read that has inspired you much so far?
GOSSY: Currently not reading any. However , Talent is Never Enough by John C. Maxwell has been a book close my heart.
VA: Recent/past partnerships and how has these partnerships help the business?
GOSSY: Our Partners have been wonderful. Our sector is a sector that can only make progress through synergy and partnerships. We have some amazing partners who continue to support our university academically, technically and culturally. Here is a list of our partners – BAU Partners
VA: What extra ingredient do you think youngsters need to succeed in the outside world?
GOSSY: Vision, Perseverance and Discipline.
VA: What is the future of online University presence in Nigeria or Africa?
GOSSY: It has come to stay. I see a lot more online universities being kicked off in the region in a very short time.
VA: Any advise to other social entrepreneurs?
GOSSY: Know why you are a social entrepreneur. Have a vision and a goal and pursue it without paying attention to any negativities.