Jim Ovia: Founder of Jim Ovia Foundation

Jim Ovia Foundation [JOF] was established by Jim Ovia in 2003, with the aim of fostering social and educational inclusion by uplifting the underserved youths through educational scholarships and information and communication technology [ICT] empowerment programmes.  It is a mission defined by Ovia to invest in the Nigerian youths to explore their untapped potentials and shape them up as the key to socio-economic growth.

He has a vision of a Nigeria where the knowledge gap is bridged and the youths empowered to compete in a global economy. He has a defined avenue for accomplishing it, which is increasing the knowledge base and skills of the youths through education and ICT. He has begun the journey with steps towards incorporating ICT into the Nigerian educational policy as a fourth science to ensure progressive and continuous learning.

The choice of education and ICT as the vital tools for the mission is in Ovia’s recognition that lack of quality education is intrinsically linked to poverty. He is worried by the existence of a wide gap between education and digital literacy in an age when the two have become the basic entry requirements into the corporate world.

Infrastructures and finance are needed to roll out well-trained local talents to drive Nigeria’s business space at equal pace with the rest of the world. Providing the resources to develop the needed talents and close the gaps created by the lags in the system is the job that Ovia has defined for his foundation.

In doing this, he is navigating the economy towards an empowerment approach designed to address daunting social and economic challenges facing the nation. The crucial role in the production and consumption patterns of the global economy has shifted to the youths – who now constitute the vast majority of the world’s population.

Projections indicate that in less than three generations from now, 41% of the world’s youths would be Africans and Nigerians make up one-sixth of the demography. About 43% of Nigerian youths are below the age of 35 years. About 60% of them have attained at least a secondary school level education but only 32% have access to the internet and only about one-third own a mobile phone.

The trend indicates a marginalisation cycle for the Nigerian youths in a world in which the youths are taking the centre stage. The mission of JOF is to break the cycle with skills development vehicles that will facilitate the integration of underserved youths into the formal labour market and the global economy. Its effort is driven by its conviction that Nigeria’s economic advantage and competitiveness as a country is dependent on equipping the youths with the necessary competitive skills.  

Jim Ovia Foundation has lined up intervention programmes for supporting students and entrepreneurs to create in the youths the capacity to drive the economy along with the rest of the world. These are the Jim Ovia ScholarshipJim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs Programme and Jim Ovia Foundation Leaders Scholarship [JOFLS] Fund in partnership with Africa America Institute. The fund is backed by a $2 million pledge Ovia made in 2017.

Over 1,500 students and entrepreneurs have been supported with more than N1 billion in educational and entrepreneurial grants through the programmes, according to the foundation. The programmes are open to secondary school leavers, university students and aspiring ICT entrepreneurs, who meet the eligibility criteria. The criteria are personal intellectual ability, leadership capability and a desire to contribute to society to improve the lives of others.

The JOFLS fund offers full scholarship to 35 Africans in STEM courses yearly through Ashesi University and Covenant University for high-achieving but under-resourced students. A quarter of that number is reserved for Nigerians. Ovia is pressing for a collective empowerment of young people to create a network of future leaders and game changers that can propel the African continent. 

Jim Ovia Scholarship was founded to provide financial aid to outstanding Nigerian youths. The scheme offers an average of 100 opportunities every year. The award covers tuition and maintenance allowance.

Through the scholarship scheme, Ovia hopes to create a network of future leaders within Nigeria who can compete globally with their peers, inject creative ideas in commitment to improving the lives of people in their respective communities. It is expected that with time, the beneficiaries will become leaders in helping to address challenges in the areas in which the foundation is deeply engaged including health, technology and finance.

The goals of the scheme include promoting access to tertiary education, investing in the future leaders of Nigeria, providing a platform that encourages competitiveness and permits equal opportunities in the workplace and bridging the knowledge gap among Nigerian youths.

The foundation has launched a Read-Up programme designed to ‘catch them young’. It is an early intervention programme aimed at promoting the tools and opportunities to empower the future. Early intervention in education has been found to translate into very high graduation rates, well equipped labour market entrants, social welfare and reduced crime rate, according to studies.

The foundation is applying the early intervention approach to assist marginalised children of the ages of 6-10 years to become familiarized with the digital-age by bridging the digital divide through ICT. This is in demonstration that computers and technological literacy have become essential tools for education, business and communications in today’s world.

By providing training and access to ICT, JOF’s Read-Up intervention scheme is narrowing the digital divide for the children well ahead of attaining the youth age bracket. For every child so empowered, the number of people likely to live without opportunity goes down.

There is an advanced programme named the Code-Up – a twelve-week immersive coding and app development boot-camp. It is designed to provide detailed technology-based entrepreneurial development and leadership training for aspiring developers. It provides an opportunity to identify Nigeria’s most promising information technology talents and empower them with skills and leadership training through partner organisations. The goal is to impart knowledge, skills, mentorship and experiences that enable participants acquire and create technological jobs.

The programme comes in two tracks. The first track targets participants of the ages of 11 to 18 years selected from a consortium of partnering schools. The second track focuses on selected finalists of the Jim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs Programme. Participants emerge from programme with ICT skills able to position them for ICT –based jobs.

The foundation established James Hope College in Agbor, Delta state in 2013. The college is situated in a conducive environment for learning and is equipped with world-class facilities. It is a blend of the latest equipment for learning within and the surrounding rich cultural background. The first set of students was enrolled in September 2013 and 50% of them were on full scholarship funded by Youth Empowerment and ICT Foundation.

Jim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs Programme is another scheme of the foundation that seeks to empower budding entrepreneurs to tap into the emerging ICT market in Africa. The initiative seeks to nurture young entrepreneurs to their full potentials over a period of 12 months. 

A total of 5 to 10 of the innovative ideas are selected and funded to the tune of $30,000 per idea. The goal is to impact 50 young entrepreneurs annually, including training by world class professionals on developing mobile applications. It is a programme for those who have novel software or a fantastic mobile application they want to get into the market.