Orondaam Otto gave up being a doctor and a banker to follow his heart.
“I was going to be a medical doctor but at some point I realized it was not only through medicine that you could create an impact in society,” he says, before taking a bite of his grilled chicken at the Blackbell restaurant on a chilly Friday evening in Lekki, Lagos.
The 30-year-old social entrepreneur is the founder of Slum2School Africa, a social initiative that provides education and health services to disadvantaged children.
“I always had this dream of making the world better than I met it,” says Otto.
Since starting Slum2School Africa in 2012, the organization has won over 15 national awards and gained around 5,000 volunteers. For Otto, that vision has been years in the making – and a journey that has been an emotional rollercoaster.
He quit a well-paid banking job to pursue his passion, without pay.
“I realized there were a lot of issues affecting us. I didn’t feel comfortable seeing and complaining about those realities without doing anything about it,” he says.
But first, Otto had to chart his own path.
“My focus was impacting lives and that is why I studied medicine. But while I was in university, I was active in student organizations and I joined the Red Cross and I also joined an organization called AIESEC, It is the world’s largest [non-profit], student-run organization. That gave me the opportunity to start working as a student. So, right from my first year of university, I was already leading teams, organizing conferences and managing events,” he says.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human anatomy from the University of Port Harcourt, he completed an executive master’s in project management from CUPE, UK. He also obtained a certificate in social change, innovation and social entrepreneurship from the United Nations-mandated University for Peace, in Costa Rica. But, it was while working at a leading financial institution that Otto stumbled on his love for social entrepreneurship.
“There was a documentary I watched on the BBC called ‘Welcome to Lagos’ and it depicted Nigeria in a negative way, which hurt me so much. I asked myself, ‘why would the BBC do a documentary showcasing Lagos and the only place that was appropriate for them to show was a slum in Makoko?’”
“One evening, I was going on the third mainland bridge and I saw this community and realized this was actually the community I saw in that documentary. I made plans to visit the community and I was stunned. I saw students without clothes and most of the kids were not going to school and this was a school day. The images haunted me and I realized there was something I needed to do about this situation.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria has about 10.5 million out-of-school children – the world’s highest number. The country also has a staggering 71% of the population living on less than a dollar a day. Otto knew he had to take drastic action.
“I resigned and I told them what I wanted to do is what national service is really about – Being able to serve my community and making an impact instead of staying in the bank and making lots of money. I began working with young girls who were ex-sex workers… within about three weeks we were able to get about 140 of them back into schools. We raised close to N1 million ($2,800).”
That was the first Slum2School campaign. Otto reached out to more schools and contacted both private organizations and government with the hope of creating partnerships and increasing the quality of education.
It led to him being recognized by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, as the most outstanding corps member in Lagos state for the social impact created in the state in 2011/2012.
“It made me realize that this is what I should be doing because it gave me fulfillment,” says Otto.
Nigeria’s children are better for it as well.