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‘I Chose To Serve Instead Of Making Money’

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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.

READ MORE: Why Nigeria needs a new national carrier

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.

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IN PICTURES | Truck Entrepreneur Drives Style Movement

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Collaborations are key for the development of Africa’s sports economy


On a busy road in Soweto, in the southwest of Johannesburg, taxis go about their daily drill, stopping to pick up passengers outside the apartment-tenements of Chiawelo. Here, a truck of a different kind is stationed next to an old container and a car wash.

It’s owned by Siyabulela Ndzonga, a small entrepreneur dabbling in fashion, who has turned it into a concept store, on wheels.

Ndzonga,who brands himself Siya Fonds (S/F) – after a nickname his mother gave him as a baby, has been associated with the South African Fashion Week and with reputed designers such as Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Olé, and stylist and fashion guru Felipe Mazibuko.

I didn’t even study fashion but it’s interesting how I’m actually making an impact and contributing a lot in the fashion industry, says Ndzonga. 

It was around 2011, when he sold second-hand clothes on the trendy streets of Braamfontein in Johannesburg, where only the cool kids would hang out.

“I was big on thrifting; selling second-hand clothes. I would thrift, resell,thrift, resell.”

His hard work earned him a stall at one of the flea markets in Johannesburg. At this point, Ndzonga was still employed at a retail store. After work and on weekends, he would be hustling on Johannesburg’s streets, all for the love of fashion and because people loved his work.

Ndzonga saw a business opportunity, quit his retail job and registered his brand in 2013. Later that year, Toe Porn socks contacted him and requested he consult for them.

“Brand consulting means that I come in and take their clothes and use them to translate the current fashion trends, translate them to how I think [people]should be dressing in terms of fashion. I actually became a designer because I set trends before they would trend. I would set the tone, narrative and navigate where fashion should go in the whole world, not just in South Africa,” he says.

His fame slowly grew and he started making clothes for others, traveling by taxi to CMT (cut, make and trim) factories in Germiston, 42kms from his hometown. 

“In 2015, that’s when I really saw that I am growing as a brand and that’s when I started consulting for international brands like Palladium Shoes, Fila and Ben Sherman.”

The business grew but he had to travel to others parts of country and that exercise was taxing.

He stopped making clothes and paused his business.

“The whole of 2016, I focused on consulting and saved money to set up a truck. I needed a store so people could come in and purchase Siya Fonds from the truck. This whole thing of delivering is not me, I can’t do it,” says Ndzonga.

“I initially wanted a container, but the truck was a better, fresher alternative. I’m not the first to do it, but I’m the first in Soweto. I set it up and people love it because it’s bringing popular culture to Soweto. I had to trust myself that’s it’s going to work and it did.”

The truck had been lying unused when Ndzonga purchased it, and he overhauled it with a lick of paint and an infusion of color and character.

I got another truck to pick it up and bring it to the current location in 2016.

In March 2017, the truck was launched as a concept store and he called it Block 88, as it encompasses other brands as well.

“Business was not so great after the launch. It only picked up after a few months of selling a few international brands that I consult for. We had seven brands in the store.”

He sells t-shirts, caps, jackets and jumpsuits. A two-piece suit sells for R1,400 ($97).

The next step for Ndzonga is to have stores in all the neighborhoods in Soweto and major South African cities.

Since the inception of his truck, he has also injected some vibrancy into the community.

He organizes art development programs and conversations around social issues on Fridays outside the truck, gathering youth and children.

“Conversation Fridays is like TED-talks. It’s bringing conversations to the township instead of having them in the city or suburbs and speak about what creatives are facing in the creative space and industry,” he says.

Now, he works as a consultant with a consumer agency and collaborates on a number of brands, also doing research for them. As the hustle and bustle quietens down at sunset in Soweto, Ndzonga’s trendy truck shuts shop. Tomorrow will be another day as a beacon of hope and vibrancy on a Soweto street.


Siyabulela Ndzonga of Siya Fonds. Picture: 
Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Two’s Company; 30 Under 30 Alumni Collaborate

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Under 30 alumni, born on the same day and with similar stories of entrepreneurship, are collaborating to disrupt industries and shape the future of Africa.

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The Impact Investor

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Norman Beaulieu has an innovative business approach to community development in Africa, regenerating degraded land and providing solutions to mitigate climate change.

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