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Nerves Of Steel: This Ambitious Property Tycoon Is On A Mission To Transform Accra’s Skyline

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Self-made Ghanaian entrepreneur Nana Kwame Bediako bought his first car by age 16 and made a million pounds in the United Kingdom before he turned 21. The fearless, unabashedly ambitious property tycoon is now on a mission to transform Accra’s skyline.

The bigger the risk, the maximum the return.

That’s the mantra of Nana Kwame Bediako, a real estate mogul who has had stints in the United Kingdom (UK) and Ghana over the past decade, and who has always believed in hunting for opportunity in the midst of a crisis.

Take, for instance his decision to drop out of the University of Westminster in the UK after six months, only to make a million pounds by the age of 21. Bediako, who turned an entrepreneur by age eight, when he started his own poultry business to support his cash-strapped single mother, continues to stay undeterred in the face of challenges.

Meeting Bediako is like having an encounter with a young presidential aspirant. He is fearless, ambitious and revolutionary in his foresight of building an Africa the world has never seen before.

And then there is his belief in a higher power. Bediako attributes his lucky streak in business to an inner voice which he says has steered him in the right direction ever since he was a child. His company Wonda World Estates is on a mission to not only change the skyline of Accra but also to show the diaspora community that they too can return home and add value to the development of Africa.

That mission has birthed a real estate portfolio that boasts over 560 homes in Ghana and one of the most ambitious projects in the West African region, Petronia City, an industrial park, which will become a petrochemical cluster in Africa. The project, once completed, will be a 2,000-acre city development project that will provide the first fully-integrated business hub for West Africa’s oil, gas and mining industries, according to the 40-year-old entrepreneur.

“To secure the land, I had to convince 60 families, six chiefs and three sub-division chiefs to embrace my vision,” recalls Bediako.

Feats like these and other remarkable landmark projects have made him a household name in Ghana. But even while Bediako became a name to reckon with in the country, it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way. A mix of factors such as luck and ambition has paved the way for Bediako to succeed. Above all else, he credits that inner voice, for helping him identify the right moves to make.

A voice he first heard in Kumasi, a suburb of Ghana, located 300km from Accra. “My mother was broke and penniless but my father had money. One day, he gave both my brother and I money and I told my brother not to spend it and use it to help my mum. The next thing I saw, he had gone out to buy bread and eggs, which was a luxury at the time, with his money. I was very angry with him,” says Bediako.

His anger at his brother quickly turned into a hunger to make money. He decided he would buy a hen and cock with his money and start a poultry business to help his mother.

Very soon, the business was producing over 200 eggs a month.

Then came the second instruction he heard.

“My father was extremely rich and my mother was broke so I heard a voice again that said I should pursue my father to get a better education. So, I moved to Accra and started going to secondary school before I went to London to attend Waltham Forest College,” says Bediako.

As he grew older and succeeded in his ventures, Bediako began to credit that voice to ‘God’. One of those directions led to him selling clothes from the back of his car in college and turning a tidy profit in the process.

“I was selling Versace jeans and YSL shirts which were fake and I was buying them from a guy called John who used to bring them from China. The whole school was buying from me and that’s where I started making my ends meet and bought my first car by the age of 16.”

Another moment of crisis would prove instrumental in creating real wealth for Bediako.

“They clamped my car in college three times. The first and second time I paid £45 and by the third time, I was angry and I thought the security was taking advantage of me. So, I loosened the tire and removed the clamp out of the tire and out of anger, I took the clamp with me and put it in the boot of my car. At that time, I had a white friend called Peter Smith who was a locksmith and he offered me £65 for the clamp.”

That was the Eureka moment for Bediako.

The scrap metal industry remains a vital sector for the UK economy. It is estimated that about 10 million tonnes of scrap metal is recycled in Britain every year. According to a report published by metal recycling specialists, Maxilead Metals, the UK scrap metal industry is worth an estimated £5 billion.

“So, I thought if I could get a clamp, I get £65 but then later on I realized I needed the steel itself, not the clamp. I started buying scrap from scavengers and crushing them and turning them into the steel yard and selling it,” says Bediako.

An idea today is a fortune tomorrow. Bediako dropped out of Westminster because he felt he had nothing more to learn about business. The young blood serial entrepreneur moved swiftly from selling scrap metal into the telecommunications sector with his next business idea, Global Telecommunications and Utilities (GTU). Fortune was soon to follow. The year was 1999 and the internet, which was widely known as the Global Market at the time, was still in its bubble stage.

Bediako created a company that billed people when they went online to carry out transactions. Helped by the dotcom sensation, an Indian investor soon approached him to buy his company for £327,000.

“My lawyer told me to refuse the offer and the investor came back with £410,000 which I took and then just added it to my savings and it shot up. That’s how I made my first million pounds and it inspired me to go ahead. I realized that if you build a company and do it well, you can make a lot of money. Then God told me to come to Africa.”

That final instruction is what has made Bediako the property tycoon he is today. His rapid growth and success is based on one simple principle, maximization.

“From the beginning, when I got my first land, something told me ‘why don’t you build two houses on one plot instead of one house on one plot’? I had four plots of land. So, when I did that, eventually’ I built eight houses on one plot instead of four houses and subsequently sold them and that’s the secret of my business.”

Today’ his company easily builds about 108 apartments on 1,500sqm of land. His passion is to free the mindset of African entrepreneurs from their limiting beliefs in order to strive for excellence. After conquering the property sector in Ghana, Bediako has his eyes firmly set on Hollywood where along with his new moniker, Freedom Jacob Ceasar, he hopes to show America’s A-listers, that Africa is the next bastion of economic development.

Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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