With the economic crisis and people in her country going hungry, for Ronke Bamisedun, standing by and doing nothing was not an option.
Almost every industry has been adapting to life during the Covid-19 pandemic. While small businesses might not be an industry, they contribute tremendously to millions of people in Africa. With the demand shocks that have been created by the virus, we can see decreased consumer spending, which has consequently led to temporary business closures.
An adverse effect of the pandemic in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous economy, is hunger. The Covid-19 lockdown, which has been implemented in the country since May, is causing thousands of unemployed youth to resort to desperate measures to keep hunger at bay. The situation was so dire that it has caused Latti Ronke Bamisedun, founder BWL Agency, an award-winning strategic communications agency based in Lagos, to take a temporary pivot and focus her efforts where it is needed the most.
“When the lockdown started across the world, all our clients pretty much pressed pause on all our work. This is the first time in almost ten years that I have not worked. You know, I tried to figure out how best to use this time and then I was driving during the lockdown to the supermarket and I drove past a group of youth in Lekki and they had started carrying placards that said ‘please feed us, we are hungry’ – there were about 150 of them on that Admiralty Road and I knew at that point that I had to do something to help.”
Her efforts almost caused a stampede as the hungry youths collected all the donations in a split second. Bamisedun then set up a social media page and started raising more funds to feed the youth. They used a local church in Lekki, a suburb of Lagos, as a distribution center and began feeding the street children in the area. In just over a few months, the food distribution operations have spread to different parts of Lagos.
“We started with 300 meals and as donations increased, we went to about 1,200 meals a day. Once Lekki was sorted, we identified other areas that needed our help. One of the locations was Victoria Island, a commercial hub and with all the businesses closed, there were a lot of people by the park who had been neglected so we started distributing there too. We did about 300 meals daily before we moved to Ikoyi where we also distributed about 150 meals daily,” says Bamisedun.
Since its inception, Bamisedun’s food donation campaign has provided meals to over 40,000 people. The change from the corporate world she is used to has given Bamisedun a deeper sense of connection with Nigeria where she grew up as a young girl before relocating to the United Kingdom (UK) to complete her secondary education. After graduating from Birmingham City University with a BA in Media and Communications, she joined Kaizo PR in London, where she worked on a number of campaigns including House of Marley, a range of eco-friendly audio products by Bob Marley’s family. After relocating to Nigeria, she joined Grayling, an international communications firm where Bamisedun was hired to support the African expansion of the business.
“I was in that role for a year before the company decided that Nigeria was too volatile for them at the time and that was how I started my own agency.”
That was the serendipitous moment that birthed the BWL Agency. The company has since handled brand campaigns for some of the most reputable brands in the country such as Pernod Ricard and Universal Music Group as well as non-governmental organizations like the United Nations Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The coronavirus has sometimes been called an equalizer because it affects both rich and poor, but when it comes to food, the commonality ends. It is poor people, including large segments of poorer nations, who are now going hungry and facing the prospect of starvation.
“This project further opened my eyes to the inequality and injustice in the country and as such, we are working out a long-term plan to ensure that these vulnerable communities do not go without. Nobody should go hungry,” avers Bamisedun.
The sudden loss in income for millions of Nigerians who were already living hand-to-mouth along with the collapse in oil prices has made the hunger situation an especially precarious one for the country. Some parts of the country are already experiencing looting and break-ins amid frustrations and worries about hunger. For Bamisedun, standing by and doing nothing is not an option.
“Weirdly enough, this season and this project has given me a sense of belonging and I am determined to do what I can to ensure that this country becomes somewhere we can all call home. I didn’t know that we were going to be doing over 1,500 meals a day across four communities. I just wanted to help. For me, this has been a time to serve others and it really has been a humbling experience,” she says.