Good afternoon, can we meet you?
I am Herbert Akachi, a Nigerian and an Undergraduate student of Covenant University. I’m the privileged founder of Gracit Foundation.
Why did you start Gracit Foundation? Precisely, what inspired you to start it?
Gracit Foundation Started as a result of my concern for less privilege people especially those in the orphanage home. Talking about what inspired the Idea, for a long time since my secondary school days, I had always wanted my personal laptop computer which my parent never got for me. I got my first one after secondary school, and I was doing tremendous things with my PC, things I wished I had already started doing before leaving secondary school. Ever since then, I have always looked for ways to make sure secondary school students get their own personal computer and get some set of ICT skills before they graduate from secondary, and that inspired the birth of Gracit Institute of Technology in July 2015, which is like a mother company to Gracit Foundation, (though the two are standing on their own). We carried out our first training edition between July and August 2015 and the second in August 2016, and we gave a free laptop to everyone who registered for the training, so they can continue developing themselves after the training. Now, in Covenant, I belong to a community which requires us to always come up with community development projects every summer, and I heard one member of that community talk about how he did something for an orphanage home. I later walked up to him and asked him, “how many computers do they have in that home and how many children are there?” he replied “just one non-working computer and there are about 40 children in the home.” This moved me so much that I got thinking, what can be done to help this situation. Then came the inspiration. Normally, I fix laptops for students in school and some students would rather want to abandon their bad laptops so their parents could get a new and powerful one for them. Remembering this, I said to myself, why not ask these students to donate their old laptops, gather them, fix them and take them to orphanage homes to set up a computer lab for them, and that was it. By the next time we met in that community, I proposed the idea, and an Eagle’s eye caught the picture, that eagle’s eye is Maroh Ejiro, who has been a major driver of the vision and the cofounder of Gracit Foundation.
What has been your most emotional experience working on this project?
I have always been turned up and glad working on this project, I get this sense of doing something meaningful and worthwhile, remembering the fact that what we are solving here is a real time problem, and both the feasibility and the sustainability of the project is just so convincing to us and everyone who hears of it.
Tell us about your experience working on the project in the last one year.
The experience has been amazing ever since our first outing in May 2017, like I said earlier, the joy of solving a big time problem with this much simplicity has been our major driving force. We went out in the midst of examinations, yet, the crowd of people who were willing to go out was overwhelming, and we had to limit the numbers. We had the same experience during our second series of outings to Ijamido Children’s Home, an orphanage home in Ota, we went out for five consecutive Saturdays between June and July 2017, during SWEP to train the kids in different ICT packages. The crowd of volunteers were so much that we had to rotate different set of people to go out each Saturday. We got the support of the CU management who provided us with means of Transportation and funds to cover all other expenses. We have since then been able to install some computer sets in the orphanage home, and have plans of completing the setup of the computer lab by March 2018. Also, during that period (June and July 2017) our team outside Covenant University carried out a 3 weeks ICT training at the Red Cross Orphanage home in Makoko, Yaba.
How challenging has it been?
It has not been all that easy though, but the good thing is that, despite the challenges, we still go on with our activities. We have always converted frustrating situations to fun since our first outing. One major challenge we have always encountered is the transportation challenge. On our first outing, we all came out and were to move by 10am, but the transportation arrangement we had with the school management didn’t work out, we waited till about 2pm, but no way, so we decided to improvise and we resorted to going by public transportation. We left around 3pm. The funny thing was that, I was scared to announce to everyone that we would be going by public bus, but the moment we mentioned it, everyone was happy to hear that. For many it was their first time to “jump bus” and they just couldn’t wait, they saw it as fun. We were still fully willing to go out, despite the fact that our time has been wasted and many of us had exams the next day. We had similar experiences in our subsequent outing. There have also been challenges in getting some things done which sometimes can get frustrating, but what we do when such case arises, is to remind ourselves why we are doing this in the first place and for whom we are doing it.
How did you build a team that works?
Talking about building a team that works, for us at Gracit Foundation, it is basically selling the vision to people, and to as many that can catch the vision to the point of becoming passionate for it, we call such to join the team. And when we have such people on our team, we continue to give them a sense of ownership of the entire vision and helping them to see themselves as doing meaningful work with their time at Gracit Foundation. When people begin to see their input into Gracit as important, they naturally continue to do more. One thing we always do is to continue to publicly recognize and appreciate team members for the individual input. This makes them want to do more. Just give them the feeling of importance and do it genuinely.
You are a student in a prestigious Nigerian University, how do you combine being a student and this sort of project?
To be frank, it is really telling on my academics. Like, if my academic life can speak up, you will hear it say something like “Akachi has not been giving me the required time I need and I’m jealous” hahaha. Well, it’s not been easy combining the two, at a certain point I totally forgot I’m still a student, but more recently, I am I have been balancing well, remembering the fact I have a certain minimum CGPA requirement as a DOF scholar. GOD gave me a lesson over the break, HE reminded me something HE already said in HIS Word and that is “there is TIME for Everything.” This single phrase changed my time management skills forever. It was as if I was just hearing this for the first time. Now when I get back to my room, the first two hours is dedicated to reviewing all that was done in class during the day, then other things can come in later. But from my experience and observations so far, I realise that, you can hardly find a straight A in academics who is at the same time doing great exploits in fields that are worlds apart from his academics. That is, you can’t get 100% in the two of them, you are either doing averagely well in the two of them which is 50-50, or excellently well in one and not very well in the other. Jesus said it all, you cannot serve two masters, you either love one and despise the other. We only have one seat of attention in our brain. Albert Einstein also confirmed this when he said “If you can kiss a girl while you are driving and still able to drive well, then you are not paying attention to the kiss as much as you are to the driving” This is my personal proposition. If all I have to do in school is to focus on my academics, then I would be no lesser than on a 5.0 cgpa, not just a first class, no matter the course of study. And my advice for anyone trying to strike balance, is to look at what is more important to you, and it will be easier if you already know where you are going to in life, then you can set your priorities based on what’s more important to you.
You have a certain affinity for computers, tell us a little about that and how it inspired you to start this?
I have said a little on this in my answer to the second question. But my journey in technology and gadgets started way back when I was pretty much younger. My dad bought this do-it-yourself book for fixing phones, and performing some magical functions you never know your phone could do. He bought it for my brother and we learnt how to fix basic problems on phones. From there I particularly began to pick interest in technology at my level then, it was limited to phones, I disassemble people’s phones and fix them so people began calling me computer engineer and bringing more and more devices for me to fix. I was in sss1 at this time. Then some years later, my aunt sent me to a computer school where I did a diploma in Computer Engineering program for 8 months and that was where and when I got confidence to work on computers. Ever since then I have been enthusiastic about computers. I learnt graphics design on my own, and doing things outside what I learnt at the computer school. I became so fascinated with what I could do with computers and i wish every young person and teenager gets this opportunity. That has been the driving force. I have this personal mission which is to “empower Africans with technology” I so much believe in the power of technology to transform Africa, and especially in the area of our economy.
Let’s talk a little bit more about your plans to take technology to orphanage homes. After training these orphans, is there a concrete platform to absorb them into several jobs?
Yes. This aspect is a major component of the process. We realised that the first orphanage home we visited had already benefitted some computer set from previous donors in time past. But all those systems, about 5 in total, were lying in waste. So we don’t want ours to be like that. Our mission involves four main stages.
- Setup computer labs
- Train orphans on ICT packages
- Link them up to various tech opportunities and
- Integrate them back into society.
We would be leveraging on several partnerships to achieve this. We also have plans of helping those who might want to set out on their own business as soon as they complete the training. The goal is to get them engage in something productive before they clock 18 and leave the orphanage home and the best thing to engage any young person in this generation is technology, to give them a better edge to compete.
What does the training package entail?
How sustainable is what Gracit Foundation is doing?
The sustainability of what we are doing is one which is doubtless and obvious. We are not spending money on buying computers, there are thousands and millions of computers all over the place that people are no longer using. Many companies, schools and organisations change their computer sets regularly and dispose old ones. Our plan is to leverage on this. To approach these organisations and get them to always channel their old computers to Gracit Foundation. We also don’t always have to look towards getting land and erecting new buildings for the computer lab. There is always a space or room that every orphanage can spare for us to help them set up the computer lab. Also, we don’t have to pay people to train, as there are many ICT skilled people willing to volunteer as trainers as long as it is for a charity course. We have also designed the training program in such a way that older orphans in the orphanage homes who have undergone the training can carry on with training the younger orphans without much of our input.
How does Gracit Foundation intend to scale this project across the country and indeed, the continent?
It is quite simple. We are using the Ijamido project as a base model that is why we have decided to complete the project here to satisfaction. Once this is achieved, all we will be left to do is replicating what we have at Ijamido in other Orphanage home we get to. We have a plan to expand by spreading Branches or Chapters across universities, Polytechnics and other higher institutions. We realise that the major drivers of this vision up to this point has been university students. So the plan is to take Gracit Foundation to every university, establish a membership base there, so each university Chapter or branch would be directly responsible for the orphanage homes around their region or state since we have at least one university in every state in the country, we believe we would be able to cover the country, the same goes for the continent. We would be expanding across all universities in Africa. We already have about 3 Nigerian Universities where Gracit establishment is pending. Another thing is, some specific branches, located in more opportune areas where they can easily acquire computers (like branches in Lagos) would be responsible for supplying branches in less opportune areas with computer sets.
Tell us, what are your plans for the future?
Our future plans, among many others, is to go from orphanage homes to setting up computer labs or computer centers for local communities and public schools all over Africa. Also to set up makerspace and Technology labs for African communities. The main aim is to revolutionize Africa through technology. We want to totally close up the technology gap between the different classes of people in Africa. We want to give everyone a fair opportunity to compete for a better future. That is what we are all about and we are glad because this seem very feasibly and achievable to us and we all are going to see it actualize big time in our life even as we continue to trust and follow the direction of GOD who has convey this vision to us.
Thank you very much!