West Africa finds an unlikely home in Silicon Valley

Published on July 21, 2019

There’s an influx of top West African government officials in Silicon Valley.

And it’s due to the efforts of one woman, Denise Ajayi Williams, President and Co-Founder of the Silicon Valley – Nigerian Economic Development Inc. (SV-NED).

SV-NED has officially invited and welcomed the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, Minister of Defense, Mansur Dan Ali, and cultural leader His Imperial Majesty, Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II to Silicon Valley. It has completed two Immersion Training and Certification Programs with a graduating class of 120 Nigerian college students.

Last month the Bay Area Council invited SV-NED to join their 2019 Cross Border Tour to China. It led to SV-NED developing accelerators in three continents: North America, Asia, and Africa within three years of its founding.

The Vigor Behind SV-NED

Denise Williams is on overdrive to build an economic prosperity bridge between the tech mecca of the world, Silicon Valley, and the emerging countries. And she’s starting with Nigeria.

Established in 2016 in San Jose, SVNED is a mother-daughter co-founder team thriving in Silicon Valley.  Williams paired with her mother, Chief Temitope Ajayi, known as Mama Diaspora, former president of All Nigerian American Congress, strategic business consultant, social entrepreneur and community activist. Williams considers her “source of inspiration and courage.”

(L to R) Denise Williams and Chief Temitope Ajayi at the LinkedIn Campus at a fireside chat with LinkedIn Co-Founder, and His Excellency Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbanjo, during his official visit to the Silicon Valley in 2018. Photo credit: Nextplay events.

To bridge the gap between Nigeria’s technology and professional, on-the-job training in Silicon Valley, SVNED sponsored introductory and educational events in both shores. This helped immerse students, entrepreneurs, and dignitaries in the cultures, knowledge and business best practices of the Silicon Valley. Williams hopes to replicate such an ecosystem across the African continent.

“We have successfully trained and provided opportunities to over 10,000 students and entrepreneurs from Africa,” explains Williams. “We have also trained and primed 120 young adults to earn six-figure salaries in technology.”

The training focused on entrepreneurship, economic opportunity, and leadership as it relates to the economic realities of the 21st century. SVNED sponsored interactive workshops on emerging, disruptive technologies like Blockchain, IoT and AI in Lagos, Nigeria hosted by tech giants as Oracle Africa, IBM Nigeria, and HP Nigeria.  SVNED fosters participants’ innovative ideas on how to transform the Nigerian economy.

World’s 27th Largest Economy

Nigeria is a key regional West African player. It is the world’s 27th largest economy in terms of nominal GDP. As Africa’s largest oil exporter, Nigeria has the continent’s largest natural gas reserves. Its 197 million population accounts for nearly 60% of West Africa’s population.

Its newly elected incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari is committed to improving his country’s reputation. He is focused on eradicating corruption, increasing security, focusing on unemployment and diversifying the economy by elevating the living standards. Large portions of Nigerians live in poverty, lack adequate access to basic services and job opportunities. This is at the core of the high poverty levels. Not to mention regional inequality and social and political unrest in the country. A middle-income, mixed economy, emerging market, Nigeria has expanding manufacturing, financial, service, communications, technology, and entertainment sectors.

Advancing World’s Largest Youth Population

Multi-ethnic and culturally diverse, Nigeria has one of the world’s largest youth populations. Its youth unemployment rate decreased to 36.50% in the third quarter of 2018 from 38% in the second quarter. Less than 40% of Nigeria’s 197 million population are fully employed.

To establish bilateral economic relationships between Silicon Valley, Nigeria and emerging countries in Africa, SVNED identifies Silicon Valley Tech companies interested and able to hire Nigerian engineering, computer science and technology graduates utilizing H1-b Visa program. SVNED is engaged with the City of San Jose office of International Economic Development and Silicon Valley companies to develop a certifiable curriculum to train potential Nigerian hires. It introduces seasoned and emerging tech firms to Nigeria’s federal government to facilitate the creation of technology, manufacturing plants, and call centers to increase employment for Nigerian college graduates as skilled labor workforce.

Securing partnerships to develop cutting edge training and technology programs, SVNED facilitates programs to improve Nigeria’s credibility with foreign investor partners globally, starting with Silicon Valley business hubs. By creating economic growth, Williams hopes to take Nigeria from a developing country to an emerging market by reducing dependency on oil explorations and increasing profitability in technology and human capital. Directing capital outputs to initiate job creation for millions of Nigerian youths living in extreme poverty conditions, SVNED hopes to create a job market that can elevate living standards.

“By engaging in job referral programs, SV-NED hopes to expand U.S. technology businesses in Nigeria and attract Nigerian technology firms to Silicon Valley in trade,” states Williams.

Flexing Silicon Valley Contacts

As a recognized Silicon Valley entrepreneur Williams serves on the boards of SV-NED Inc., Global Connection for Women Foundation, and Sky Clinic Connect.

Williams’ professional career began at age 23 working for premier Healthcare companies including Kaiser Permanente, Gilead Sciences, Abbott Laboratories, and the State of CA Department of Public Health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the UC, Riverside, and an MBA from Golden Gate University, San Francisco.  She’s been awarded a U.S. Congressional Award for Outstanding Contributions from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a U.S. Senatorial Award from Senator Dianne Feinstein for Outstanding Community Leadership, and a Visionary Award from Actor Danny Glover. Featured in Forbes Africa‘s Top 30 Under 30, Bold.Global, and Black Enterprise, she has written for CNBC Africa and Huffington Post.

Devoted to promoting childhood literacy and diversity, Williams’ “most passionate venture” is her children’s book series, Akiti the Hunter coined as the first African Action Superhero.

Demanding a “Full Plate”

SVNED’s outstanding work in educational and capacity building programs in Nigeria and emerging countries led to Williams being invited to Keynote the first, inaugural ceremony for ‘International Day of Education’.  During the January event, at the UN General Assembly, she expressed her passion for education citing her own life growing up in the Silicon Valley where she sharpened her skills and professional growth.

“Such support is almost nonexistent in emerging countries,” Williams explains. “Therefore, at the UN general assembly, I was demanding “a full plate” a global standard for quality education which includes access to running electricity, clean water, and meal plans in all public classrooms.”

Williams urged her constituents to recognize the challenges “young dreamers” are faced with and to create opportunities to eliminate hardships and preoccupation with ensuring their next meal.

SVNED Forges Ahead

There are not enough hours in a day to fulfill Williams’ dreams. She plans a first Trade Agreement between emerging markets and future tech cities to develop an accelerator to create an ecosystem to support tech-transfer to Africa and fill in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills gaps.  This will open foreign exchange program opportunities for education and professional development, and Import/Export of goods and services between California and West Africa. SVNED model has already been adopted in five regions globally including U.S.A., Nigeria, United Kingdom, China, Armenia, Ghana and Liberia.

The mission?

Empower the integration of ICT and the development of skills sets to support the second wave of the technology boom, but this time in Africa! SVNED is on a mission to vet and pair African start-ups with investors, and talents with employers to develop a solid network of talent and job opportunities.

“That’s when we can ensure a ‘full plate’ of opportunities to young talents in emerging economies and help eradicate poverty due to lack of job opportunities,” Williams concludes.

Jackie Abramian is a Columnist at Grit Daily. A multi-lingual social-media strategist with 20+ years experience, she has managed national and international campaigns for global tech companies, social enterprises, NGOs, and non-profits including public education campaigns for various federal government agencies. A contributor to Thrive Global, etal media, and HuffPost, she is the founder of Global Cadence consultancy and Artists at War multi-media platform of interviews with artists living in war zones. Based in Maine, she focuses her coverage on social entrepreneurship and travel.

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