Q&A: Recent Grad On How Education Can Kickstart a Social Enterprise

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my pictureA little over a year ago, Adeyemi Adewole, a recent graduate of the Executive Masters in Sustainability & Leadership (EMSL) program at Arizona State University, found himself in a position many innovators know well: He had a great idea, but he wasn’t sure what it would take to get it off the ground.

Adewole and his colleague Femi Olarewaju were seeking ways to form and promote the Sustainability School in their home city of Lagos, Nigeria. At the early stages of the idea, the two were searching out global institutions with which to partner. That’s when they stumbled upon the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

After partnering with the school to complete a feasibility study for their idea, it was clear to Adewole that they needed a sustainability education to make their concept a reality. They were able to complete their studies online while continuing their work in Nigeria. After graduation, their school was appointed as the first international host of the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network. The road hasn’t been easy, but as Adewole: The best is yet to come.

TriplePundit talked with Adewole to find out more about his decision to pursue a sustainability education and how it impacted his career.

TriplePundit: Let’s start by talking about your experience at ASU. What was your focus of study, and when did you graduate?

Adeyemi Adewole: I completed a 13-month online course in January 2015. I was lucky to belong to the first ever cohort of students for the Executive Masters in Sustainability Leadership (EMSL) program at ASU.

As the name implies, EMSL is sustainability education with a heavy dose of all elements of leadership required to champion and spread the gospel of people, planet and profit as a conundrum desperately in need of a solution. Ours was an international cohort of mature individuals with decades of experience in diverse fields spanning healthcare, public policy, architecture, alternative energy, politics, et cetera. The curriculum consisted of four threads, namely communication, leadership, strategy and global context, all of which were invaluable on their own and as a system.

TriplePundit: What made you decide to pursue a sustainability degree?

AA: Interestingly, my colleague from Nigeria (Femi Olarewaju) and I were among the first to learn about the program before it was announced publicly. We are both promoters of the Sustainability School, Lagos, Nigeria (SSL) in formation, and directors of the Sustainability Solutions Practice.

At the early stages of the idea, while researching global institutions to partner with, we stumbled upon the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. Femi contacted them and went to Tempe, Arizona, to present our plans early in 2013. We contracted them to conduct a feasibility study, and it became clear to us that we needed to get an education in sustainability in order to build our own capacity to midwife our proposed institution of learning.

They recommended a course that would fit our situation whereby we could learn and practice on the job, without having to move to Arizona. The course was advertised later in the year, we enrolled and started in January 2014; the rest is history.

3p: What are you up to now? Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities and how long you’ve been on the job.

AA: Prior to completing the EMSL, SSL was appointed as the first international host of the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, RISN (pronounced “risen,” as in the mythical Phoenix). It started as a collaboration between the city of Phoenix, Arizona and ASU’s Global Sustainability Solutions Services, as part of the Reimagine Phoenix campaign, with the slogan “transforming trash into resources.” The aim is to divert 40 percent of trash away from landfills by 2020.

Back to Nigeria, we realized that we had a lot of work on our hands because the concept behind RISN speaks to one of our major development challenges, which could be a source of exponential growth in sustainable development by embracing the circular economy.

Our efforts culminated in the successful launching of RISN Nigeria (RISN-N) on Earth Day, April 22, 2015, at a fully subscribed event that was streamed live for a world-wide audience. How excited we were at the end of the day, but the best was yet to come; since then we have had an avalanche of requests to collaborate.

It turns out that RISN is going to be the bona fide precursor to our declared destination: the Sustainability School Lagos. Sometimes, it feels like we are about to relive the myth of Sisyphus in Greek mythology, who was burdened with the onerous task of continuously pushing a boulder up a steep hill. However, I guess we should take a cue from the Latin dictum, “Festina lente cauta fac Omnia mente,” which admonishes that we make haste slowly and proceed with understanding!

3p: Have you found that your sustainability education was a benefit in the field?

AA: Of course! The four threads of learning have proven to be a priceless guide in all that we have done in building RISN and SSL — especially communication, which taught us to always think of “what is in it for them?”

We all have the tendency to expect that the other party should get what we are talking about and should respond positively, but that makes absolute sense. Sorry, it seldom works that way; you have to communicate! We have used this principle extensively in stakeholder engagement for coalition building around the RISN effort.

3p: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about a sustainability degree?

AA: I would say go for it. Sustainability is the mega-trend of the moment and will be for a while. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has forecasted that 2015 is the year of sustainability, and the Millennium Development Goals are being replaced with Sustainable Development Goals, post 2015.

The good thing is that whatever your current experience or education is, it always has a relevance to sustainability and will act as a valid foundation for sustainability education.

3p: What’s your biggest sustainability pet peeve and why? Disposable grocery bags? Trash in the compost? Cars double-parked in the bike lane? Share your thoughts!

AA: I am a big lover of water: the sea and inland bodies of water. I frequently go out on my boat for leisure, visiting the numerous beaches in Lagos Nigeria. Unfortunately, I am confronted all the time with the stark reality of trash in the water, predominantly plastic. I wish I could do something significant about it.

I will leave you with a quote by Antoine De Saint Exupery that sums up my entire sustainability experience: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

About Adeyemi Adewole:  Mr. Adeyemi Adewole is co-founder of the Sustainability School, Lagos, and a director of the Sustainability Solutions Practice. He is also a co-founder and non-executive director of the TLP Centre for individuals living with Autism and learning disabilities, as well as the affiliated Montessori school – The Learning Place LTD, Lagos, Nigeria.

Mr. Adewole is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Adcem Healthcare LTD, an equipment and service provider specializing in kidney disease and healthcare technological innovation, since 1992.
Adeyemi is a Pharmacy graduate with about 30 years work experience in Nigeria,Zimbabwe and USA. He is an alumnus of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria Nigeria, as well as Pan Atlantic University Nigeria. He belongs to the Africa-America Institute (AAI) Alumni, having completed a certificate course in Transformational Leadership. He recently completed an Executive Masters of Sustainability Leadership program at Arizona State University, Global Institute of Sustainability in Tempe, Arizona, USA.

Adeyemi is a volunteer mentor and facilitator in a few Entrepreneurship development programs including the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP), Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria and Fate Foundation Nigeria. He serves on the governing board of the 120 year old General Hospital Lagos and is a member of the Society For Corporate Governance, Nigeria.

Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and social justice. You can contact her at mary@triplepundit.com.

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