Everybody loves a great success story. No other stories have been more successful when it comes to marketing. They sell well, as books, as seminars, as sources of inspiration and as ingredients of bragging. As the saying goes, success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. But the best of success stories are those that fall under the grass-to-grace classification. This is because they do not only tell how much a person has done, they tell just how far too. It is for this reason that the story of Prince Gideon Oluwaseun Olanrewaju stands out among many others. He started from the basement, but today he is pulling others upward from the rooftop of greatness.
Prince Gideon, an Educational Development Practitioner, Quality Education Advocate and Founder and Chief Executive Director of AREAi, is the first-born in a family of five. He graduated from the Department of Biochemistry at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, in 2014. While he was popularly known as Acetyl-CoA (coenzyme A) as an undergraduate, today, Gideon’s story of social ebullition may be more properly linked to the explosive compound, acetylide.
Growing up was a huge challenge for Gideon. His dad had no job at the time. And, coupled with other challenges, this ensured that his access to quality education was threatened. According to him, as a result of this, his academic foundation wasn’t a solid one as he would have desired. However, eventually, as he was transiting to secondary school, one of his teachers who saw his potentials “meant for many generations” picked interest in him and contributed financially to his education.
When he was asked in a 2014 interview with College Profiles where he saw himself five years to that time, he replied, “…I need to stress it that in the next five years, I see myself training world leaders, helping the poor and the underprivileged, adding values to the lives of all individuals that I can reach [and] fulfilling my earthly purpose with a keen focus on heavenly home.”
Only two months after the interview was published, Gideon founded a foundation that enabled him do just that. And today, nearly five years after, it is obvious that he stuck relentlessly to his dream and has achieved his goals to an awe-inspiring extent. He has put on the shoes of his benevolent teacher through the Aid to Rural Education Initiative, AREAi, a not-for-profit volunteer-driven social enterprise that seeks to improve access to quality education for disadvantaged children in rural communities across Africa.
AREAi to the rescue
In November 2014, the Aid to Rural Education Initiative (AREAi) was born, but under a different name: Learn to Lead Foundation. It organises and mobilises material, physical and financial resources while aiming to improve learning outcomes for poor and vulnerable children from low income families and in poor communities. The goal is to empower children in these communities reach their fullest potentials in spite of the limited availability or even lack of resources. Prince Gideon explained the drive for this initiative in a 2016 interview with Nigerian Bulletin’s Weekend Spotlight.
“Having grown up from a rural community with limited learning opportunities and unsafe learning environment, I saw the need to bridge the gap and provide educational opportunities for underserved children in rural communities and prevent them from suffering from the consequences of limited learning opportunities,” he said.
With the help of hundreds of passionate volunteers, the initiative has provided technical and infrastructural support to over 6000 students in 8 schools in 4 communities (Ile-Ife, Apete, Ogbomoso and Ibadan, in Osun and Oyo states). It provides items of furniture to schools, renovates buildings such as libraries, distributes free notebooks, textbooks and other basic school supplies and conducts pre-examination coaching lessons for external examinations.
Its intervention projects and social welfare programmes are tailored to fit into the UNESCO Model of Quality Education. This model focuses on redefining learning through emphasis on the curriculum, teaching practices, school environment and infrastructure, school management and the physical and emotional soundness of students.
But it is not only through activities of AREAi that Gideon makes impact. Not only is he a philanthropist; he is also a passionate patriot. He makes certain to represent Nigeria wherever he is in the world. Having attended the 2015 YALI Tech Camp in South Africa alongside seven other Nigerians, he has gone ahead to fly the nation’s colours on several international stages, and in process building networks and inspiring social impact.
He has participated, spoken and represented Nigeria at several high-level meetings such as the World Education Forum in Incheon, 66th UN/DPI NGO Conference in Gyeongju, 16th UNESCO Asia Conference on Quality Education in Bangkok, 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Nairobi, 7th UNESCO NGO Forum in Riyadh, Under-30 Young Change-makers Summit in New York, and the 1st World Youth Forum Sharm El Sheikh and 8th UNESCO NGO Forum in Paris.
The Chevening Scholar
In 2017, in what appears to be latest development in Gideon’s career and a testament to his impactful life, he was selected as one of the winners of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship granted by the United Kingdom Government. Out of a total of 6,043 applications received from only Nigeria, only 43 Nigerians were eventually picked.
Through the grant, he is presently studying International Education and Development at the University of Sussex, as a way of further empowering himself to better push for his goals. Following the award, in an interview granted to The Cable, he described the scheme as a life-changing opportunity that “helps young talents transform into leaders who will make their countries a better place to live.”
“For me, this is a sacred privilege that I hold in high esteem and I look forward to an exciting time developing academic expertise and professional competencies to scale the impact of my work in promoting access to quality education in Nigeria,” he said. No doubt, someone whose entire life has been dedicated to ensuring accessible and quality education for others deserves only the best himself.
What is next for Gideon?
At The Transverse, we could not but wonder what plans Gideon has for the future, having already reached high altitudes on the hill of success. So we asked him what the next big thing is after his programme at the University of Sussex. “There isn’t just 1 big thing coming up,” he said, “there are many as great responsibility lies ahead.”
He explained, “By 2019 and upon the completion of my Masters’ programme, I plan to continue my active contribution to the socioeconomic development of Nigeria through educational quality/human capital development by providing strategies and designing problems that will strengthen the capacity of educational institutions. I seek to achieve this by providing advisory consultancy services to some national educational non-profits and government-funded programmes.
“On a personal note, there are possibilities I proceed for doctoral studies with focus on Educational Administration/Educational Leadership and Policy to build more academic expertise. More importantly, the work of my organization, Aid for Rural Education Access Initiative (AREAi) continues through the introduction of alternative learning programmes in Northern Nigeria, particularly in the area of Human Capital Development and Education for Sustainable Development.”
Not satisfied, we decided to add an element of specificity. Five years ago, while responding to an interview question, Prince Gideon said he sees himself half a decade from that time “training world leaders, helping the poor and the underprivileged, [and] adding values to the lives of all individuals that I can reach.” Today, he is doing just that remarkably well. It is obvious Lanre Shaper, as he is fondly called, is not only in the business of shaping people’s lives, but also his own destiny. So, once again, we ventured to take another five-year leap into the future – his future.
Here is what he had to say: “By 2022, I would be advancing the rights of disadvantaged children to quality education as an Education Policy Analyst in any UN institution (UNESCO/UNICEF/UNDP) or completing my doctoral studies as earlier mentioned.” Given his track record of dedication, it will be no surprise to find him doing this and much more even before the 2022 target.
Advice to Nigeria’s youth
For a man who has worked with and for the nation’s young population all his life, he must have a lot to say to them if given the opportunity. He compressed this into about a hundred words and one profound counsel when The Transverse asked what advice he has for Nigeria’s youth.
“In an increasingly competitive global space, the need for 21st Century skills cannot be over-emphasized and therefore it is crucial for young people to invest in developing core skills and competencies that will increase their employability and enable them live to their fullest potential,” he started by saying.
“So, my advice will be for them for invest heavily in academic growth and personal development. Learn some skills, read more books, further your studies, grow your network, strive for excellence, run for political office if possible, start that business, champion that change in your locality and beyond. Above all, remember that to be ultimately indispensable, you must remain extremely valuable. Your currency for relevance is VALUE.”
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Olanrewaju Gideon can be reached on Twitter via @LanreShaper and you can also follow his journey of social impact at https://medium.com/@LanreShaper