When university student Ayodeji Adewunmi faced daunting hurdles in starting his own business in Nigeria, he turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: the country’s huge youth unemployment problem.
“Our mission was to have the largest active job list in the country,” he told AFP.
He may have accomplished the goal. Adewunmi’s Jobberman.com now claims to be the leading job-finder site in Africa’s most populous country, with a staff of more than 50 and some 9,000 companies posting positions.
His story is both an example of the possibilities here as well as a warning of the perils facing budding entrepreneurs and, in some ways, the country as a whole.
Jobberman’s offices in the upmarket Lagos suburb of Lekki stand in contrast to many businesses in the city of some 15 million people.
A small fleet of polished cars branded with the Jobberman logo were parked outside, with a young workforce buzzing around the two-floor interior.
But Adewunmi’s journey here wasn’t always so smooth.
When he first considered opening a business, he confronted challenges facing many aspiring entrepreneurs, but which in Nigeria are especially daunting.
He had no cash, no contacts and little hope of finding either.
“I think in our own case we lacked all that…from a capital standpoint and from a connections standpoint,” said Adewunmi.
Nigeria has long been regarded as one of the world most corrupt countries, where cronyism is rampant.
Starting a medium-sized or large business without the help of a powerful patron can border on impossible, especially in dominant sectors like oil and gas, Adewunmi told AFP.
He turned to the Internet because it “has little or nothing to do with the establishment.”
Adewunmi got the idea for a job-finder site from a friend who had developed the concept but taken no action.
It would be a business with a ready-made market. Some 37.5 percent of Nigerians under 25 are out of work, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
In a 2010 report on the job market in Nigeria, the World Bank documented the continued rise of youth unemployment despite key economic reforms since the end of military rule in 1999.
Youth unemployment: a time bomb
Analysts have described the problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria as a potential time bomb considering the risk of youths turning to crime or extremist movements if they view their economic situation as hopeless.
But beyond the obvious need for such a service, Adewunmi also had another major factor playing in his favour. Nigeria has seen fast growth in Internet access, thanks in large part to an explosion in the number of mobile phones.
In 2009, when his lecturers at the southern Obafemi Awolowo University were on strike, Adewunmi used the idle time to launch Jobberman.