Named Forbes African Person of the Year 2013. Current President of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Recipient of YARA Prize for the African Green Revolution. Winner of the 2017 World Food Prize. Awarded Purdue University’s Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award. Served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Associate Director at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.
There is so much to say about this distinguished development economist and agricultural development expert. Here are the 5 lessons I’ve learnt from one of 2018’s 100 Most Reputable Africans.
My spouse will determine my success
No matter how hard I work the majority of my success will be determined by my spouse. Would Barack Obama have become the first African-American to be President of United States without the strong support of Michele Obama? Would Oprah Winfrey be “Oprah” without the unquestionable support of Stedman Graham? Similarly, would Dr Akinwumi Adesina be the president of the AfDB without the strong support of Grace Adesina? In Dr Adesina’s own words, no! On several occasions and at many keynote speeches – even before he was a government Minister – Dr Adesina has acknowledged that without his wife, he would not be the success he is today. Without knowing the ins and outs of their relationship, one thing I can infer is that just like Michelle Obama, Grace Adesina has been great source of motivation, support and help – which is why at every opportunity he pays homage to her “of course my own lovely wife Grace is here and I can tell you Mr Prime Minister [of India Narendra Modi] I certainly wouldn’t be President of AfDB without that very lovely lady sitting over there”….and also that’s another lesson, appreciate and acknowledge your spouse at every opportunity. Your spouse can have a profound effect on your success.
Reputation is important
On a cold winter’s morning with no gloves or sweater, in a foreign land on his own with no family or friends, then just a student at Purdue University he approached one of his Professors, John M. Connor and informed him that he only had $0.35 to his name. Professor wrote him a cheque for US$100 (which Dr Adesina repaid at the end of studies). As he was leaving the Professor advised him to pass through and see one of his colleagues, Prof Philip Abbott on the 5th floor. When he walked into Prof Abbotts office and introduced himself the Prof said “oh are you the Nigerian student, they tell me you are smart and hardworking….” and basically by the end of that conversation he had a job to help support him during his studies, all based on his reputation. Similarly, after the devastating 2012 floods in Nigeria while in President Jonathan’s office (who by the way had a pile of letters requesting waivers to import food to support Nigeria after the flood) the President asked him if he thought Nigeria could survive without these foreign imports, Dr Adesina’s responded, “Mr President, we will survive if you help us to do the right things right”. President Jonathan declined the import waivers. There was food crisis in Nigeria. Disaster averted. I thought about that for a moment and quickly concluded if Dr Adesina did not have the strong reputation of delivering, the President would not have trusted him and Nigeria would have been “flooded” with foreign imports at a time when she could have supported herself. Without a good reputation, people will not support or endorse your vision. Also he would not have got the votes that led to his current Presidency of the AfDB.
A job should be a vehicle to help fulfil my mission & vision in life
Dr Adesina seriously made me reflect on my job and career when talking about his job and said: “this is not a job, I don’t have a job, it’s a mission, it’s a passion of mine that drives me to do what I do”. This is a man with a bigger dream than himself. What is his passion and mission? Well, I haven’t had the opportunity to invite him on my podcast yet and ask the question but he once stated “…the world belongs to all of us, we are inheriting it from the future generations…we are living on borrowed time, we have to leave a better world”. He has done this through the agrarian revolution he spearheaded in Nigeria and Africa which has encouraged self sufficiency while also leading millions of people out of poverty. Success will always be illusive without a vision, mission or purpose. While at the Africa CEO Forum 2016 I recall Dr Adesina, while talking about shortage of electricity across Africa, that if you walk in the dark, you will stumble and you will fall but if you walk in the light you will constantly see things ahead of you and you can see opportunities. I know that was related to electricity in the continent, but when that statement sank in I realised that my vision, mission and purpose was my torch in this darkness and without it you and I will surely fall and stumble.
Hard work alone does not equal monetary success
Across the continent you will see many women, children and men toiling under the sun with their hoes, shovels and forks working hard. You will also see them with dusty or blackened faces and overalls coming from the mines after hard day’s work. These people work hard. But hard work does not equal monetary success. Do the farmers in North America and Europe work harder, well no! They do however add value to their produce hence the wealth they have accumulated. Until as a continent we are able to add value to our resources and produce many of our kinfolk will live in poverty. By adding value I mean for example making our own high quality chocolate instead of importing it raw cocoa to Europe and then buying it back from them as chocolate. That example applies to coltan and any other raw material we export. This is why Dr Adesina advocated and continues to advocate for Africa’s self sufficiency in feeding itself and creating its own industries. Now applying that principle on a micro level to individuals my hard work does not mean anything unless I am adding value to my community and the market place. Simple.
I have potential, but I will not eat potential
When Dr Adesina was discussing the growing GDP’s in Africa he brought to our attention that African countries “have the potential to grow their GDP’s but Africans do not eat potential“. On a micro individual level whether we like it or not, deep within us, there is incredible potential. However, potential is meaningless without right effort, note not just effort, but right effort because as we have seen from Dr Adesina, without a vision you will stumble and with the wrong effort, well you will just work hard and not gain much and you will never gain that worthwhile reputation and success.