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Skoll Awardee Kola Masha of Babban Gona on His One Regret

April 5, 2017

Kola Masha was unable to attend Oxford’s New Theatre in person this evening, because he was waiting for the imminent arrival of his second child. Appolo Goma, Babban Gona Executive Director, Operations, accepted the award and Kola sent along the following statement:

I live by a simple rule: no regrets. I do though have one. I started Babban Gona too late.

I truly wish I could have started 10 years earlier and 350 miles east of where we began in Northern Nigeria. Had we, perhaps we could have impeded the growth of insurgencies and insecurity in North Eastern Nigeria, and prevented some of the 20,000 deaths that insurgencies caused. Had we, perhaps we could have prevented the man-made famine that even now is affecting half a million children.

When we think of addressing insurgencies and insecurity, often the first thought is military intervention. At Babban Gona we believe that a major part of the solution lies in engaging people, particularly young men, making them feel valued, supported, and encouraged, making them feel like they are an important part of society, contributing to the economy. In short – to make them see that they have a future.

In Babban Gona’s first year, we were able to accomplish this in a small district. We knew though that to make a dent in the spread of insecurity, we had to reach a million farmers. Supporting them would require a staggering amount of money: $1 billion every year.

We struggled for solutions to this problem. It was a stroke of luck when we met Frank Altman, who founded the Community Re-investment Fund. He had developed an innovative model for securing $3 billion annually for low-income communities, through loans and grants from social investors, which provided equity to leverage additional debt from commercial investors. We are now putting that learning into practice, catalyzing in $15 million in commercial capital and on our path to $1 billion by 2025. This will enable a million youth to generate income to take care of themselves and their families.

We are honored to be the first for-profit social enterprise to receive the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. The problems the continent faces are so large that we must look at innovative models to leverage social investment and commercial capital to solve these problems at scale. We must think big, because the challenges we face are massive. We must think fast, because we have so little time. We must think boldly. We need to go beyond  conventional thinking and models of philanthropy and development assistance. We must create thriving enterprises of all kinds whose financial resources benefit people today and come back to help someone again tomorrow — and again, and again — multiplying the impact indefinitely.

That is how we can be sure that we will not look back with regret.

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