SAVING LIFE TRANSCENDS MEDICINE: BLESSING ABENG DISCUSSES THE ROLE OF TECH IN THE SUSTAINABILITY OF LIVES AND BUSINESSES.
From wanting to be a neurosurgeon to establishing her purpose as a business strategist. Blessing Abeng exposes us to her journey so far, the encounters that fueled her passion and the emergence of I4G, a non-profit organization increasing the earning power of African youth by empowering them with tech skills. She broaches on the importance of time as a tool in business marketing and shared knowledge from her experience on what is required to enjoy a successful career.
You wanted to be a neurosurgeon. You are here now as the cofounder of Ingressive for Good. How did that transition happen?
This is a story I am always happy to share. I grew up wanting to become a medical doctor, specifically a neurosurgeon. I wanted to save lives because I had just watched a doctor save my dad’s life, so as a child back then, I looked at my father and said I wanted to be a medical doctor. And I am sure my parents were super excited. They supported me and bought me medical toys. I had a whole doctor’s briefcase and lab coat. I went around the neighborhood telling people not to call me Blessing but Dr Blessing. So hilarious, now that I think about it. My parents trained my sister and me to believe in ourselves and our abilities. My mother had been mocked for having two girls and no boy. People often told her she didn’t have kids because she did not have boys. She and my dad did all they could to reinforce that we were human beings, limitless, and could become anything we set our minds to do. Dreaming big was not difficult for us. I explored my many talents and ended up being the only student who studied science and art subjects in senior secondary school when it was time to pick a specialization.
At university (Covenant University), I studied Biochemistry (a pre-medical course). However, during my IT, I wasn’t enthralled by the experience. I questioned my intent and wondered: Is being a doctor the only way to save lives? So, I came back from IT exploring other things through my extracurricular activities. I joined a club at university, and we were assigned to write business plans and proposals. I delivered on the project, and my interest deepened, so I researched and learned how to write better plans and proposals. I got so good at it that people started paying me money to write theirs. They loved the marketing part of my business plans. I always had really unique ideas to help them leverage marketing to reach their business goals. It was fascinating. That was when it dawned on me that there were more ways to save lives than just medicine. My father was a businessman at this time, and it was easy for me to draw lines between what I had learned from him during the holidays when I worked as his temporary secretary and listened to him discuss business or based on conversations we had. I understood that businesses were important to create jobs for people and solutions. In their way, by existing, they were making lives better.
I was also inspired to write a book in my final year, which was how I made my first million. A friend of mine encouraged me to check out Branding; she believed it was a perfect career to combine my skill sets. I looked it up, and I loved what I saw. Branding wasn’t famous then, but I loved everything about it. It was a great way to channel the things I had learned from my father (who was a businessman) + things I had learned by combining my creative side and business interest. I saved up, attended a branding school, and got many job offers. I worked with agencies and multinational companies across various industries. Then, I decided that I wanted to help more startups in Africa tell their story, so they could reach their target audience and grow, so I founded a branding and communications agency.
While I was doing this, my partner suggested that I build Startup Grind Lagos with him so that we could impact more entrepreneurs. We did. We built a very healthy community and encountered many tech entrepreneurs. Through our activities at Startup Grind, I met the visionaries behind Disha, we developed a good relationship, and they invited me to become the CMO and Cofounder. Disha is a tech product to help entrepreneurs and creators with no-code tools. One of those tools was Disha Pages, a tool that helped entrepreneurs and creators build one-page websites in less than 15 minutes by simply dragging and dropping. We ended up selling Disha to Flutterwave.
It was also through Startup Grind I met Maya, who brought me on board to build Ingressive for Good (I4G) with her as the Director of Communications, and co-founder. I4G is an Ed-tech nonprofit increasing the earning power of African youth by empowering them with tech skills. We chose to do this because founders needed tech talents. Young people require skills to position themselves better, access jobs, and earn more. Finally, tech roles pay 2x to 5x more than many traditional roles, and it takes less than six months to learn the fundamentals of a tech skill. We merged these three data-backed discoveries and birthed I4G to tackle them. These three things helped us decide to build Ingressive for Good as a bridge to empower African youth with the skills they need to become tech talents and connect founders to talents, talents to founders.
So far, it’s working. I guess that’s an abridged version of how I ended up in tech. Now I know
that there isn’t one way to save lives. By helping businesses, you are making solutions to people’s problems more accessible. You are helping people provide for themselves and their families. Every single profession that makes people’s lives better is, in its way, saving lives. So tech + branding/communications became my channels and tools to make lives better.
As a Tech co-founder, what has been your major challenge and can you share how you overcame it.
I guess time. Sometimes, it can feel like 24 hours is not enough because of the kind of impact we want to make, but we use the time we have and do the best we can. I learned to delegate and trust my team members even more. I also really love tools. I leverage tools to automate things that can be automated. I even wrote a book about 101+ digital tools, making my life easier. I am not afraid to ask for help. I always ask for help. Anyone who watches superhero movies knows that no one is a superhero alone. They always have help. Harry Potter had Rob and Hermione’s help. Batman had Alfred. Everyone has someone. Everyone needs help. You need help. Don’t be too scared to ask.
How was work at Ingressive like when you began? It’s non-profit. How were you able to support and grow it?
We started with nothing. I think I shared this with Benjamin Dada when we spoke about Google supporting the mission with $250K and why that meant a lot to us. We started with literally just four team members and $0 in our bank account. We reached out to people for donations, and we got a lot of rejections. So, we started out in July 2020. In the midst of the COVID lockdown, people were barely investing in profitable activities, not to think about non-profitable ventures. Most people were not giving donations except to healthcare-related projects. So, we tried a different approach and launched a pilot program to prove that there was a need for our existence. I led that process, and we set goals.
We wanted to train 5K people and place 100 in jobs, so we started work. One donor took a chance on us and supported us with funds for this pilot program. He believed in us. We reached out to Coursera and aligned with them on the CSR program they were running at the time. We got over 20K applications at the end of the pilot program, trained 10K people, and got support from other partners like Facebook and DataCamp. It was amazing! And things just went up from there. One thing we’ve always prioritized as an organization is community. We built a community that was strong and engaged. Every partner we have had speaks about the engagement of our community. Even Coursera and DataCamp wrote an article with me. With everything we do, we put our community and their needs first. It is no surprise that we have 200K members in our community and trained over 100K people in just two years of existence.
You’ve achieved a lot. However, a woman like you is always busy; how do you maintain relationships with family and friends through all of the work?
First, being honest with myself is that work-life balance does not mean a 50; 50 balance. It means constantly oscillating between both and being in the moment when you are at work or in the moment when you are with your loved ones—being present and having boundaries.
I love spending time talking to my friends, family and loved ones. I also enjoy working with my team and ensuring I am present when I am there with them. I show up to my friends and family members, attend their events, support them, hang out, and do something nice. It’s such a great feeling. Just have boundaries.
Also, I schedule breaks. Rest is a productivity hack. You need to refill and refuel. So schedule breaks, and include energy-giving activities in your day. I take vacations, but I recently built a habit of not waiting for vacations to enjoy myself. Instead, I find little moments like watching a movie or series on Netflix at the end of a work day, winding down at the cinema, taking a walk, reading a book, eating my favorite meal, and not procrastinating my joy and happiness. Overall, being on vacation is spending time, working is spending time, and everything we do is spending time. But how do you feel after you have spent the time? Do you feel drained, productive, re-energized or indifferent? Pay attention to these emotions and feelings. And
make your week a cocktail where you can do something that makes you feel re-energized after you have done something draining or reward yourself after you have done something productive. You can find the things you love and build them into your week.
Is Ingressive working towards any methods of influencing its beneficiaries to partake in the coming elections? If yes, how?
Our community is large and African. It’s not a Nigerian-only organization. However, we are empowering people with tools and resources to be able to access more information to make the best decisions for their country. We are also encouraging people to vote in their different countries and understand that the power of choice is freedom in itself. It cannot be taken for granted, so we encourage them to wield it wisely. The team members, who have their own vibrant communities, also encourage their communities to get their PVCs and vote wisely.
Please share three greatest career lessons you have learnt on your journey
- Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and experiment. Ask questions. Get clarity. Ask your team, colleagues, bosses, audience, etc., questions. So you can find answers to those questions and be in a position to deliver on what is expected of you. Questions also help form the basis of experiments. Experimenting is about asking questions, feeding your curiosity, and wondering. Remember, the goal of an experiment is not to be right; it is to discover.
- Build relationships: Life is all about building useful connections and relationships. Be sure you are also valuable in this relationship, and it is not transactional. Life is all about you and your relationships with people. We are social beings; we cannot survive alone. So focus on building meaningful relationships. When you meet people, don’t just bombard them by talking only about you and your business. Instead, listen to them, know their needs, and add value; they will never forget you if you nurture the relationship.
- Prioritize progress over perfection: Prioritize continuous improvement over one-time hits and successes – progress over perfection. When you fall in love with the process rather than the result, you give yourself permission to be happy through the journey instead of delaying your happiness. Dedicate time to improving every day, no matter how little.
Stop sweating the small stuff. Remember that iphone1 had to exist for iphone12 to exist and be awesome. By shipping what you have now, you give room to yourself to observe, and see what improvements you can make, and make the next thing. It also provides room for you to have gradual improvement.