Mark Zuckerberg Aims to Boost Startups in Nigeria

“I’m excited to see what Nigerians build next!”

– Facebook Founder/CEO, Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg | Kris Krüg | Flickr

Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the epitome of entrepreneurial success. Having founded Facebook in his dormitory at Harvard University, Zuckerberg leads a company that is now worth around $362 billion. His personal net worth? In the neighborhood of $54 billion.

Despite his overwhelming success, “Zuck” is commonly praised for his modesty, along with an unrelenting focus on making the world better. Zuckerberg, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015. According to its website, the organization was launched with the mission to “advance human potential and promote equality.” To help fund the initiative’s ambitious framework, Zuckerberg locates, empowers, and supports talented visionaries wherever they may surface.

The motivation behind the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is pivotal to understanding the couple’s vested interest in African countries and other developing nations around the world. In a video interview on the initiative’s website, Zuckerberg and his wife speak passionately about human potential. He stated, “The only way that we reach our full human potential is if we’re able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world.”

Perhaps there is nowhere else in the world where is talent more ubiquitous—and yet, untapped—than in the West African country of Nigeria. Educated, entrepreneurial, and driven are three phrases that aptly describe a large share of the country’s people.

This article discusses Andela—a promising Nigerian company—and the country’s capable workforce that have drawn Mark Zuckerberg’s involvement. In addition, the following details the inferences that can be made of Zuckerberg’s first major investment in a private company and why Andela—Nigeria as a whole—is deserving of such.

Andela and African Education

andelalogoNigerian startups appear to be of particular interest to Mark Zuckerberg. This is evident from the dollars invested in nonprofit causes. In June, Zuckerberg and his wife’s initiative led a round of Series B funding for Andela—a Nigerian company that trains and deploys software developers—helping to amass $24 million for the (then) startup. In a statement issued about his investment in Andela, Zuckerberg noted, “We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela’s mission is to close that gap.”

Zuckerberg’s investment in Andela is noteworthy for a couple reasons. First, this was the initiative’s first major investment in a private, for-profit company. It is telling that, out of the likely multitudes of entrepreneurs that sought funding, Chan and Zuckerberg invested in a Nigerian-based startup. Second, the venture falls in line with one of the initiative’s founding tenets: enhancing education and personalized learning. It appears that Zuckerberg’s stated mission in developing the initiative also pertains to the profit-seeking arena.

Investment in Andela may also support the third pillar of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: advancing opportunity. Nigeria is considered a nation ripe with human talent, particularly in the fields of information technology, software development, and computer science. However, this abundant talent pool is lacking in job opportunities. Approximately 45 percent of Nigeria’s college graduates are unemployed. This may help to explain Chan and Zuckerberg’s interest in Andela, as the company trains and places applicants into well-paying jobs.

On a related note, Zuckerberg seemingly devotes a considerable amount of his resources to training and education-related investments. In 2010, the Facebook CEO made headlines with a $100 million donation to public education in Newark, New Jersey. At the time, New Jersey public schools were facing drastic cuts to their budget, severely handicapping the system. Zuckerberg is a fierce advocate of education and training, whether in the public or private sphere.

In the area of information and education, Zuckerberg partnered with Nigeria’s largest mobile network with the goal increasing Nigerians’ access to the web. As a result, a number of Nigerians who previously lacked Internet access or any other means of information, were able to go online at no cost. The Free Basics program, as it’s called, is active in more than 40 countries, half of which are in Africa.

Future Developments

On August 30, Zuckerberg announced his visit to Lagos, Nigeria, on his Facebook page:

“Next stop: Lagos! This is my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. I’ll be meeting with developers and entrepreneurs, and learning about the startup ecosystem in Nigeria. The energy here is amazing and I’m excited to learn as much as I can.” Nigeria is also home to Facebook’s largest African market, with over 16 million visitors to the social media site.

Co-Creation Hub NigeriaDuring his trip to Lagos, Zuckerberg visited the Co-Creation Hub Nigeria (CcHUB), where he met with young children attending a coding camp. CcHUB functions as a “tech lab” where hackers, impact investors, technologists, government, social entrepreneurs, and tech companies meet in an effort to create solutions to current social problems impacting the country.

At present, Zuckerberg is continuing his trek through Nigeria. Known his secretive nature, “Zuck” hasn’t produced his travel plans.

News sources in Nigeria speculate that he will visit Andela’s operations and meet with other promising entrepreneurs.