Osayi Alile: NGO Fund Driver
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Seated at the helm of one of Africa’s largest grant-making organisations, Aspired Coronation Trust (ACT Foundation), is Osayi Alile—one whose elegance belies the huge burden on her shoulders.
In the last five years, Alile has quietly funded a large number of non-profit organisations across the African continent, empowering them to execute projects within the ambits of health, enterprise, leadership and environment in various communities.
The former Chairperson of WIMBIZ (Women in Management, Business and Public Service) who holds a degree in Sociology from the University of Lagos, and a Master’s in Public Administration from Rutgers University, USA, is an alumnus of Harvard University, Lagos Business School, International Institute for Management Development, and Yale.
In this interview with Allure, Alile who had in the past served as Vice President of Programmes at Junior Achievement Nigeria; Head of Training and later, Executive Director, at Fate Foundation, speaks of her work and lifestyle.
How has the recent heat on global finance impacted your work as a grant-maker?
It has impacted everyone in one way or the other. This is mainly because nobody knew anything like this will ever happen. Thus, we were not ready.
But also, it has brought us to a point where we have to think of ideas that work. Now, we have to change the way we have been doing things. So, it has impacted us both financially, structurally and in terms of what we do on the field. But we still have to get the work done regardless of what is going on.
Most grants coming to Africa emanate from Europe and America; most of which have been dealt a blow by the pandemic. Have you devised viable alternative funding strategies?
In terms of alternative to funding, we have just drawn quite a few alternatives. For us at ACT Foundation, our projects were based on some specific things. But now, we have started looking for more partnerships and collaborations with other organisations that also wanted to do what we do, but do not have such as their full-time work or focus. Also, because technology is key at this time, we are asking everyone we are working with, including our grantees working in communities, to make sure they revolutionise and ensure technology becomes a key player even in solving the issues in the communities.
What are the challenges of being a grant-maker in a society where many non-profits are founded for ulterior motives?
I think most industries have the same issues that we have. The reason ours is a bit different is because we are supposed to be an altruistic organisation—one that thinks more about other people. What we only need to do is to make sure we have structures in place, and that everything we do is being checked in and out. So, once the structures are in place, everything becomes easier. I’m always looking at the back end of things because my funding is based on people who give us money and I have to make sure they remain donors. So, integrity is at stake here and I have to make sure I double check.
How do you determine what non-profit cause is genuine and deserves funding?
Once you apply for the funding, we go through the intended programmes to be sure they fall within our areas of work—health, enterprise, leadership and environment. We have a committee of almost 40, including consultants, that goes through every application and streams them down. So, by the time I receive the list, we are practically talking about the last 30 or 40 non-profits that we will be working with. This procedure ensures that the process is transparent.
It’s been five years of championing causes in Africa through funding. What’s your biggest challenge so far?
A lot of people will say money but for me, I think it’s the fact that a lot of organisations, as well as the industry in general, need to be built up to the next level. We are still working the way we were working a few years ago; and the world is changing faster than we are changing. I feel we need to go a bit deeper so that when things like the current pandemic come, we are able to stand, having laid a good foundation. So, I think the issue we have is structural and capacity building for all of these NGOs we work with in the different communities across Africa.
What do you wish non-profit organisations understood about funding?
That there is funding out there but it must be given to the best organisation. You can work from a place of passion but the business aspect of even an NGO is still essential. People want to give to who they believe will give them the highest level of feedback in terms of the communities they are working with, and an almost excellent integrity. I see that a lot of NGOs come from a place of passion but they must realise that the non-profit sector is a business as well and must be run like that.
Between your background at Fate Foundation, Junior Achievement of Nigeria and your childhood, what put you in the line for the job you do today?
Sometimes, I wonder myself. But I think I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you can go to communities, see things going wrong, and fix those things. Even with Fate Foundation, it was fixing the enterprise world. Junior Achievement too was the same. I think I am a fixer; I want to see communities and people’s lives changed. That is what continuously keeps me. In terms of my family, my parents were the kind of people that always looked for the best ways to better the lives of people who came to them, in a way that those people could also impact other lives. I think all of these backgrounds are the thread that hold me together.
What gives you joy about what you do?
As demanding and overwhelming as the sector could be, the joy that comes with the change I am able to effect daily, keeps me going. Even during the pandemic, a lot of my NGOs were still out on the field working because of the resultant changes that we see. It encourages me to continuously push.
Can you briefly share with us the outcomes of your recent study on COVID-19?
It was aimed at understanding the challenges that threaten the service of every social change organisation in Africa. With what has happened, we wanted to discover how organisations fared in spite of the negative outcomes. Overall, we found that 65 percent of the organisations reported a high level of impact. In spite of the challenges caused by the pandemic however, 81 percent of responders were confident that their organisation will remain in operation over the next six months. So, we wanted to make sure that people were still positive about what they were doing and also find out how we can help them to do better if they weren’t positive anymore.
Between your late father, Apostle (Dr) Hayford I. Alile, and mother, who shaped your personality the most?
That’s not a nice question (laughs). You know daddy has died a long time ago and if I say daddy did, it will not be fair on mummy. The thing about life is that, God gives us all strength for different things; I think they both did things in their own different ways. My mother says I love my father more while my father thought I loved my mother more. I will not choose anyone of them but I will say they both shaped me. They were a team; so, it was easy for them to do things together.
How does it feel to work consecutively in human and economic development job positions?
It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I’m glad for the opportunity and privilege. Even now, I look back to like 22 years ago when I was at Junior Achievement. I remember I once went for their event and met people who told me I taught them 15 years ago at Junior Achievement’s programmes. That is why I talk about change. When you can see the changes you bring to people’s lives, what else will you be looking for?
How do you manage to stay fashionable in spite of your busy schedule?
Over the years, people have always asked whether I have a stylist; but I don’t. I just enjoy looking good. I buy what I like and when I can afford them. I buy a lot of made-in-Nigeria designs as well.
Describe your fashion sense?
Comfortable. I like to look nice and clean but comfort is above all for me. I don’t overdo anything.
What takes your time when you are not working?
Family, friends, church. The way people say I’m busy at work is the same way people say I’m busy at church. I have a lot of family and friends and I try to spend time with them because you never know for how long anyone is going to be around. I also like to sleep, chill and do nothing.
What local travel destinations do you plan to explore this year?
I did Abuja last year. I always visit Abuja but this time, for the first time, I took time to visit some sites. I visited a beautiful fall and got beautiful pictures. I’m looking forward to doing more; I know Abeokuta has some of it. I will try to see if there is time enough to visit.
Three words that best describe you…
I’m passionate about everything I do, I love life and I like the comfort of my space—I could say I’m both introverted and extroverted.