Denise Williams is the president and co-founder of Silicon Valley-Nigerian Economic Development Inc. She tells SUCCESS NWOGU about her background, career and aspirations
Tell us about your career.
I serve on the board of three companies, including Silicon Valley-Nigerian Economic Development Inc, Global Connection for Women Foundation (an award-winning non-profit organisation that has honoured distinguished personalities such as a former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda), and Sky Clinic Connect.
I started my professional career at the age of 23, and I have worked with premier healthcare companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Gilead Sciences, Abbott Laboratories, and the State of California Department of Public Health Services.
I am also a published author and journalist featured on CNBC Africa, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Thrive Global, and many others. I was a featured keynote speaker at the United Nations’ International Day of Education, during the General Assembly.
I have also been the recipient of several awards such as US Congressional Award for Outstanding Contributions to the community, and a US Senatorial Award for Outstanding Community Leadership.
I am most passionate about building a bridge of economic prosperity between Silicon Valley (the technology Mecca of the world) and emerging countries, starting with Nigeria.
What are your educational qualifications?
I earned a Bachelor in Economics /Business Administration, with a major in Marketing, from the University of California, USA. I completed my Master in Business Administration, with a major in Marketing from Edward S. Ageno School of Business, Golden Gate University, San Francisco.
What has been your experience running SVNED?
I find that with running a business, you can have really good days and some days that are not so great. It is important to be surrounded by the right people and securing your present moment before taking the leap of faith into the business world.
SVNED has been a blessing by helping me identify skills I didn’t know I had. To be a co-founder and president was a perfect fit for me because I get to finally be myself – an American from Nigeria. I did not have to try to fit in with Americans or Nigerians. Although I was an avid user of many hardware and software applications homegrown in California, I never thought I would be part of the success story behind bridging the economic gap between Silicon Valley and the rest of the world.
There are many advantages to these two sides of the world coming together to find synergies that will lead to successes and investment opportunities.
Why do you, in partnership with some US organisations, want to distribute five containers of computers to Nigerian start-ups?
The move is geared at developing our technological capacity. An article I read recently stated that a four-year degree is no longer required to earn a six-figure salary. Jobs are created every day with the use of technology, and start-ups are bought and sold every day. So, one has to ask oneself, how does Nigeria rank when it comes to investment in start-up ideas developed by the youth? Those computers can help classrooms and small businesses in nurturing their technological capabilities.
Are there striking talents and innovations in Nigeria that need to be nurtured and harnessed for greatness?
Absolutely, Nigeria has the most talented and intelligent citizens in the world. Sometimes, our intelligence works against us because we are constantly outsmarting the system. But outsmarting the system means breaking the rules, therefore making it an unfair distribution of wealth and success for those who are honest, and law abiding. Credibility is one of our greatest weaknesses (as a people), but intelligence is one of our greatest strengths. If only we could find a balance between both, then we would shatter more records, and break more grounds for an even and fair economic prosperity spread out for all.
What has worked for the United States and many other successful nations is that the people are willing to follow rules and protocols for the benefit of the future and the present. Nigerians, on the other hand, are notorious for bending the rules until they break. And when they break, investment opportunities cease to exist. We have to learn, as a nation, to play fair and be a good example for promoting integrity and credibility for the rest of Africa and the world.
From your point of view, what do you think should be done to uplift the youth and grow Nigeria’s economy?
Youths are usually very excited to learn and get opportunities for new and exciting ventures. Whether it’s educational or professional, they show up in large numbers.
To uplift youths, one has to invest in their dreams and ideas. We have to nurture our future talents because it is out of their minds that solutions that will resolve common problems will be found.
Skill-based training is what SVNED is all about. We have designed a programme that will make the economy more efficient, and it can be applied and replicated in many other areas. Through research and experience, SVNED has developed models that will pair talent and employers together.
One of Nigeria’s greatest challenges is overpopulation, and we have more infrastructural needs than anything else. However, we can induce labour by training and certifying our youths into technical skills. That will advance the economy while they work for free, in exchange for small stipends and housing.
You have lived in the US for some years. Why do you think many Nigerians excel more in the US than in Nigeria?
The biggest difference is the availability of potable water and stable electricity. You can be a dreamer and hard worker in Nigeria, but if you are not born into a family of wealth, you are at a disadvantage, because wealth is not evenly distributed in Nigeria. However, in the US, there is a more even distribution of wealth. There is an opportunity for everyone to become a success story.