His idea of innovation is quite interesting; “Creating something entirely new or making something that exists better with the introduction of new methods or solutions, all by doing more than anyone thought possible with less than anyone thought possible.” And this is exactly what he has done.
Yaw Duffour Awuah is the founder of Student Aid Plus; a bourgeoning financial services company which among other things offers financial literacy and education loans to Ghanaian high school students. Amazingly, this entrepreneurial genius was only 16 at the time he founded the company. He is a 2012 Anzisha fellow and the recipient of the Barclay’s Award for innovation and creativity.
He was also selected as the Ghanaian ambassador at the 2010 Africa Region Junior Achievement Company of the Year Competition held in Nairobi, Kenya.
In this exclusive interview, the ingenious entrepreneur tells his story as it is, his prospects, achievements, hope for Africa and of course some counsel for the young and aspiring.
So sit back and grab a full measure of inspiration…….. And yes, have a beautiful holiday……
K.A: You are the founder of Student Aid Plus, a thriving financial services company. How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Yaw: It all started when I was aged 16 and a student at Accra Academy, a senior high school. My training at home had taught me to find solutions to problems I encounter. I noticed friends in school needed financial help – they couldn’t go back home during vacations or midterms. So I thought to find a way to solve the predominant problem – create a venture that was synonymous with integrity and ease of access.
I then got a patron from Accra Academy and recognition from Junior Achievement Ghana. What pushed me the more to take the idea further was the fact that no financial institution was paying attention to students and the entire educational sector. So I sought to create the first Educational Bank in Africa and beyond.
K.A: You were only 16 at the time. How were you able to raise funds to launch your business?
Yaw: Funding was not easy and still hasn’t been easy. Then, I used my savings to commence the venture by giving out loans. Within a couple of months it was exhausted. I just thought how I could continue with the venture. I gathered a few students numbering 50 and conveyed the idea to them to purchase shares in Apex Loans in return for yearly gains or profits.
They agreed and that was how I got 50 shareholders to sustain the business and to grow it further. I gave them share certificates as well to certify that I had sold shares to them. For the first 2 years I was able to offer them up to 75% return on their shares bought.
K.A: Now, let’s get a little personal, who is Yaw Duffour? Ethnicity, education, family……..
Yaw: I’m a bit of a shy person and overcoming it. I come from a fantastic, humble in all respects (financially as well), close knit family. I have a brother and two sisters. I am the last of four children and the youngest in a family of six. In terms of age my family members are far advanced in age than I am, haha, it doesn’t make me feel too small though because they treat me like them so I get exposed to many things.
Just once in a while they remind me by asking, ” when did you grow?” They really get worried about me and call me continuously when I’m not home. My parents are both Akans which makes me one as well. With regard to education, I completed Junior Secondary education at Gilead School and got admitted to Accra Academy where I studied Science. Then I had another admission to GTUC now Ghana Technology University College where I studied Telecommunications Engineering. My next dream is to take up studies in Finance and Investments if possible on scholarship.
K.A: From Apex Loans to Student Aid Plus, what informed your decision to rename the company?
Yaw: That transition was timely. Apex Loans was innovative because it was doing more than it aimed. I was now partnering with banks to organise financial seminars for my customers and the students in my school community. I had invested in another student who produces customised bags. I also gave him expert support in other ways to grow his business, to tell you this investment was worth it.
Then we began operating a savings arm. In fact, there were major plans we had to take regarding our work, and Apex Loans was too restrictive. Student Aid Plus was the best because we were going to be Banking for Education and that allowed us greater depth.
Our services list has grown – all very innovative to education. It will provide great ease of access to all, even parents. Eventually, once we have covered a considerable amount of geographical expansion within our plans, we seek to rebrand to reflect the fact that we are attaining our goal or have attained it considerably. If you wish to know, we will assume the position of a full bank away from a micro bank, we will be called EduBank (Educational Bank for Africa).
K.A: In 2012, you were selected as the second runner up for the Anzisha Prize. How did that make you feel?
Yaw: Fantastic, elevated,……… I don’t think there is word enough to describe that feel. For some time I didn’t understand how important my project was.
Anzisha Prize made me understand my project even more. I got great support from the team I met there, like Chidinma Achebe, Goodman Lepota, Dave Tait and others. Being second runner up plus being a fellow is a prize I still cherish and hold high.
Another reason I felt happy was because of my mum’s tremendous support. She made major sacrifices to help me travel to Johannesburg. She sold off her gas cooker a couple items to get me warm clothes, a pajamas and my visa fee, she wanted me to have absolute comfort during the Anzisha week. I am glad her sacrifices didn’t go to waste. My entire family as well was of immense support. It was a moment I felt joy not for me only but all who played vital roles in various phases of my project.
K.A: Besides providing student loans, what other services does Student Aid Plus offer?
Yaw: Student Aid Plus has launched two investment funds- Student Investment Fund and Education Reserve Fund. We have a savings account called Student Aid Save which delivers up to 5% yearly on students account deposits. There are also accounts for Teachers and Educational Institutions and some more services I cannot reveal due to in-house policy. But what I can say is they are innovative and haven’t been seen before. They haven’t been rolled out yet because we are still seeking a Tier II license to operate as a micro bank.
K.A: How do you keep motivated in the face of failure/disappointment?
Yaw: A positive outlook and continuous planning keeps me going. I always remind that there is always a way. If one way doesn’t work, there should be another, that’s a very distinct way of solving problems in Science and it can be applied anywhere.
K.A: Best way to translate dreams to reality?
Yaw: The truth is dreams can be made real if we work hard at it. To start will be to think positive thoughts. Once there, just hold on and believe and work hard at it. Sometimes it wouldn’t be possible to do it all alone, so you will need to involve all those needed to make your dream possible. In any case it still remains your dream.
K.A: What is your greatest achievement to date?
Yaw: It was winning two African awards, first the Junior Achievement Award and the Anzisha Prize which celebrates young innovative entrepreneurs. I’m a 2012 Anzisha Fellow.
K.A: African youths will rise to their full potentials if……?
Yaw: ……..They do away with the thoughts of neo-colonialism, are focused, resilient and seek to do things the right way.
K.A: Any life guiding principles/quotes?
Yaw: If thoughts, imaginations, aspirations and dreams are worked hard on and not abandoned, they become real. – My quote.
I also believe in affecting the society positively in all things we do.
K.A: Are you a lover of good literature? What books have had the most impact on you?
Yaw: Well, I love finance and investments. I read books on them including reviews, papers and researches. These have gradually influenced my thoughts and focus on economies and finances.
These are the things I’m most interested in though I have read some very good and enjoyable African Literature. Animal Farm by George Orwell also catches my attention.
K.A: What is your greatest fear in life?
Yaw: My greatest fear in life is Failure. Hahaha…….. I hate to fail so I make all efforts not to. And if something doesn’t go right for me once, I make sure it goes right subsequently. I fear to admit that I have failed.
K.A: Entrepreneurship involves risks. What major risks have you taken in life without regrets?
Yaw: I refer to Entrepreneurship always as one of the most cumbersome ladders of life. It has many impediments yet you need to get to the top. The impediments vary and risk taking is one of them.
We should define risk here as ‘calculated risk’. I’ve taken such risks several times. One I have taken recently was when I did a two year Engineering course in one year without vacation so I could take the following year off growing my venture and searching for investors.
It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t easy as I continue my search for investors. Also, in secondary school I sometimes had to get out of class to run my mini-business at that time so I had limited class time.
I have sacrificed and still sacrifice lots of sleep time, social time, etc. There was a time I was creating a document and got back as late as 3am and went back to work at 7am, this hasn’t been the only time though. Indeed, it’ll be a joy to see all these risks and sacrifices pay off.
K.A: Many African youths lose focus and live below their potentials because they lack proper mentorship. What is your take on this?
Yaw: Somehow it’s a fact. I also blame it on lack of resilience. Mentorship will be one of the reasons because humans have a natural tendency to do because someone has done.
But the fact still remains that even if there is mentorship and an individual lacks resilience he can never do. The African youth needs to learn how to shirk off disappointments, failure, rejection and the like. They will come but one’s determination will determine his success or total failure.
K.A: Innovation is?
Yaw: Creating something entirely new or making something that exists better with the introduction of new methods or solutions, all by doing more than anyone thought possible with less than anyone thought possible.
K.A: 10 years from now………
Yaw: I expect to see more innovative ideas built by the African youths for the African people and beyond. There are fantastic people out there who can do it and every youth is one of them.
And for me, I expect to have broken geographical boundaries with my business and launch another innovative idea.
K.A: Ghana and Africa will truly rise when…
Yaw: We become self-sufficient and shirk off the lurking thoughts of neo-colonialism. No country or continent has developed on aid; no country in history.
Africa is independent but not entirely independent. The independence is only in books but isn’t manifest realistically. Another factor is corruption which many allude to, yes, that also has to be addressed. When all that is solved then Ghana and Africa will rise. But unfortunately, it gets worse.
K.A: Inspire a young African in one sentence.
Yaw: If you’re going nowhere any road can lead you there. That shouldn’t be the case for fellow African youths because a goal, a will to succeed and fortitude are requisite for achievement.
Yaw would like to hear from you:
Phone: +233 27 40 15 920
Facebook: Yaw Duffour
Student Aid Plus calls for funders and investors for her ground-breaking and rewarding educational project. To be a part of this, kindly follow this link:
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