True impacts are measured by the effects on the community and how they convert to lasting actions. We are growing beyond classroom knowledge in an ever-changing society. The impacts of technology in society are revolutionized by people who saw the need for its positivity and generational impact.
Blessing Abeng is a leading woman in the sector of branding and communications in Africa helping brands discover their unique identity so they can tell better stories. She is the co-founder of Ingressive for Good, and the former CMO and co-founder of Disha, a tech startup acquired by Flutterwave. As a thought leader in her field, she nurtures a community of over 40,000 creators curious about branding, communications, and tech.
Can you detail your journey into technology?
This story is really long, but I’ll try to summarize almost three decades into a few sentences. I grew up wanting to become a medical doctor, not just any doctor, a neurosurgeon. I wanted to save lives because I had just watched a doctor save my dad’s life. So, I studied Biochemistry (a pre-medical course) at Covenant University. 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? I found the answer when I joined a club at university, and we were given the assignment 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. I also wrote a book in my final year, and that was how I made my very 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 loved what I saw. Branding wasn’t popular then, but I loved everything about it. It was such 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. It was during this time I realized I wanted to help more startups tell their story.
So I founded an agency for promising startups. In doing this, my partner – Uwem Uwemakpan, invited me to build Startup Grind Lagos with him so that we could impact entrepreneurs beyond our field of work. During that time, I encountered so many tech entrepreneurs. I got to understand their needs and challenges on a deeper level while I helped them figure out their brand and communications strategy. Through our work at Startup Grind Lagos, we became tech ecosystem catalysts, connecting founders to funders and vice versa. Some cofounders met themselves through our community; funders met some founders through our community. It was amazing. Founders Institute even highlighted us as ecosystem evangelists for two years straight. During that time, I met someone who ended up birthing the idea of Disha, and he brought me on board to build Disha with him and the second cofounder, as a 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. I also 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.
At I4G, we confirmed three things. The first thing (which I also knew while building Startup Grind) was that founders often think money is the biggest problem until they get the money and realize finding the right tech talents here in Africa is really difficult. The best ones have either been taken by big or foreign companies. The second thing was that there were people who wanted to be tech talents, who wanted to increase their earning capacity but did not have access to the right tools, resources, or opportunities to make this happen. Then the final thing was that someone who gets an entry-level job in tech could earn 2x-10x more than someone who gets an entry-level position in a more generic field like banking, according to Payscale. These three things helped us decide to build Ingressive for Good as a bridge to arm 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.
Speak to us about what excites you about your role?
I say this every day; it’s the tangible and intangible impact. It is so inspiring to go beyond just numbers and actually see and interact with the people whose lives are changing because of an encounter with Ingressive for Good. Seeing people from our community build businesses now valued at millions of dollars, and not only are they employing people and changing lives, but their business solution is also improving Africans’ lives. We have stories of people who started last year earning next to nothing, and today they are working in tech firms, earning 10X more than they imagined. Lives are changing right before us, and it is so beautiful to see.
The impact transcends program beneficiaries and goes as far as our team members. I read the team compilation article the day I4G turned two, where team members shared their experience working with I4G, and I shed tears. It was so inspiring to see how people have grown in their careers and even their thinking, and how their lives have changed because I4G gave them one opportunity or the other. When we spoke to Google about what we were building, the impact moved them, leading them to support our mission with a $250K donation. So, I guess the most exciting thing about my role is definitely THE IMPACT.
What are a few challenges you encounter in your daily work as Co-founder of Ingressive for Good?
The first one is that 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. The other challenge will be facing the onion-type problems in Africa. At first, the problem was access; people didn’t have access to global standard training. We provided that, and other issues were brought to the fore – internet, power shortages, lack of tools to learn and practice with. The problems are pregnant, but we will not give up. We will keep solving these problems with solutions within our power. We have built a solid laptop program under our micro-scholarships program and have committed to providing tools and resources for program beneficiaries.
Can you share a few life lessons you have learned in your journey through technology?
Tech is an enabler, a catalyst, and a magnifier. It is garbage in, garbage out x100. Let’s take the internet for example. Nothing on the internet is that new; it is just a modified version of traditional reality, virtual for more people to access and interact with. What you put in is what you get but ten to a thousand times more. So, you need to have something you want to build, an idea, a skill, a story, a solution, whatever it is, and then put tech to it. It will multiply your effort and give you a more significant outcome. We built Ingressive for Good in the thick of the COVID lockdown. We had no choice but to make most of our programs accessible online. By doing that, we reached people faster than we imagined. Currently, our reach has spread across 100+ countries to Africans in these countries who have financial needs. The community has grown from 0 to 200,000. We have trained over 100,000. The growth is massive!
What skill set is required to undertake a career in Technology Marketing?
Before skills, I think the first thing is mindset. That’s so important. You need to know that you too, can do it, and you deserve to be in tech. You don’t have to know how to code to be in tech. You can explore non-tech roles. For example, if marketing is your chosen field, you need to explore what part of tech marketing you want to do. There are many possible fields within marketing – advertising, storytelling, social media management, digital marketing, content marketing, content strategy, inbound marketing, and so on. To succeed in these roles or any marketing role, you need communication skills, listening skills (social listening skills), the ability to spot, set, and track trends, analytical skills, writing skills, a few sales skills, research skills, storytelling skills, problem-solving skills, and many more. Skills like audio or video production, website management, marketing data analytics, report writing, etc., could be great additions to set you apart from others.
What are the secrets to building a successful Technology Brand?
There are no secrets; everything is out in the open. You just have to commit to doing the work and backing it up with results. You have to stop making excuses and stop limiting yourself. You are magic. You can do whatever you set your mind to do, so do it! You don’t need permission; give yourself permission. This world is yours for the taking. Stop waiting, hoping, and wishing. Instead, start doing. Learn, implement, show the work, collaborate, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, implement, show the work, and the cycle continues. Allow yourself to make mistakes. It is how you’ll grow. The goal is not perfection; it is growth. As you do the work, don’t forget to be visible. Tell your own story, and as you do, people will become more interested in telling that story with you and even amplifying it. There will be days when you don’t feel like it; you just need to give yourself a little push. It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it if you pull through.
What advice do you have for new Bees building a career in Tech?
I will share three key ones. The first one is this – Just start with what you have where you are. Sometimes, we limit ourselves, saying we don’t have this or that, but those are all excuses. Look around you; what do you have? It’s so easy to focus on what you don’t have when you want to do something and use that as an excuse to procrastinate, but now you know better. Ask yourself – what do I have? Do you have relationships with people you can borrow laptops from or visit, to practice something you have learned? Do you have enough data to be on Telegram, so you can join communities like I4G and learn something new every week? Do you have enough to take online classes? What do you have? Once you start using what you have, you will notice that suddenly resources to get you to the next point will start coming, and people will be more eager to support you because they can see the effort you have put in. So start!
The next thing would be – Commit to daily improvement. Dedicate some time every day to learn something new. Technology is a very fast-paced industry. Things are changing and evolving every single day. If you take your eyes away for a month or two, you might come, and everything may look different. New technologies may even exist and put you out of a job. So, you can’t take that chance. Learning in small, consistent increments will keep you ahead of the curve. Don’t just read books and take courses. Practice what you learn! Your learning is not complete until you put it to practice. Join communities that will inspire you to practice. Be part of challenges, hackathons, etc., to find tasks to inspire you to practice. You can also contribute to open source projects as well. Whatever path you choose to take, learn and practice!
The final thing is – Share and show your work. A lot of us think it’s humility to work in the dark. People talk about it as though it’s a badge of honor, but in this day and age, it pays more to build in the open. Visibility is important. Do quality work that matters. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just show proof, proof of work, proof of growth. If you learned something today, share it. If you encounter a challenge, share the challenge and what you are doing to solve it—leverage search tools like Google to find solutions to challenges or answers to questions you might have. Verify and apply those solutions. If you read a book, share the insights you learned. If you practiced something, share. If you attended an event, share. You can also commit to blog posts or regularly share what you learned each week. You can collaborate with people and do things together. You can share behind the scenes of your work and learning. You don’t even have to post it on social media. You can just join communities you feel safe in and share there. Don’t hoard your knowledge. You have something to say – say it, ask questions. You won’t find your voice until you use it. By sharing, you are exposing yourself to people who will potentially hire you. Your CV is too small to tell your story. By sharing your work regularly, you are taking people on a journey with you and making it easier for them to point to something when they recommend you. Put your work out there and make it discoverable while improving yourself. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. I wrote about this in detail in this letter. Make it easier for people to find you, remember you, and recommend you.