Letter from our founders
Thank you so much for your interest in BUILD Nigeria! We are so happy to get to introduce BUILD Nigeria to you and tell you more about how it came to be. There were two things that led to the formation of BUILD Nigeria. Firstly, seeing that our mission was possible, and secondly, knowing that Nigeria is filled with many intelligent and passionate students who deserve access to opportunities that can enable them achieve the extent of their aspirations.
Ife: On arrival at Yale at the beginning of my freshman year, I searched for Nigerians in the African Student Association. However, for the first time in my life, Nigerians did not dominate the room - it was instead filled with Kenyans, Zimbabweans and other East Africans. Intrigued by this, and a little disappointed by the underrepresentation of Nigerians, I began asking everyone I met about their journey to Yale and repeatedly heard the names ‘KENSAP,’ ‘TANSAO,’ USAP,’ and ‘BRIDGE2RWANDA’ as the routes of origin for majority of the African students, especially those at the top colleges. These were each college access programs, similar to BUILD Nigeria, which served mainly high-achieving students from underserved or low-income communities by providing them with support to be able to gain admissions and full financial aid to world-class universities!
I quickly researched whether Nigeria had something similar, wondering why I could count only five Nigerian undergraduate students who lived in Nigeria at Yale. I did not believe that Nigerians were not good enough to attend these top colleges, but I did realise that amongst the Nigerians at Yale - few were supported with financial aid and most came from well-to-do backgrounds. Was gaining full financial aid a myth for Nigerian students? Again, I could not believe this without searching for answers, and this search for answers led me to Tolu! I remembered hearing about a head girl of an all-girls secondary school in Lagos gaining admission and full financial aid to Harvard, and so I decided to reach out to her.
Tolu: When I got to Harvard, I was the only Nigerian international student in the Class of 2022, and one of two in the entire undergraduate class at the time. After spending only a few weeks on campus, and seeing so many of my other African classmates have a number of people from their countries to interact with and rely upon, I became very curious and saddened by the underrepresentation of Nigerian international students. When Ife reached out to me, we talked about our shared experiences and she was amazed by how many obstacles I had to overcome to even get to a point where I believed that applying to Harvard was within my reach. We both spent the next few weeks doing research about college access programs that exist in other African countries, and re-confirmed what we already knew; that this is a real gap that exists in Nigeria. So, with that we created our vision for BUILD Nigeria, developed a project proposal, and began recruiting the members of our founding team.
Ife: Surrounded by skeptics, and a constant stream of misinformation, Tolu’s admission to Harvard felt like an anomaly. However, we wanted this success to be normalised. Why should it be shocking that a student born and raised in Nigeria should get into a world-class institution with full financial support? How could we recreate this? How could we help students who also had this dream but no support? This was it, BUILD Nigeria was born.
The BUILD Nigeria team believes in each and every one of our students. We believe that they deserve access to world-class educational institutions that have the ability to radically transform the set of opportunities that are available to them. Nigerian students deserve to study in schools that serve them, that give them the tools they need to take their place in this competitive, dynamic world we live in, and not only survive but also do spectacular things for their community, their country, and the world at large. So, we are doing what our country has repeatedly failed to do; we are investing directly in the lives and futures of Nigerian students, and we have no doubts that they will in turn be advocates for Nigeria in spaces where other Nigerians are not present.
BUILD Nigeria was born so that one day it no longer needs to exist; so that one day Nigeria itself can have world-class educational institutions. We invite you all to be a part of our journey to creating the new Nigeria that we know we deserve, one student at a time.
Ife & Tolu