By Dr. Yinka Akindayomi
For the last 18 years, I have been totally immersed in the provision of services for children and young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Yet I wonder if I am qualified to write on this topic and if yes, is it the fact that I run a centre that provide services and considered an “expert”, or just the simple fact that I have been your mother for the last 28years? I guess it is the combination of all these factors that probably gives me the edge to write from different perceptive, such as being both a mother and a professional.
As a mother, I would be looking at concerns that are much closer to home, like when will you start dating, have a wife, how will you relate to your nieces, what about a job, how will you get into the Nigerian workforce, as a high percentage of young people in Nigeria without disabilities struggle to find employment.
My perspective, dear son, would be to share with others, how we have lived with Autism for the last 28 years, the highs and the lows and what we think the future would be for you. I would like to tell you that I have written a number of letters when you were a child telling all the things Nigerian could and should provide for you and even realise your existence. At that time my views were blurred- being a young mother trying to cope with two other children in a society that was as confused as I was, as to what was autism, its origin and ways to respond to it.
We took great leap of blind faith into the unknown with you, Akinyele, while I will admit, it has not been without great struggle, we have made many great strides, in not only you my son living with Autism but as a family. I consider this a big accomplishment, though community and society is yet to catch up, families like ours need to run this race to provoke a positive response from the community, which will begin supporting and protecting others that are more vulnerable within it.
Although, you are now in your 28th year, yet the years we wrestled on how to educate you, or which was the best way to communicate with you or when will you read a book are not over. I am sure my son, you had wanted to do these things as everyone else and there is still room and opportunities for you to achieve these common activities. Now our priority is to know when you will set up your own family, earn a living and at the same time having a good social network which would love, respect, give you dignity and ensure your human rights. I often wonder about you learning to use a mobile telephone or an ipad to better communicate with us. You deserve a life, no matter how simple others perceive that this life might be; you have the right to choose and contribute anyway you possibly can.
Each year we celebrate Autism month, the question is, what is the significance of this day and how does it impact your life? As a professional, I have recently learnt that there are appropriately 67 million people with Autism with tens of millions of these people live in Africa. While this means my son you are in great company, I am not confident about these figures, as the first fact any researcher will tell you, that most data from Africa is not accurate. While I am not going to debate this, it’s frightening to discover that African children not only suffer from preventable diseases such as malaria, polio, malnutrition children but are more likely to have developmental disorders like Autism.
With ever increasing pressures from families who have children with Autism and other developmental disabilities, there is a need to develop systems and procedures which will take care of children with autism and related developmental disabilities. This is contrary to the present situation which is fragile, unorganised and at times chaotic and also affected by the stigma of having a child with any type of disabilities. Our response to this situation as professionals or otherwise is for every mother who has a child with autism to become service providers and ‘experts.
In all this my son I feel the following are the most important actions that should be taken. First there needs to be a massive campaign about Autism and other developmental disabilities, this should be included in all mainstream child health campaigns. As part of the medical students training, issues of autism and other developmental disabilities should be part of the curriculum. There should be a review of how the principles of Community-Based Rehabilitation could be adapted to assist the children through resources that are available. We must embrace early intervention and work as hard as we can to assist the family and the child through educational programmes and others that are tailored to meet their needs.
Government policies top all of the systems that one might develop, it is important the policies are not only developed but are implemented. The most brilliant act to date is the Lagos State Special People’s Law, although it is not specific to Autism and developmental Disabilities. If this law is expanded to cover other disabilities it holds long term gains. There is a proposed autism bill, which is yet to be passed and I strongly recommend for the society and Government to institutionalize Disability Act, an act that would adequately cater for the needs of broad spectrum of disorders and disabilities. I pray one day such policies will be able to protect you.
Well my son I am not sure you will be reading this but I have put all my emotions as a mother and a professional into this article. I do hope this will help families that are in our situation- I empathize with them and want them and to know we may be moving not as fast as we should, but all is not lost and it is possible to live and survive in Nigeria living with Autism.
Thank you for allowing me to be your Mother as without you I could not have possibly put my best side forward. I believe all is going to be well (another dose of blind faith) and I will live long enough to write another letter to you.
All the best, I continue to love you Mother (Dr. Yinka Akindayomi) Founder, Children’s Development Centre
By Ade Fashade
There is no doubt that we live in a world where technology dominates our everyday life choices and decisions. Our access to information and opportunities is now dependent on having the right technological tool and medium. Interaction and engagement across sectors, cultures and society is facilitated by technology. This has become more so for any business that is looking to become relevant in its market environment and more competitive in an increasingly fast-moving and global business environment. While big businesses and multi-nationals are generally making the most of the technological advancement out there, the transition has been a bit slower for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
In many advanced industrialised countries like the UK, SMEs are valued as the backbone of the economy. The government have strategies in place to support SMEs in ensuring that they continue to be major avenues for economic vibrancy. Sadly, the same cannot be said in terms of support for the sustainability of SMEs in Nigeria. According to the Federal Office of Statistics of Nigeria, 97% of all businesses employ less than 100 employees. That equates to virtually all businesses in Nigeria! If majority of them continue to lag behind in terms of developing sustainable ICT strategies for their businesses, the impact on the Nigerian economy and its potential to continue to grow and be relevant and competitive in a technologically-savvy global market could be adversely affected.
Much of the problem facing SMEs in leveraging technology in advancing their businesses is down to costs. Many of them have difficultly accessing finance and loans from banks for example, due to the stringent and costly bureaucratic processes, and in many cases, outright rejection. However, SMEs can begin to overcome this by researching and developing cost-effective technological tools that can help advance their businesses, and also consider viable partnerships with either their peers or with larger firms in reducing costs and improving their ICT potential. SMEs must begin to see technology as an opportunistic tool to be able to create, innovate and transform. Mobile technology, social media and cloud computing (a technological phenomenon that is gradually becoming popular with Nigerian businesses) are key technological tools that can be cost-effective in helping to open potential markets both at home and abroad. For SMEs to begin to take full advantage of the opportunities that technology presents to their sustainability and competitiveness, they require support from both government and the corporate sector.
In successfully leveraging technological advancement of SMEs in Nigeria, it is important to establish levels of advocacy and support in order to help them attain their full technological potential. As Nigeria is now fully recognised as one of the fastest growing markets in the world (the 30th largest economy according to the IMF), growing the SME sector is vitally important, especially in the area of technological advancement. The SME sector needs better organisation in order to effectively make the best of its vast potential, and technology will most certainly play a significant part in realising this. An established independent national body that solely supports and advocates for SME needs should be enacted by our legislators. It should be the singular voice of the SME sector on such important issues as ICT sustainability. I am aware there is a National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME). However, this is a privately-run, under-resourced organisation that does not even have its own dedicated website! (except for a brief information page hosted on the African Heritage Institution website.
An established, legally constituted body can, for example, provide investment and facilitate the development of Business Enterprise ‘hubs’ across the country where SME can have access to ICT tools in helping their businesses prosper. These Business hubs will provide much-needed ICT support, especially to new and emerging SME start-ups, who may be unsure of where to make a start in terms of ICT leveraging for their business. These ‘hubs’ will serve as a meeting place for owners of small businesses to network, hot-desk, share advice/information, and support each other. More of these types of business technology-centred hubs will improve the attitudes of SME towards embracing technology as a crucial tool to business sustainability.
Another important way of advancing technology for SMEs is partnership with larger businesses and corporate organisations. I believe that large corporate bodies have a role to play to support SMEs in this area. It is possible that SMEs may not be wholly attracted to this idea, perhaps due to fear of being ‘taken over’ by the ‘big boys’!. However, I think larger organisations can partner with SMEs through mentoring and networking support. Larger businesses may choose to support SMEs with a social aim as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility objectives. Partnerships of this kind can be profitable, as it can be a ‘win-win’ situation for both SME and the larger corporate body in advancing both their brand in a competitive continental and global market. Foreign multinationals, who make huge profits in Nigeria, can also be encouraged to support SMEs in leveraging technology, as way of putting something back into society.
These are potentially exciting times for SME owners and partnerships. Despite the negativity that currently engulfs the political and economic life in Nigeria, the country has become a key player in a booming global market environment. Effectively exploiting its vibrancy will be hugely dependent on embracing the relevant technological options and opportunities. CEOs of SME will have to show strong and committed leadership in the area of technology. They will need to develop a positive and strategic approach to leading their organisations in dealing with the technological advancement and changes that SMEs are facing and will face in the coming years. Their leadership and commitment to ICT strategies will determine the sustainability of their businesses now and in the future. Technology is making the business world smaller, and SMEs must ensure that they are not squeezed out and left behind.
Ade Fashade, Human Development & Public Policy Consultant
***Still unsure how to start leveraging technology for your business, register to attend LEAP’s 9th CEOs Forum holding on May 15th, 2014, here now.