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How to Escape Poverty by Focusing on Innovation

Poverty in the World; Poverty at BYU-Hawaii

Efosa Ojomo Picture

The world is no stranger to poverty.
In fact, 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day.
That 80% accounts to roughly 6 billion people.
The sad truth is that a portion of that 6 billion people include BYU-Hawaii students and their families.
Although it is a sad fact that our students have first-hand experienced poverty, it is debatably more heartbreaking that poverty still has yet to be solved.
However, an inspirational speaker came to BYU-Hawaii and spoke about one growing solution to end poverty through sustainable innovation.

. . . innovation and entrepreneurs are not just part of the answer. They are the answer. - Efosa Ojomo

One Moment Changed Lives

Our special visitor, Efosa Ojomo is originally from Nigeria and attended school in the United States. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a degree in computer engineering and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and spent his days working at the Forum for Growth and Innovation under Professor Clayton Christensen.
His education led him to where he is in life now, but there was one moment through all of that forever changed his purpose.
In February of 2008, Efosa read a book about a 10-year-old girl in Ethiopia who traveled 10 miles every single day to simply gather firewood. But the firewood wasn’t even for her family to use. Rather, it was used for her to sell in order to help provide for her family.
This girl was walking two and a half hours to help her family scrape by. The story of this 10-year-old girl changed Efosa’s life.
From this point forward, Efosa has dedicated his life to help people in situations like this young girl.
In the process of figuring out why poverty still exists (despite billions of dollars raised annually to eradicate it), he realized one key thing: People were focusing on giving rather than innovation.
Which inspired years and years of research on poverty and how to heal this financial plague. The book The Prosperity Paradox co-authored by Ojomo and Christensen is based on the idea of sustainable innovation to eliminate poverty.
One of the Willes Center’s professors, Dr. Jason Earl, was inspired by this book and invited the professors of the Entrepreneurship department to read it.

The Power of Twitter

But, before that happened, it all began with a tweet.
Dr. Gale Pooley, an economics professor at BYU-Hawaii, replied to one of Efosa’s tweets on Twitter in early 2017.

Dr. Jason Earl Picture

This first exchange created a “Twitter Pen-Pal” relationship between Ojomo and Dr. Pooley. On Twitter they discussed heavy matters on what creates and destroys wealth, poverty, politics, innovation, and more.
With this social media connection, Dr. Pooley invited Dr. Jason Earl, to learn more about the principles that Efosa was teaching regarding innovation to create prosperity and heal poverty.
Dr. Earl became very interested. Even so much that he attended a conference last year in October 2018. It was a strategy conference in Provo where Clayton Christensen and Efosa Ojomo spoke about The Prosperity Paradox. The book is a culmination of the years of research on innovation and its ability to lift nations out of poverty.

From Dr. Earl’s experiences with the conference, he reflected the following:

It was a fascinating discussion especially when considering all of our BYU-Hawaii Enactus projects in developing countries over the last 5 years and the things that we have learned about what does and does not work when introducing market creating innovations in our target area. - Dr. Jason Earl

Information Brought Inspiration and Improvement

Picture of people watching the lecture.

Dr. Pooley and Dr. Earl absolutely had to invite Efosa to speak to the students. This information was essential to share; not only to entrepreneurship students, but students and staff from Peacebuilding, Social Work, Economics, Business, and Political Science to work together and create “successful ventures” to bless the lives of those who live in their “home countries.”

Jason Earl, Efosa Ojomo, & Greg Pooley at the lecture series held in the McKay Auditorium.

After Efosa’s week-long visit to BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dr. Earl said:

With this knowledge, there is a need to share that with students, especially those from the school’s target areas, on our campus.
Dr. Pooley, the original connection to Efosa, felt this research corresponded with the foundation scripture of the economics courses at BYU-Hawaii. This scripture is found in Doctrine and Covenants 104:17:
“For the earth is full and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.”
Dr. Pooley adds on, “There are places on our planet that enjoy astonishing abundance. But at the same time there is heartbreaking poverty. How could this scripture be true for one part of the world but not another part?”
I really enjoyed [Efosa’s] courage to think differently. Instead of trying to eliminate poverty we should think about sustaining prosperity.”
The knowledge that Efosa’s work brings a greater understanding and light on “how the whole world can escape poverty and thrive in a world of market-creating innovation that makes products and services more affordable and more simple,” concluded Dr. Pooley.

3 Major Takeaways About Prosperity

One of BYU-Hawaii’s very own students, Jaeleen Ozu from American Samoa, had the chance to attend a meeting with Efosa Ojomo. From the meeting she gained a great grasp on “innovation being the answer to poverty.”

Efosa talked about the differences between a “diagnostic solution” and a “prescribed solution.” Innovation is considered diagnostic. During this meeting Jaeleen said she “took notes and quietly thought about [her] island [of American Samoa] and what its economic and political diagnosis would be.”

Three major things stood out to Jaeleen from the insightful meeting with Efosa:

  1. Sustainability is important and world poverty can end if people (and countries) can innovate sustaining businesses.
  2. It’s important for students to “lift where you stand.” Students need to go back to their home countries to create value; this is the best way to reduce world poverty.
  3. BYU-Hawaii is one of the best places to spread the idea that innovation can lift nations out of poverty. The students represent over 70 countries and have a mission to “enter to learn” and “go forth to serve.” They are meant to serve their home countries and can do this by innovating sustainable businesses.
Efosa Ojomo (middle) experience the Polynesian Cultural Center with BYU-Hawaii student, Pattica San (left).

Become a True Leader by Learning and Building

Although many things were taught during Efosa’s trip to Laie, the main takeaways continue to follow gospel principles that are embedded into the university’s mission statement:

The mission of Brigham Young University-Hawaii is to integrate both spiritual and secular learning and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.

One way to build the kingdom of God is to magnify our own skills and abilities to help the lives of others; in this case, help others rise out of poverty.

Dr. Earl has said, “The Willes Center believes that entrepreneurship can help students gain the essential skills and knowledge so that they will become the leaders of their nations and help their communities rise out of poverty and build the Kingdom of God on Earth.”

As students and faculty, we should be learning everything we can, so when we leave we are equipped with the knowledge not just to make it out there, but to make it better for others, too.

Dr. Pooley beautifully summarized Efosa’s time on BYU-Hawaii’s campus and also his book The Prosperity Paradox when he stated, “We enter this university to learn to serve. Learning how market-creating innovations work will help us to be much more valuable in our service to our brothers and sisters in the great family of humanity.”

When we rise where we stand through innovation, we can lift nations out of poverty.