Money In The Trash Bin
Olufunto Boroffice, is the MD/CEO of Chanja Datti, a waste collection and recycling company. She is also the founder of Waste Africa, an NGO. In this Interview with TEMITOPE FAYEHUN, she shares the story of her journey to junk business
What’s the background of Chanji Datti?
We’ve been in existence since 2015. We just turned four years. We just launched our brand which is called ‘Bottle To books’. The aim is to provide education for children through waste. We have been able to recycle over two million kilograms of waste which we have channeled to manufacturing companies. Not only have we been able to provide a platform for people to make money, we are also involved in cleaning the environment.
What was your motivation for going into recycling business despite your wealthy background?
I use to leave in the United State of America. I have leaved there for close to 20 years because that was where I went to school and after school, I also worked there. But each time I come to Nigeria for a visit, I noticed many people, people old enough to be my grandparents, come to beg me for money. For me, that was an eyesore. I know that Nigerians are not that lazy, anytime I engaged them, they usually complained about no jobs and money.
To me, that was heartbreaking. So I thought that something must be done to engage these people. Again because I lived abroad, I know how clean those countries are, it is not the same here in Nigeria. You see the streets dirty, the gutters blocked by waste, waste that can be converted to useful things but nobody cared.
Yes, the government is trying, but their effort is just not enough, individuals need to step in and do something about the situation.
That formed one of the reasons I moved back home. It was also to respond to what people usually tell me, you are in the comfort of America and question what is going on in Nigeria. They said I was an arm chair critic that when I come to Nigeria and get involved, then I can talk and people we listen. So I decided to move back home and contribute my own quota.
When I finally moved back to Nigeria in 2013, I had the opportunity of working in the Ministry of Power, then we had many investors who are actually coming in to do waste to energy. So, I started thinking about how to create jobs for people. Thank God, for years now, we have both the part-time and full-time workers of over 150 people who make their living out of waste and this waste is what we all generated.
Some might call it dirt, junks or waste but each one of us are generating half a kilograms a day. This is a waste that some people are throwing away or burning. I am saying that this is a resource that one can convert into money. So, why are we burning it? Why are we creating environmental pollution when we can actually turn it into an avenue for people to make money for themselves. Instead of begging for money, turning to crime, why don’t we turn the waste around us to money?
Looking back, do you think you are on the right track as regards to your mission statement?
I remember when I started this journey, a lot of people asked me, why have you chosen visiting dump sites over working in a good corporate organization?
They mocked me saying why have you chosen to make a mockery of your education by moving down to deal with people who are really at the bottom of the economic pyramid?
They actually expected me to get an office somewhere with Air Conditioner and so on because I was educated, because I had been abroad. Not me, I have a mission and as I am talking to you now, I am fulfilled seeing these people that are working here and earning a living.
People come here, especially those who know my background, and ask questions like, your father is a senator, you have so much opportunity, why are you doing waste? For me, this platform is a life-changing platform for many. People may not understand it now, but I do, I am the visioner, I know where I am going.
You don’t even need education to make money on this business. What I am saying is this, if you are walking a mile and you are looking down not looking up, and you are collecting all the plastic bottles or the pure water sachets or the cans you see on the road, the paper or the cardboard you see on the road, you can actually exchange that for money that can buy you a recharge card instead of holding one aunt or uncle that didn’t send you money. You can look down and collect those things and exchange them for cash.
Presently, I have been able to silence the doubting Thomases that actually looked down on the job before now. A lot of them are now realising and commending what we are doing here. Some of them are actually saying, you are doing a great job here, not only for the environment but for the lives of people you are impacting.
What is your success story so far and your company’s impact in the society?
I am very excited when I meet people that are benefitting from this project. For example like a Mama Masaca that usually come here, she comes here consistently with a load of bottles every Friday. When you talk to her, she will say, my daughter, money for soup for the week and she collects money. I have so many success stories. Like our second site at Giri, a lady started with me two years ago and among themselves, they formed a cooperative. We were driving one day along Giri and she said I just want to show you a piece of land I bought here. She is in her 20s and she just bought a piece of land that she is about building on. The lady recently enrolled in National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to complete her education.
There is one of my workers whom her husband was living in Lagos and she was here working, unfortunately she lost her job and couldn’t raise money for her rent. She joined us and through this work, she was able to pay her rent and the husband was praising her.
So, I have so many examples around me here. When I look back and hear stories like that, it solidifies my spirit to continue to do more, it gladdens my heart that through this job, I was able to contribute to people’s lives. And I can’t deny the fact that we also clean our environment.
What do you think has influenced your inroads into public service?
I grew up in a family of a public servant. My father is a politician and before that he was a University Professor. My mummy is a retired University Professor. For both of them giving back to society through teaching, also encouraged me to follow suit. My grandfather was a Health inspector. I didn’t stumble into it. It is in my blood. Giving back to society has always been in our DNA.
My family influenced my inroads to give back to society. I see examples of my father, mother and my grandparents. It is not the question of what your country can do for you. Rather, what you can do for your country? I think that is evident in my life and the lives of my siblings as well.
What challenges have you had to grapple with in the course of doing this work and how do think government can help?
Starting a business in Nigeria is tough. If you don’t have the determination to do what you have in mind, there are many factors that can discourage you from doing business in the country. There are sometimes that I feel like I should get out of here. But when I see the many lives that I was impacting, that alone keep me going. I can’t afford to be selfish because I have workers who depend on this to take care of their families. We have so many workers here. Some of them make at least about N3,000 a day. Some of them, immediately they collect this money, they go to motor parks to send the money to their parents.
These are boys that started as almajeris but now they have found something better to do. Sometimes some of them come to ask for money, and I ask them, I just paid you yesterday, they will say they have sent the money home. When you probe further, they tell you that their parents are using the money to buy cattle for them or supplementing the family finance. So, whenever I think of the challenges that we face, I keep on coming back.
One of the biggest challenges we face now is the lack of constant electricity. Because we’ve actually gone from collection to recycling and our equipment need a constant power supply. When we don’t have power supply, it means we are not doing any work. There are so many good things we want to do. But when we think about the cost to do some of these things, we just calm down. This is because at this point, we don’t have the resources. Although, we are super excited about a lot of programmes the government have in place. But to access some of these funds is not as easy as people think. If they reduce some of these, things will be great. The biggest players in the collection of waste in Nigeria are Chinese, Indians and maybe Lebanese.
Their government actually support them financially but if I should go to any bank here to ask for money, they will charge me about 27 percent interest on the loan. The checklist you are going to meet up in the Bank of Industry, especially those that are starting up will discourage you. It is not easy to access funds to support your business in this country.
Moving forward, where do you see this company in the next 5 years?
For me, it is all about job creation and cleaning of our environment. I will like to see a situation where we could get support from our government to buy more equipment because we have a lot of recyclable waste in this country that can actually be recycled and create jobs.
For me ultimately, I want to be a big player in this sector. Hopefully, we will go into the recycling of pure water sachet to different types of nylon bags that our people can use. We currently have five points in Abuja. We have in Lugbe Garinmpa, Kado and Wuse.
How equipped and prepared are you and your company to achieve this target?
One of the things I am opening myself to now is more training that will further equip me to achieve my set goals. I am also working with the people of like minds. Once I identified somebody who is where I want to go, I try as much as possible to make a link to the person so that I can learn from them. I also do a lot of reading. One of the things I am learning is that consistency is part of the business. So, if I surrounded myself with the people of like mind, I will keep on learning.
What message do you have for the general public especially Nigerians in diaspora?
One of the things I want to mention is that recycling is not only meant for cleaning the environment, it is also a means of making money. A lot of people say they don’t want to do it because it is junk business, there is a lot of social, economic issues that can come out of keeping of our environment clean. Not only that, but you can also make money in this sector.
March 18th is the global recycling day and we are going to be doing a couple of events on that day. We are opening hubs around Abuja here. There, you can sort your waste and you can actually make money from it.
We are currently partnering with banks and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). We can pay money straight into your account base on the amount of thrash you gathered. Above all, we are trying to be creative with some of the solutions we are bringing. Again, I want people to realise that what people consider as waste before, is no more waste. This is because there is a real value for it. I call it a commodity that people are looking for. It is no longer a waste. If you can tap into it, you can do good for the environment and also make money.
So far, what are the lessons you’ve learnt?
I will say being tenacious, consistent and never taking no for an answer. What you do will definitely take you far. Even though I come from a very blessed background; for me, it is very critical not only to give back but to continue to learn every day. I don’t just sit on laurels that my father is this or my mother is that.
I need to carve out something for myself. Something that will be strained to do. Some people believe this is not for women, to them it’s a man’s job. But they forget that what a man can do, a woman can also do. Therefore, I want to break barriers. I want to go to where women have failed to go. And this is an opportunity for me to do that. And again, more than anything else, I want to tell Nigerians that instead of looking for those government jobs, you can become an entrepreneur.
Start small and waste business is the area you can really go into. You don’t need a lot of capital to start. You can start small and grow from there. Where we were before, is not where we are today. It is a journey that I am happy to embark on. And I look forward to a life that this waste sector will take me.
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