“I change the world by helping people to get started in Tech and Social Entrepreneurship” - Peter
Peter Ayeni has the confident, upward gaze of a poster visionary and the enthusiastic, trust-inspiring smile of your favorite school teacher. If he tells you that, however difficult things may be, “there is always a different way that each and every one of us can take,” you instantly believe him. His optimism works like a re-charging.
The Nigerian software engineer, innovator, and mentor lives — between Lagos and London — in a future he is constantly creating.
Barely in his mid-thirties, he teaches at some of the world’s best schools, moves from one prestigious scholarship to another, and travels the world to meet some of the most brilliant software innovators at work right now.
Across his many projects and collaborations, he is inspiring a community of fresh young minds — hungry for knowledge, and driven by a passionate desire to transform Africa and the world. You can find them at what Peter calls “idea hacks” — conventions for experimentation, for using design frameworks to problem-solve, for inventing tool kits that can be applied to businesses and organizations anywhere.
At the core of it is Mbele, a social enterprise that uses technology to make quality education accessible, fun, and rewarding to people across Africa — no matter their education or socio-economic status — and bring them on a journey of lifelong learning.
Consider the tragic beginnings of his own story: Growing up in a small town, on the border between Nigeria and Benin, one Friday at school Peter is told that his two older brothers have both been killed in a car accident. It affects everything: His single mother loses her job, Peter’s academic work suffers terribly. He lives on one school meal a day, his clothes are always dirty. He’s laughed at and mocked.
It’s an encounter with an older schoolmate who is interested in technology that sparks something in him.
Could I do this too? How can anyone?
At the time — it’s the early 2000s — there is not a single school in Nigeria that offers a course in software engineering. Peter has no choice, but to teach himself. He manages to get a job in a smoke-filled cyber café that comes with free browsing time. Online through the night, he downloads all resources on graphic and web design he can find. He learns CorelDRAW, Dreamweaver, FrontPage. Less than a year from setting out, he lands his first design job and launches a website in the same smoke-filled café.
By now, he has saved enough to find an international school that offers computing (the closest he can get to software engineering). He graduates with distinction and lands his first job straight after. Others follow, first in Nigeria, then abroad. He continues to study, in Switzerland, in the UK. The salaries grow, and each promotion leads him to further education.
This kind of self-determined upward trajectory Peter wants for all.
And his unwavering belief that it’s doable is infectious. “I change the world by helping people to get started in Tech and Social Entrepreneurship” he states on one of his websites, and there’s not a hint of hubris to this.
Mbele (“It started as a tiny idea I had…”) is a widely admired success story. The software developers it educates are guaranteed jobs as teachers, immediately passing on the knowledge they have gained. Expertise spreads, education becomes mass-accessible, and a new generation is entering the upper levels of a highly competitive job market (and its “war for talent”) from a new, hyper-connected Nigeria.
Peter is well aware that one skill alone (even if it’s coding) is not going to secure the future, but he knows that there are more than enough people out there now who, like him, are no longer afraid to try, and possibly fail, and try again, and in the process design the better world we want to live in.
Written by Daniel Kramb