Coming from a science background, not many people would have expected Blessing Abeng to become a force in the marketing and communications industry. Yet, she has been a part of building successful companies like Disha and Ingressive for Good (I4G) from the ground up.
Blessing spoke to us about her journey, including how she dumped her medical ambitions for a career in branding and communications, why she stopped her branding agency and how Ingressive for Good raised over half a million dollars in donations.
How did Ingressive for Good start?
Ingressive for Good launched July 1, 2020, in the peak of the COVID lockdown. Before this, Ingressive Capital, a venture firm led by Maya Horgan, had a small-scale CSR project that involved connecting student communities with global tech companies like Github and Figma.
We also randomly paid for students’ school fees and bought them laptops. After a while, we paused our approach and interviewed some of our beneficiaries and tech stakeholders. This interview revealed that in addition to getting training and tools, people wanted jobs too.
On Ingressive Capital’s side, they realised that finding the right talent is one of the biggest challenges startups face. This is why we thought of creating Ingressive for Good, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young Africans increase their earning power by developing tech skills and landing jobs.
Was Ingressive for Good set to be a nonprofit from the jump?
What informed that decision?
Well, most of our target market couldn’t afford paid training due to their financial situation. I mean, how do you expect an unemployed youth to pay for premium training? It just didn’t seem fair.
Since Ingressive for Good was an off-shoot of Ingressive Capital, you must have had enough resources to kickstart operations, correct?
Not at all. We didn’t have a single naira. The two companies are separate, so we needed to raise our own funds.
Really. We launched during COVID lockdown, when the economy was in disarray and people were afraid to donate or invest. If you remember, the stock market was down — everything was red.
People were barely investing in profitable causes, not to talk of a nonprofit. So we had a hard time getting funding for our operations. The investors with cash to give were focused on healthcare because of COVID.
However, all that changed when Joey Glickman offered to donate because he believed in our mission. He was our first donor.
How did that play out?
Joey had always believed in us. He was among our very first core supporters. According to him, Ingressive for Good could be the possible solution to poverty in Africa, especially using tech as a catalyst.
We also decided to launch a pilot program as proof that there was need for our existence. We explained the plan for the program — train a maximum of 5,000 people — and how much we needed to execute it. He granted our request.
What happened next?
After the donation, we landed a partnership with Coursera and Facebook. We also got over 20,000 applications.
Oh wow! Far above your expectations.
Yes. Coursera gave us just 5,000 licences, so there was no way to cater to 20,000 people. However, the tremendous interest proved we had a demand, giving us the confidence to raise almost $500,000 in 2021. This enabled us to train 66,000 people in software development, data and design, and we placed most of them in jobs.
Next, we partnered with Geneza school of Design to train 1,000 women in design. This changed the lives of so many women and youth. The success stories got Google’s attention, and they ended up donating $250,000 (₦103,750,000) to support our mission.
What was your role in all of this?
Well, I was initially the Communications Director. Then I became a co-founder. I led the conversation with Google, but it was a team effort. Our work spoke for us.
Tell us about the transition from Communications Director to co-founder.
Years ago, I met Maya Horgan, the founder of Ingressive Capital, while I and my partner were running Startup Grind Lagos. We invited her to speak at our monthly event, and we connected from there. She loved my work, followed me on social media and we got acquainted. One time, she tried getting me to run communications at Ingressive Capital, but I declined because I had other commitments.
But when she told me about Ingressive for Good in 2020, I was excited to join her and Sean Burrowes as a founding member. I’m great at being creative and analytical, so this came in handy when Ingressive for Good began operations. I took ownership of my communications role and got involved in important conversations like I was a co-founder.
One time, we were at a donor meeting, and I answered most of the questions the donors threw at us. Right after that call, Maya and Sean invited me to be a co-founder. According to them, I was already handling the nonprofit like it was mine. So why not?
What were you doing before Ingressive for Good and Disha?
I was the owner of Einsteinette Limited, a branding and communications agency for startups. I ran it for about five years.
That’s a long time. Why did you stop it?
I founded my agency to help startups who could not afford big agency budgets tell their stories better. It was pretty successful; I had a profitable clientele, some of whom still reach out to me to this day to train their team or consult.
However, when Disha came into the picture, I gradually got less and less involved in my agency. I created more self-service toolkits and e-books to help cater to my clients. I eventually closed it down to focus on Disha.
That was brave.
Given how Disha and I4G weren’t exactly profitable when you first joined them, did stopping your agency affect your finances?
Not at all. I had saved and invested enough money to sustain me for years while running my agency, and I had digital content raking in passive income. I also occasionally freelanced as a branding consultant. Overall, I had sufficient funds to live comfortably.
I see you’re hands-on with your finances.
Have you always been like this?
Yes. As far back as my childhood, for some reason, I enjoyed saving mint notes and counting them occasionally. Also, my father made me read finance classics like Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I became compelled to always keep money aside, no matter how little. All those lessons linger in my mind even as an adult.
Speaking of your background, how did you switch from a scientific field like Biochemistry to communications?
Back in secondary school, I was the only science student who did art courses, and I excelled at them. This was because the Science Head of Department and the Art Head of Department had argued in my principal’s office after I chose to go with science in line with my medical dream.
The Art HOD felt it would be a waste of my talent and thought I needed to explore more. Eventually, I became the only science student who did art courses. I won essay competitions, acted and danced, but I also won mathematics competitions and represented my school at science fairs.
Then I fell in love with writing business plans and proposals in university. The marketing parts of my business plans were so interesting that people paid me to write plans for them. Eventually, a friend of mine inspired me to check out branding.
It wasn’t popular then, but I did my research and loved what I saw. So I made a decision to study branding at Orange Academy. It was then I knew for sure that I wanted to pursue a career in branding and communications.
My dad didn’t like the idea, though. But I told him to give me two years to try and make it, after which he could now force me to continue my journey to medicine. I even turned down a ₦400,000/month job right after NYSC to chase this dream. Thankfully, it worked out, and my dad’s proud of me today.
We’re proud of you too.
[Laughs] Thank you.
What would you say to anyone trying to build and scale a nonprofit?
Focus on impacting one person at a time. Instead of trying to reach thousands of people, just focus on creating the best value for the one person you created your nonprofit for. If you do this well enough, that one person will become two people, and those two people will grow to thousands. As they grow, track the impact and document their stories.
Simply put: Prioritise impact over volume.