Don’t Wait to Take the First Step

Spotting the Facebook photo of an unfortunate fellow student in the same dormitory at Ekiti State University in Ado Ekiti, Nigeria, alerted Mr. Akinluyi Sola Mathew to a humanitarian dilemma. The other student suffered from lymphatic cancer and hepatitis B, both grave illnesses. “He was seeking funds to help pay his medical bills,” says Mr. Sola. “When I saw it, I knew people would not believe in charity unless appeals were backed up by more persuasive evidence.”

Social media is a mixed blessing in the nonprofit sector. It gets out the word on good causes faster to more people than anyone imagined possible a few decades ago. But ease of proliferation also strains credibility. “People don’t believe stories just because they are on social media,” says Mr. Sola. “You have to make legitimate causes more real so people can believe them.”

Entrepreneurial by nature, Mr. Sola formed Charity Connect Podcast, a virtual marketplace where people who need help meet people who want to help by giving money or by volunteering. A podcast delivered life-saving results for his fellow student. “We featured the campaign and raised what he needed from more than 3,000 donors.”

When a worthy cause is visible, first steps often seem longest. “The greatest fear someone can have is starting,” says Mr. Sola. Talking to people and reading books are essential to launching any NGO, but only go so far. “Unfortunately, the solution to overcoming that fear is by starting,” he advises. “It doesn’t matter how. Just start.”

Few stories motivate Mr. Sola more than the stark imbalance between a woman who died for lack of medical attention because she could not pay a $475 hospital bill. Meantime, says Mr. Sola, he knew about someone who paid $3,150 for a wristwatch. If they were not strangers, if both knew what was at stake and had reason to care, Mr. Sola believes, funds might save a life and still leave plenty to tell the time of day on a very fine wristwatch.

Imbalances abound today. Some orphanages that lack critical supplies and other orphanages have more supplies than they need. Not that spreading the word via podcast guarantees optimal distribution of charitable resources, but helping even a few people can mean life or death.

An orphan himself from age 14, Mr. Sola had nothing handed to him. He lived with an aunt but fended for himself. “She tried her best but she really couldn’t help because she had her own responsibilities,” says Mr. Sola, who has embraced the value of self-reliance. “When I compete I compete with myself,” he says. “I want to be better than I was yesterday.” When everyone strives to be the best they can be, others strive to be the best also.

He worked in high school as a manual laborer to make ends meet. After completing secondary school, he earned a diploma in computer engineering that equipped him to repair computers and install software.

Working, saving and the help of other people enabled him to enroll in university. While studying agriculture he felt called by God to offer thanks for his good fortune. As thanks, he launched Christian Charity Network, a network of charitable organizations in Nigeria that reach out to the less privileged: orphans, hospitalized children, deaf and visually impaired people.

Still brand new, Charity Connect Podcast has promise. Podcasts have drawn attention to real victims of sickle cell anemia, lymphatic cancer and poverty. Compared to the daily challenges and indignities that accompany illness and poverty, Mr. Sola welcomes fundraising and other hard work that keep his NGO going.

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