Nigerian entrepreneur sells artisanal products through Facebook page
By Mike Strathdee
As printed in The Marketplace – July/August 2018
Like many highly educated Nigerians, Jerry Doubles struggled to find work after graduating.
Despite earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial chemistry in 2009 and applying for hundreds of jobs over the two years that followed, he couldn’t land formal employment with the private sector, the government or the army.
Over 250,000 young Nigerians graduate or complete national service annually, far beyond the economy’s capacity to absorb them. According to a 2016 survey of 90,000 people by Jobberman, a leading West African recruitment agency, 47 per cent of university grads in Africa’s largest economy were unemployed.
Lack of jobs and the fact that his father was not well known left him without the connections to get started, says his friend, Katelynn Folkerts.
Folkerts, who is working on a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, met Doubles during a one-year SALT (Serving and Learning Together) term with Mennonite Central Committee in Jos, Nigeria.
Doubles, a 35-year-old resident of Jos, eventually found a job with a Pampered Chef/Avon type of firm, convincing women to sell beauty products out of their homes. He excelled at the work, developed his skills at marketing products and made enough money to put himself through a Master of Business Administration program by correspondence.
After finishing the degree, he realized he needed to change tactics. A lover of computers and e-commerce, he had long dreamed about having an e-commerce website. He especially wanted to sell Nigerian-made products.
“One of the perceptions in Nigeria is that foreign products are always better,” Folkerts recalls Doubles telling her. “When he moved to Jos for university, he was overwhelmed by the amount of talented artisans he saw, just on the street.”
The Made in Jos page now has over 20,000 followers.
“He wanted to create a way that he could market their products more widely, and more efficiently, than just in the city.”
Starting an e-commerce website without access to capital or ability to get a bank loan was a challenge.
Realizing that Facebook is free, he began posting pictures on the world’s most popular social media platform. After creating a Made in Jos Facebook page, he began walking the streets and chatting with artisans who produced excellent quality products. He got their permission to photograph products, then posted the pictures on his Facebook page.
Doubles started with shoes, as he figured they would sell best. As friends shared his photos, orders started coming in.
A picture of well-made shoes resulted in the post being shared 5,500 times within a day, 112 orders to his inbox, and over 600 phone calls.
But the artisan who produced the shoes had only four employees, one sewing machine and very crude tools. Unable to fill that many orders, he was able to expand his staff. Doubles earned enough money to rent an office.
Having a business address helped to legitimize Doubles’ efforts in a country where Internet fraud is a severe problem.
The Made in Jos page is now the most popular in Plateau State, with over 20,000 followers. It markets the products of more than 20 artisans, including shoes, clothes, wallets and belts.
Doubles’ second entrepreneurial venture accidentally led him into peacebuilding. When he moved into Plateau state, he was amazed at the beauty of the area. Not wanting to explore it alone, he posted “Who wants to go for a hike?” on his Made in Jos Facebook page.
Three hundred people responded. Doubles was overwhelmed. For a fee of the equivalent of a few dollars a person, he bought them t-shirts and snacks, rented two coach buses and found first aid and security personnel to come along in case anyone got hurt.
He took 300 people hiking, losing the equivalent of $55 US on the outing. But the experiment led him to realize people were looking for cheap recreational activities.
Doubles created Jos Hike It, a second Facebook page, and continued to organize hikes. After losing money on the first six outings, he learned to plan for different sized groups, creating a What’s App group so participants could communicate.
The group has grown to encompass a range of other social activities, including swimming, movies and picnics.
Members have reported getting jobs through people they met in the hiking group. Others post pictures of products or services they offer during the market Friday sessions on the What’s App group, and participants are encouraged to patronize them.
There have been other benefits as well. The group has raised money for family emergencies through the Jos Hike It network. Some people have met their spouses while hiking.
The experiment hasn’t been without its challenges. Having Muslims and Christians in the same group and taking them to remote places was seen by some as a risk, given sectarian violence in recent years.
Logistics and budgeting were less challenging than mediating after someone made an inciting comment.
To defuse that situation, Doubles had to deploy conflict resolution and mediation skills. “His job got easier as people learned the norms of the group,” Folkerts said. “People just got used to loving each other.”
Spillover effects from Jos Hike It has included Christians and Muslims who met during a hike visiting each other in their homes, each other’s places of worship, weddings and funerals.
This has restored behavior that was common “before the crisis,” the period from 2001 to about 2014 when reciprocal clashes between Muslims and Christians occurred in Jos and rural areas of the state.
Doubles is now a member of a committee of hikers that oversees Jos Hike It, allowing him to focus on his Made in Jos Facebook page. The Made in Jos business generates enough income to support his parents as well.
Doubles’ father, who long hoped his son would get a traditional job, is now proud to say that Jerry is the CEO of Made in Jos, Folkerts said.
Doubles also now feels that he has enough income to afford to get married. ◆