It’s a Konnect Africa Interview! It’s a chirpy Monday morning and we are set to soar with an inspiring interview from professional Basketballer Andrew Lovedale, Founder of Access to Success, a Christian-based athletic-educational Foundation which is based in Benin City, Nigeria, West Africa.
As a student-athlete, Andrew birthed the idea of gifting the used athletic gear -shoes- his team discarded in the United States to underprivileged youth in his community. From this grew a greater passion to actively impact the lives of young people in Nigeria, his home country, and Access to Success has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception in 2010.
How can a pair of shoes make a difference in anyone’s life? Andrew answers!
KA: What is in a pair of shoes?
Shoes are typically a vessel for movement from one point to another. In them lies the feet that carry a person’s body. However, in a place of little, a lack of shoes prevents mobility, depletes hope, exposes one to health risks and robs destinies.
KA: Tell us about Access to Success; what was the motivation behind establishing a Foundation in Nigeria? How is the Foundation run since you aren’t currently resident in Nigeria?
The major motivation of founding Access to Success was to give back to fellow Nigerians. Every time I come back to Nigeria, I see my old self in the youth and understand what they are going through. A major goal of A2S is to make sure we empower the youth so that they do not have to go through some things I went through.
Our goal is to make sure that youths of today are equipped to handle a continuously evolving world by giving them the tools that they require. The tools of faith, education and sports are at the core of what we do and how we empower our participants. Personally, my goal is to give them the tools they need so that they are further along than I was when I was their age.
We partner with Gospel Ministries Bible Church in Benin City, and we have two Nigerian full time staff and several volunteers. Our Nigerian staff represents our interest and relay our objectives to our partners as we engage in dialogue to find ways to provide adequate and sustained opportunities for the youth that we serve. Our U.S team and Nigerian team typically meet once a year to further our programs.
KA: Was this a difficult decision to make? Did it interfere with your career as a sportsman?
It was not a difficult decision to make. As a professional basketball player, I had some time on my hands and with technology these days, one can work from anywhere. Plus, we have a competent team in the U.S. who carry the vision at heart just as much as I do. I recently retired from professional basketball and have devoted more time to growing Access to Success.
KA: Access to Success; how exactly does one provide others with access to success? Funding? Training? Education? What other methods of delivery do you utilize in granting Access to Success?
We provide access to success by engaging, educating, encouraging, empowering and enriching our kids. We use Christian-based athletic and educational programs to empower youth through programs like our empowerment, basketball, and after school camps. We ensure that the kids we are helping get a free hot meal each day. Our goal is to use all these tools to empower our kids to develop a mindset that allows them grow and utilize all they have learned. We are constructing a library, a computer centre and just bought a piece of land where we plan to build a permanent facility. Our approach is holistic and is aimed at developing the complete child. In summary, through our programs, we believe that we can provide access to success by investing in our kids so that they can find what they are passionate about and be motivated enough to use it to not only better their lives but to change the world.
KA: Your Foundation combines Christian values and sports; how do you tie it all in? What is the core message of A2S?
We tie it all in by making the kids understand the value of love. God is love and when we approach everyday with that mentality, we have the confidence that we will excel as long as we do things the right way and not only focus on self. The core message of A2S is that every child deserves the right to dream irrespective of location and socioeconomic status.
KA: What are the long-term goals of this Foundation? How do you measure the impact you have made and will continue to make?
The long-term goal of A2S is to build a sustainable interconnected support system that is paid forward diligently from person to person. We are not bringing a foreign culture to the youth. We work in partnership to help build a society that excels within its own norms and values.
We measure impact by the amount of kids who have been through the program and are excelling either in their academics, in athletics and/or making a difference in this world. We will also measure it by the amount of kids who benefit yearly through our year-round afterschool programs.
KA: It feels as though a lot of Foundations and NGO’s are replicated; would it be impossible for like-minded NGO’s or Foundations to work together under a common umbrella to achieve set goals?
I do believe that likeminded NGOs should work together to accomplish certain goals, as long as they continue to uphold their missions. In the US, A2S develops partnerships with likeminded NGOs, and we work with them to develop the programs that we implement in Nigeria. It is the best way to grow and expand your impact. We look forward to collaboration with appropriate NGOs in Nigeria in the future as we become further rooted into Benin City.
KA: There have been a spate of allegations against some so called non-profit organizations that allegedly siphon funds from international bodies; what are your thoughts, and how do you steer clear of this malaise?
Taking money meant for the least among us is terrible and dishonest. I am very proud of A2S in this regard. From day one, I wanted something that would outlast me. I wanted something that would challenge other Nigerians. I wanted something that our kids would be proud of. I am continuously challenged to do things the right way because that is a message that will provoke shift in the mindset in Nigeria. If I am a Nigerian running a non-profit that is meant to change lives and I cannot live by doing things the right way, then I am causing more harm than good.
At A2S, most of our staff are unpaid, with the exception of internship stipends and two full-time staff employed in Nigeria. Our organization is founded by hard-working volunteers who have dedicated their time to seeing this organization become successful in the long term. Our checks and balances are adequate. We have a very vibrant and diverse board and every major decision is voted on. We depend on our donor’s hard-earned money and make sure that are every dollar is spent as designated. The IRS also audits non-profits to make sure the financials are well kept and correct.
KA: Opportunities evident in sport careers have only become evident in recent years; why has it taken so long to discover?
Lack of access to technology and inadequate education about these opportunities are two major reasons why it has taken this long for us to explore them or consider integrating them into our systems. The opportunities have always been there but people were not informed enough about them. In cases where people were aware of these opportunities, they were misinformed and did not have the technology to research or proceed with necessary steps.
KA: Your thoughts on the development of sports and sporting infrastructure in Nigeria?
There seems to be a growing demand for development of sports in Nigeria. However, in order to grow sports, you do not only need infrastructure, you need a system to support it and provide on-going maintenance and care. In cases where there is new infrastructure, the lack of maintenance is pretty obvious.
Nigeria should begin to start investing in sports at the grassroots level. Organized sports should be a part of school curriculum, and structure ensures development. Infrastructure should be invested in, but that infrastructure also requires sustenance. If there is structure, we will be investing in our leagues, which will reduce brain drain and will force youth to aspire to careers at home. This current deficit leaves gifted athletes with no choice but to want to improve and play abroad.
KA: Andrew Lovedale is tall that we know; to be a basket-baller he has to be! What/who else is he?
Andrew Lovedale is a happily married to Molly Lovedale the love of his life. He is a man that has been lifted from grass to grace. A man who is thankful for the gift of life. I like to play Xbox, listen to Nigerian music and eat Nigerian food. Mr. Ibu is my favorite Nigerian actor. For the most part, I believe that no encounter is an accident so I enjoy investing my talents, treasures and time in people above all things.
KA: We also know you are a Benin Man; what are your fondest childhood memories?
I always had so much fun playing with other kids in the neighbourhood. I always enjoyed the Christmas and New Year holidays too.
KA: Sportsmen do get education! From the cradle upwards, what was your educational journey?
I attended primary school in Kaduna, Secondary school in Benin and then did my A and AS levels in Manchester, England. I then gained a scholarship to attend Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C. in the U.S., where I was a student-athlete and pursued a degree in political science.
KA: There is a lot glitz and glamour in the sports industry; there is also drug use and abuse; how have you set yourself apart from the depredation? How would you advise younger folk to do so?
Well, I try not to fill my mind, body or soul with junk. I have always embraced God’s word and let it set the tone for my every day. Young folks, do not do anything that will extract the vitality that has been placed in you. It starts by cultivating your thoughts, words and actions. Refrain from anything or anyone that does not add value to you.
KA: Did you deliberately choose the paths you have taken thus far or do you let life happen to you as it chooses?
I have always had a plan, but God’s plan has always taken over. I just let go and let God. He has not let me down.
KA: What does family mean to you?
Family is everything to me… It is the original platform from which our gifts are manifested in society and through which we can share God’s nature in us.
KA: Life is…
KA: Inspire a young African in one sentence.
View each day as an opportunity to get better and seize every moment to invest in yourself and others because it is by cultivating this habit that we can reverse the trend of Africa’s recent history.