Papa Yusupha Njie shares his Unique Success Story:
The journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a step. For Unique Group, the journey of becoming a multinational group of companies, began with a young man returning to The Gambia having completed his studies in 1998 from Middlesex University in the UK.
Mr Papa Yusupha Njie had a vision; a vision to become an Internet Service Provider in The Gambia, and upon his return, he got a job as an IT engineer at the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) which was not a bad-paying job at the time.
However, having being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug; it didn’t matter that he had only very little capital and other resources, Papa, as he is fondly called, went ahead starting a cybercafe registered under the name; Unique Solutions.
Within two decades, Mr. Njie has achieved quite a lot. For one, he is the Board Chairman at Access Bank Gambia and he was the first vice chairman of the sub- regional ICT Employers’ Organisation in West Africa, where he worked hard to ensure the application of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was implemented into the every-day lives of people in developing countries.
He has also amassed a good number of other awards and nominations. One of these is the Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 award from the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).
Papa Njie already has a string of successes that it would be a long list mentioning them all, but perhaps, one of the major ones would include his being named winners at the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in 2011 out of 3300 companies from across 48 countries in the continent.
He has also met with and engaged global political and business leaders including former presidents Barack Obama and Olusegun Obasanjo; former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and African giants like Tony Elumelu etc.
More recently in 2019, Unique Energy, under the Unique Group of Companies, was awarded a co-funding grant of US$ 282,902 from the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at a forum held in Ghana.
Mr Njie gives NewDay’s Mariam Ayeyemi a quick snapshot of his unique success story.
The journey has not been a smooth one but I put a lot of things in my faith and the people around me; behind every successful company, there are a few people that believe.
I relied greatly on people to get me to where I am today; I relied on my family, my parents, my wife who is a big part of the business, my children, who are my sources of inspiration and of course, the team.
One man couldn’t have achieved all these on his own. We faced several challenges, one of which was the rigid environment because of the dictatorship and another was the fact that The Gambia is a small economy with a lot of competitors who are also very innovative.
It has not been easy but our faith says that we were not brought into this world not to face challenges, and we believe that whatever is brought our way is an opportunity to grow.
“Our motivation is the people. We are aware that in order to grow, we need a lot of money, the right people, the right chemistry, network, but above all else, where the greater good comes out is how much of an impact the products and services we offer have on the people and the economy.
Don’t get me wrong, we are a business; if we don’t make money, we can’t survive but I believe that doing things like providing electricity where it hasn’t existed for almost two centuries; lighting up streets; putting up cameras in areas where there is a high crime rates give us a great sense of fulfilment.
An instance is where a few weeks ago, the police caught someone that stole a car around the traffic lights through our CCTV. We have members of staff who have attained university degrees through the scholarships we provide; there are people we have trained who have left to set up their own companies.
“We will continue to impact lives by virtue of what we do and I’m confident that the challenges that are thrown at us even during the pandemic allow us to reinvent and to re-innovate. Our goal is to make money while we provide good services.
“See, we create jobs, we pay taxes, we inspire people around us and we are always looking for the next best opportunity we can get into to transform lives and to serve the people that are dear to us; which is the Gambian people.
In the beginning, we provided a means through which people could access the internet and connect to the world but with time; the business grew such that a second office had to be set up and more people needed to be employed. Eventually, we started to offer more products and services which included the sales and repair of computers.
However, like many private companies that existed in the period of former President Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship, Unique Solutions— was a means through which people could see how the other parts of the world were progressing in terms of democracy, and which could eventually lead to people speaking up and rebelling against the government at the time—we faced several challenges but we persevered and pursued the vision of becoming the ISP to the financial institutions.
This vision came to fruition and we created a platform that currently allow interbank transactions. Now, our biggest clients are the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) and the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.
We started this business twenty-one years ago, it was one company but today, there are four companies across several diverse sectors of the Gambian economy.
I have always had the dream of not limiting myself. I didn’t want to limit myself because I thought it would limit the impact I would have on society and as soon as we were able to, we diversified, and that is how Unique Solutions metamorphosed into Unique Group that is now an umbrella to Unique Solutions where we provide ICT solutions;
Unique Energy focuses on renewable energy, power backup systems, and electricity and mini-grid; Unique Global focuses on transportation; Unique Industry, works on the exportation of groundnuts; and Unique Foundation, provides aid in areas of health, education and entrepreneurship.
ON SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
I am not just a profit-oriented entrepreneur. You can see the Gambians we have employed here; it’s obvious that we are in the business of creating meaningful jobs that makes a difference in the lives of people. So, my focus and the group’s focus is to empower our Gambian brothers and sisters and make sure that they have quality jobs that they can feed their families while providing products and services that the Gambian people can afford.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
We are a Gambian product but we’re starting to spread our tentacles across the world. I guess I can always look back at the business plans. The last one we had was when we were starting the ISP which is probably ten years ago under Unique Solutions.
The business plan was for us to be the Internet Service Provider for tourists for the financial service sector. That plan came into fruition. Today, you can’t use an ATM without going through us, neither can you cash a cheque without using our network.
We set our goals and over time; we’ve achieved them. I’m confident that in the next five years, there will be other businesses following our lead. One of our goal is to provide renewable energy across the country.
Hopefully, in the next couple of years, we will work with the Ministry of Energy to enhance the energy mix. We hope that in the next couple of months, the media would come to cover the inauguration of the provision of cheap, affordable electricity to communities that has not had electricity for more than one hundred and ninety years.
Under Unique Global, we want to go into water transportation, and under Unique Industries, we’re doing groundnut trading. We want to ensure that we can enhance the groundnut produce locally and add value to it.
Today, we’re importing, but we are looking for ways that we can add value, so, we are looking for ways to work with farmers to reduce aflatoxin in groundnuts.
When this is done, after harvesting, the groundnuts come back to us so we are working with the Gambia Groundnut Cooperation (GGC) who are a great partner supporting us to ensure that when we deliver, we deliver something that is uniquely Gambian.
Groundnut oil is the most expensive type of oil in the market but we don’t produce it in spite of the fact that we grow groundnuts. Imagine what our economy would be like if we produced that.
It is by right that we’re saying that we must indigenise certain sectors of this economy. We are not anti-FDI, most of our businesses attract Foreign Direct Investments but this has to be the right time to do certain things differently. We will see some of our companies grow in the next few years and of course, we don’t only want to grow in The Gambia.
Like I said, some of these projects we did for the CBG, we did the same for the Central Bank of Liberia. We had no connection there whatsoever; they came to The Gambia, saw what we did with the Central Bank here and took us to Liberia to replicate that, and today; we are their network provider for the banking sector. This is not by chance so I believe that we have big ambitions but as a businessman, I guess you allow the business to speak for itself.
There will be challenges but I am an eternal optimist and I believe that greater things would happen if we do what we do best and if we focus on changing lives and making a difference in people’s lives. I have no doubt that we will take this group right across the world.
We started as a cyber café but we had big dreams, we want to see ourselves as a group that produces things for export and InSha’Allah when the media asks us about our achievements a couple of years later, we would be able to point at some of the things we’re talking about right now like the exportation of groundnuts, more villages being electrified and helping to ensure lower electricity tariff.
So I’m hoping and praying that all these things I’m telling you will come true as we move on. We will make a difference in this country and as we make a difference, we can export Gambian expertise and intelligence. Subsequently, we will have the reverse; rather than have the consultants come over and tell us what we know, we look forward to going to countries that are similar to ours and adding value.
LESSONS FOR OTHER ENTREPRENEURS
Perseverance, tenacity, the drive to never give up and to know that entrepreneurship is a journey are the words I would use. People say that the journey is a thousand miles but it’s a lot more than that. Wanting to make a difference is a continuous journey.
They say you rise by lifting others up. I call myself a social entrepreneur because not everything we do is driven by the dalasi and butut.
Also, there always has to be a motivation—second to making money of course— our motivation is that we are doing it for ourselves, for our children and grand children and generations to come. We are focused on legacy, focused on improving lives to promote what we do best.
Waking up every morning is an attestation to the fact that we have been given a mandate to stay alive. We use this mandate to make a difference in the community we serve; the taxes and bills we pay; the people we employ; and above all else; the services that people would pay for because if they pay for those services, we are able to generate wealth, and let it trickle down to the communities that we serve.
We believe that our work here is one of giving back to the community that has given us so much, and we hope and pray that we do so much more and continue to give back and build businesses and create the next generation of entrepreneurs within and outside The Gambia.
Published on July 2, 2021