UAD had the pleasure of interviewing Nigerian-born global citizen, Sam Desalu. Based in L.A., Sam is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist, founder of multiple non-profits: Desalu Naturals and Afrika Fifty 6 and manager for RunTown, the Nigerian music artist.
What inspired you to go back to Africa?
I moved to Chicago, from Nigeria when I was 4 years old. I didn’t return to Nigeria until the age of 15. I was sent back, because I was naughty. I spent the next 2 years in Nigeria. The experience of living there opened my eyes to a lot. I learnt to appreciate how blessed we are; to have things like hot showers so easily accessible. While staying at my Grandmother’s home, I had to soon get used to fetching water like ten times a day. The door was often left open during the day for sunlight. These adaptations created a life changing experience for me.
What really inspired me to return to Africa however, was when I caught malaria, recovered and then caught malaria again, but this time accompanied by typhoid. This was during the time I had been sent back to Nigeria. I was in the hospital and there was a woman in the other room with a baby. She was crying because her baby also had malaria. However in her case, the doctor had refused to treat the baby because she had no money. This literally broke my heart. Knowing that treatment only cost near to $20USD and that was what prevented the woman from treating her baby, motivated me to soon return and help people like this in need.
By 2015, I found myself in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania working with children and orphans and soon travelled to Uganda, and Rwanda. I was determined to stick to my word of giving back.
Tell us a little more about your your work experiences and inspiration
I am constantly being inspired by experiences. I used to be a stylist, working with A-List celebrities in the US, but business started to slow down. I felt I needed to branch out again and I feel that everything I’m doing now is placed in my heart by God. I want to dedicate my life to helping others and so I try to make everything that I do, lead back to giving. With Desalu Naturals, every product sold, helps a woman or a young girl in need. 100% of my charity work, goes to charity.
I once did a benefit concert with the singer / actor Tyrese for the missing girls in Nigeria. He invited all his celebrity friends and we raised over a quarter million dollars. The money went to UNICEF which worked closely with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. I hope to work more closely with ‘Bless a Child’ Foundation in Uganda, by bringing a top chef from the US to make something special for the kids. Make the children feel like they are special and have something to look forward to. In terms of management; I manage the artist, Run Town and it’s just been an amazing journey since it began. I remember we were in the studio while he only had the best for ‘Mad For You’ and I knew from then that it was going to be a hit and I had to be apart of that.
What kind of challenges have you faced while working in countries in Africa?
There was one time I was in Tanzania working with an orphanage. The conditions were horrible and the children’s hygiene was awful. I felt inclined to spend my own money, buying them clothes and other essentials. I made about four trips to Tanzania in total, and it was by my third trip that I discovered how the owner of the orphanage was living, in contrast to the children. She had her own chauffeur. A really flashy car and it struck me how unfair this was when I thought about the dire conditions in which the children were living. It broke my heart that the owner was living this life of luxury while the children were suffering. I took matters into my own hands, to raise awareness of my discovery and talk to relevant people to help tackle this corruption.
Is there anything more you’d like to be doing or a field you’d like to but haven’t yet tapped into?
I’d really like to start a football academy in Africa; preferably Nigeria. That’s something that I have always wanted to do.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to go down the same entrepreneurial / philanthropy route as you?
One misconception about charity work, is that it requires money. People think you have to have a lot of money to give, but that’s not true – not at all. In fact most people in need don’t care about your money, all they want is your time. I think that is what is most important; to be able to give your time to other people and listen to their needs.
In terms of management. I didn’t really think much about it before. But one philosophy that I’ve stuck with is that “if you don’t know what you’re doing, learn how to do it…” I’m constantly seeking advice from others and learning new things everyday. You should never turn down any opportunity, just learn as you go along. It’s all about having those connections, a business mind and most importantly, common sense.