• Hiba hassan

Vitae London CEO, William Adoasi, Is Using Business To Encourage Education In Sub-Saharan Africa

It is inevitable that at one moment or another we have all delved deeper into our purpose here. Here, being life itself. There is an idea conjured by many mindfulness and spiritual doctors that we all share the same life purpose, to helpeach other. Throughout our journey, we are presented with several passions, like a business, career, family, etc, that have risen or fallen through the historical infrastructures in place today. But, when you can align the idea of our purpose with our passions, you are left with a powerful construction stimulating change.

Vitae London, a luxury affordable watch and accesories brand based in London, was founded in 2016 by entrepreneur, musician and CEO, William Adoasi. The word ‘Vitae’ meaning life, uses the hashtag, ‘your watch, their future’, a reflection on how Adoasi is using, what he describes as ‘positive capitalism’. Born and raised in South London, the birth of Vitae came from a trip to South Africa that changed how Adoasi and his wife, wanted to help other people. Education is a powerful tool that is the basis of what Vitae does, “Education is an opportunity, education is freedom and poverty is the opposite of that.”

Each watch that is purchased, buys two sets of school uniform, shoes, and a backpack for a child in South Africa. Or a solar light which is particularly important for rural areas with no electricity, in partnership with Pen To Paper Ghana.

The powerful message and actions of the entrepreneur, recognised by the likes of Richard Branson, is an initiative that has been successful in its mission so far. He recently celebrated his company making more than $900k in revenue, getting him even closer to making his first $1 million and inevitably, closer to his larger purpose and goal of change.

We sat down with William Adoasi, delving deeper into the choices and effort that created Vitae London…

You are someone I would think of as having large amounts of success. How would you measure success?

Wow… that is a difficult one. I think the thing I have tried to install in my mind is the small wins and successes because as a visionary it is so easy to get carried away by the long-term vision, that you disregard steps you take day-to-day. So, I think I measure success by my day-to-day disciplines or activities. But I wouldn’t say I was successful yet.

I think when I can fully retire from my parents and to know that the generations after me are set for life, then I can probably say I am more successful.

I think I have had success and I’ve reached success, but I wouldn’t say I am successful. I don’t know, I feel like saying ‘I am successful’, has a finality toward it, like I’ve arrived. I am far from even reaching my potential, even the business, Vitae London, has not reached as far as it can go.

You point out that you had moments of success, what has been the highlight for you since starting?

I would say some of the successes have been freedom. I genuinely have a higher level of freedom than I initially had. With Covid it is difficult, but the freedom to travel the world when I need to, not having to report to anyone and the freedom in that, if my family calls or anyone calls and there is a need, I can stand in that gap. So, for me, the small success of freedom is the ability to support and help those nearest and dearest to me.

Other things that are defined to be more universally successful include stuff like; being mentored by Richard Branson, selling our watches in over 30 countries, distributing over 2000 items of uniform, and 3000 solar lamps for children in need, which are all massive things I am proud of. There are layers to it for sure.

You said in a past interview that you don't believe in coincidences, how has this reflected your work rate and overall way of life?

It empowers me. me growing up in South London, I was made to believe that defined me and it is subtle and subconscious. But when you take a second to think about it… I was made to believe that if I was successful it was an accident or the lucky one that made it out.

But in more recent years I found out about my grandad, who was an amazing entrepreneur and I found out about my people, and the roads they have gone on. I connected with family that has moulded me into who I am today, and I believe it was fate. I believe things are aligned because they were meant to align like that. It gives me strength because in the hard seasons it lets me know that this time is supposed to empower or teach me something. It gives me peace in that sense.

And when things go right, it humbles me because I know it was not my doing. There is a force greater than me that has allowed these things to happen.

The first time we interacted with you and Vitae London, was during the first lockdown where you tweeted something along the lines of, we need to start buying land/property in our home countries not just where we live. And now, you’ve gone and done just that. Why is this idea important to you and why do you think we are mostly interested in investing in where we reside?

For me, it is going to sound extreme, but I don't think there will ever be equality, racial equality until there is equality in Capital. It is a capitalist structure and capitalist construct, until capital is deployed into our nations and us as people, we will never find equality for our people.

It is capital that gives you the power, if you get the right amount of capital, you now have political power. So, when there is a problem specific to your demographic, you can make an impact and make a difference.

I have always been passionate about seeing the potential in Ghana and the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Until we, as the diaspora and as people from the land, invest and give our all to the land, it would be hard for us to justify complaints of inequality because we would have the power to help and level it out.

So, I am so passionate to do all I can to be a flag bearer for Africa and investment in Africa. It is the reason I started Vitae London if you think about it. we sell watches, with each watch we put children in education across Sub-Saharan Africa. Essentially, I am distributing capital from the West, straight into the people of Africa.

What advice would you give people who want to invest in their home countries, the way you are, but don’t know where to start?

I just think it is about starting small. So many times, people are intimidated by the scale of their vision or when they hear investment, they think it is building a whole house, you know? But I think it is about starting small, what can you do tomorrow? Can you or you and someone else buy a small plot of land? Like, what can you do with the little you have? I brought a plot in Ghana for £700 and then I brought another plot for £20,000, it all depends on the regions you are in and what you are trying to achieve. But with a small amount of money, you can create a big impact. You can do more with that little bit of money than you can do in the West.

I'd encourage people to start small, find small ways to make investments, and how they can grow from them.

What has the personal experience been like for you, knowing you can give back to the world in the ways you do?

I would say it has been humbling. Probably the core reason why I do what I do is that my dad was the first person in my family to learn to read and write. And that broke a cycle of poverty that was affecting us for generations. So, I think about my dad’s story and how family members stepping in and helping him impacted the life I have today and my siblings. For me, it is humbling to know that there could be another William Adoasi out there, that can make an even bigger impact than I have because of the small support we have been able to provide. If we are all able to impact more lives, the knock-on effect is crazy. I am excited for the impact already made and for the generations to come.

Knowing that we are knocking down a barrier to education. Once education is in place, it empowers us, it empowers us to do more and create that equality that we desire.

Looking at education, Sub-Saharan Africa is a place where poverty has increased in the past 25 years and that coincides with it being one of the places in the world with a low number of children in primary school education. So, there is a direct correlation between the lack of education and poverty. I am passionate about being and standing in the gap between education. Because once you do that, it helps, serves, and empowers, as a posed to giving out hand-out, because you don't know how long that can last, tomorrow they can be in the same problem. For me, education is the way to alleviate the issues we see.

What is the curation process and marketing process like when you know some of the profit goes to helping children go to school in sub-Saharan Africa?

It gives me a deeper drive, I think often when things have a charitable cause, they're sometimes not done well or the charity might say "buy this, it is going to a good cause". So, someone might not even like it, but they'll buy it to support it. But for me, it is the opposite. Knowing that the more watches I sell, the more lives are impacted, drives more than ever to have the best marketing team and team in general to produce the best watch I possibly can. To be on point in all areas, because I know if I’m on point, I can impact more lives. And I feel like people can genuinely see and feel that.

I feel like in the watch industry, a lot of the time people buy watches to show – off or say 'hey, look how much money I can hoard off myself'. Whereas we are flipping that on its head, we are saying by buying this watch, this is how much I can give to the world.

Knowing that we have that as a differentiator, pushes me to go hard. I am not only representing the brand but anyone trying to go against the standard Capitalist construct. We are trying to positive capitalism if that is at all possible.

How do you push your business through an industry, like the watch sector, while having an ethos and mission that is so different from other top brands?

I feel like I have always had a chip on my shoulder, it excites me being different from other brands. It excited me that other brands are on that lane and I am carving a different lane. And if anything, it makes my job easier sometimes.

If I was just selling watches, I think there is a chance that you would now be interviewing me right now. So, in a sense, as hard as it is in some aspects, there is a real beauty to it, because the real ones that connect with us, connect in such an authentic way and spread the word. It is a blessing because we can grow much faster.

Can you tell us a little bit about the trip to South Africa that changed it all for you?

The initial trip was my wife's trip before we launched Vitae. I've been about three or four times since, but it was crazy. She was in SA; we were speaking on the phone every day and she was telling me about the need out there. The fact that such a small amount of money can move a barrier towards education. The school uniform was mandatory in the towns but so many parents of these young children had passed away due to so many different causes. There was one family in particular, and it was one grandparent looking after 14 grandchildren.

So, to know that something small like £50 could get a child school uniform for a whole year, just got my brain ticking. We started sending money every month to support some children, but I thought to myself, how can I do this on a larger scale. How can I build something that is automated and can support 1000's of children? That is why Vitae was birthed, it was birthed out of her journey to South Africa and seeing the need, and me finding a way to create a maximum impact.

Have you witnessed the result of your work?

We launched in 2016, recently we saw a cohort of secondary school children we have supported. It is mostly primary school children we support but some secondary. And we saw some of them go to Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, that was humbling. Seeing those children go to university, was not fully down to my work, but being able to support the charities hand in hand, is beautiful. It is exciting to see that is just the start and we are still so young in our business. Give in another 5-10 years, it will be crazy to see the number of people we have impacted.

How has everything that has happened this past year been for you in terms of growing VITAE and personally?

The past year has been a massive year for us. We have really scaled; our online business is doing well, we have been stocked in 25 shops called Nordstrom in America, so we are in a really good stage of growth.

Personally, my family and I have moved to Ghana, so I now run Vitae from here. It has been a massive year of change and adjustment. For the most part, I really can't complain.

What is the design process like for you?

I design all the watches; I feel like I get me and my culture and my people. I feel like I can cater to what people want., I have always loved classic watches and I’ve always wanted to be in the gap of the classic aesthetic at the same quality of high-end brands. Obviously, our price points are not as high, but with all my designs that what I think about. How can I create the luxury feel while it being amazing quality and making sure it was attainable. When I would buy watches, I used to find there was not anything that I loved within my price range, so I wanted to be in that gap.

I am always exploring ways of elevation, so with the Elimington collection, which was named after the estate I grew up on in Camberwell, is completely interchangeable. So, you can interchange the watches. I am always thinking of innovation.

What was your last job before Vitae, and do you remember your last day there?

I was working in the City as a recruiter. I was the one that would call people and pester them about jobs, I worked my way up. I was one of the top recruiters in a Footsie 250 company, so I was doing well. But it got to a point where money did not satisfy me, it didn’t do it for me. I’m not saying I don’t desire money, but money alone did not do it for me.

I actually do remember my last day, I remember handing in my notice, I remember my colleges being confused and shocked. And I remember my boss trying to persuade me to stay but because I wasn’t going to a competitor company, that he knew nothing he could say would win me over. It was bittersweet but I was more excited to go with our business.

Do you have any advice for your previous boss?

There is no advice I would give because they had no hope in keeping me. I know I was made for something different. Maybe they could have helped empower my entrepreneurial side a bit more, but they were doing the best they could within that framework. I wouldn't be the person I am today if it wasn't for those experiences. But I would say thanks for the salary, opportunities, and what I learned from my time there.

How do you feel you have placed yourself in the watch industry? Are you proud?

I am proud but I know we have a long way to go. I love what we have achieved and how we built a brand from scratch when I didn’t have much money to my name. but I am also aware that there are watch brands out there that are 100x bigger than Vitae at the moment. So, if I can scale to their level, the amount of impact we can do is ridiculous.

So, even though I am excited about what we have done, I am even more excited about what's to come.

If you could be a Leader of the entire world, what would you change first?

I would try my best to level out the playing field. The inequality, the way Europe and the ex-colonial masters still have a say in Africa, the inequity. The fact that the wealthiest nations have the lowest GDP.

So, if you look at Congo, probably the wealthiest nation on the planet yet a lot of its inhabitants are in poverty. It makes no sense. For me, I would look intensely at the distribution of wealth. I would look at the agreements set-up by nations like France who are still pillaging from nations in Africa. I would look at all of that and ensure that there are measures in place for true equity. Once there is true equity and equality, we will have a much fairer world.

One of the things the West has done very well is; 1, Propaganda. So, creating a narrative around themselves that they are perfect, and the rest of the world are third world or beneath or low. It is these subtle words that are used. If you look at all the world wars, propaganda is often what won wars. 2, is to create an illusion of scarcity. If you do that, you can hoard for yourself, and then I can recruit more people who want the same, then you have a small 1% that has everything and no one else gets anything. Whereas if you can remove that level of scarcity and understand that this planet has an abundance and has enough for us all to exist and thrive. Once you have that mindset, capitalism and business would be done differently. But right now, we are all crabs in a bucket fighting for our place and to be heard.

If a young Will, let’s say 9-year-old you, were looking at his future self-sitting here today, what do you think you would say to him?

I wouldn't say a thing. Because I needed to go through everything and what happened in my life so I could be here today. No step or lesson can be avoided, to make me the man I am today.

Maybe buy some Bitcoin!

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