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Watch and learn

William Adoasi tells Renée Davis how his wristwatch brand is enabling children in Africa to go to school

I had the battle of wanting to be cool and fit in but still wanting to stand up for God

EMELI SANDÉ has one, Phillip Schofield has one, Pharrell Williams has one, as do many other entertainers and influential figures. But there’s a big question at the heart of this cool, charitable cause.

‘Why watches?’ I ask William Adoasi as we sit in his offices and talk about the birth of Vitae London.

‘It seems random, right?’ he responds. ‘In December 2014, I created and was ready to launch a T-shirt line. But then I realised that everyone was doing it, and it just didn’t excite me any more. How could I convince people to buy into something that I wasn’t excited about myself?

‘So I put that idea to one side and researched industries that I was passionate about and where I couldn’t see many other young people working. The watch industry was one of them, so I pursued it.

‘It was easier to enter that field than I initially thought, so I pushed on and by December 2015, Vitae London was fully set up. It was a short amount of time, but I was able to make it happen with God’s help.’

Will, who is now 27, started his first business at the age of 19. It made six figures.

‘I ran a sports academy,’ he says. ‘A lot of  my close friends were qualified coaches in various sports, but they weren’t making any money from it. I saw that with their skill sets, they could be earning money by teaching in schools, so I bridged that gap and sold sports classes to schools. At the time, primary schools were given government funding to tackle obesity. Unfortunately, after a few years that funding was pulled, so the business had to stop.’

Will began to work as a recruitment consultant. He worked his way up to become a senior recruitment manager and led a small team. He made good money, but realised that it wasn’t fulfilling. At the age of 25, he started Vitae London.

 

What was his motivation?

‘It was two things,’ Will says. ‘My dad was the first in my family to learn to read and write. He is now a bishop of eight churches round the world. Because of how powerful his story was, I’ve wanted to break cycles of poverty through education.

‘Secondly, a few years ago, my wife went to South Africa to volunteer with a charity called House of Wells. She saw at first hand how a little bit of money from us could make a big impact on the lives of children. So we started sending money every month to support children through education. It was then that I began to investigate how we could scale up those operations and affect more lives – and that’s when Vitae began.’

Ten per cent of the sale of every Vitae watch provides one child with two sets of school uniform, a pair of shoes and a bag. Will says the effect of the brand is powerful.

‘On a few occasions last year, I was able to visit the on-the-ground charities that we work with, including House of Wells, which was set up by two missionaries from the UK who quit their full-time jobs and went out to South Africa to change lives. What I love about them is that they’re accountable, and every penny we give them goes straight to the children.’

Vitae’s slogan is ‘Your watch, their future’ and at present, the brand is focusing on supporting primary school children.

‘A quarter of sub-Saharan children in Africa aren’t getting an education,’ Will says. ‘That correlates with the fact that it’s the only region in the world where poverty has increased in the past 20 years. I want to make an impact on primary school education, because it sets the path for the rest of a child’s development.

‘Thankfully, we work in the provinces where education is free, but there are still barriers because the children are lacking the basics needed to get to school.

‘While I was in South Africa, I met one child whose parents had died of HIV. She lived in a shack with 14 of her cousins and her grandparents. The family, of course, wanted what was best for the kids, but they couldn’t afford to clothe them, so we were able to step in and give them what they needed to get to school. Our vision is to remove as many barriers to education as possible. In the future we’d love to build schools in remote areas, pay school fees and more.’

The Vitae story has reached far and wide not only because of the impact it’s having on the lives of young children in Africa, but also as a result of the backing and approval it receives from major media publications and many public figures, including Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson.

Will explains: ‘We applied for a Virgin Start Up Loan and, out of 10,000 applicants, were one of 1,000 selected to receive funding. Then, along with 11 other standout businesses, Vitae was chosen to be a Virgin Start Up ambassador.

‘Some months ago, I sat on a panel with Sir Richard. I gave him a new watch, and in turn he gave me his watch and a wad of cash, which was cool. So many amazing things have happened since starting Vitae.’

Will attributes his desire to make a positive impact on the world to his Christian faith. Though Will was raised in church, he didn’t instantly subscribe to the faith, but rather found his own way over time.

‘I have always believed in God, I just hadn’t always lived that life, especially as a teen at boarding school,’ he says. ‘I lived a non-Christian life, but still set up a Bible study. I had the battle of wanting to be cool and fit in but still wanting to stand up for God. There was no major event or specific day that sparked a turning point for my faith; it was a gradual process of God working on my heart and showing me the way he wanted me to live.

‘Today, my faith is integral to everything I do,’ Will continues. ‘Anything I do is the fruit of my relationship with God. He has given me ideas and opened doors for me that I wouldn’t have been able to open by myself. I believe that my opportunities have come from my obedience to him on many levels and I’ve still got so much more obedience to give.’

As well as being married with a child and running a business, Will is a worship and youth leader at his church. On social media and at speaking events, he is often candid about his life experiences, his faith, his values and morals in business, and being a family man – something many young millennial men aspire to. Will has a message for them.

‘I haven’t got it all together; it’s still a learning process,’ he says. ‘But if you walk with God, he will direct your steps. I believe that when you take care of God’s Kingdom, he will open doors for you.

‘I encourage young men to surround themselves with other good men. My network is amazing because I’ve got WhatsApp and iMessage groups that are filled with married Christian men, and we bounce off each other and laugh at similar scenarios in our lives. But it’s an amazing space for us all to grow and thrive. I encourage everyone to build their own networks.’

It’s timely advice from the man whose business is successfully supporting children thousands of miles away.

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