On January 4, 2022, I was among thousands of X users who saw a random tweet asking people to “Explain what you do for a living”. In the sea of thousands of responses the tweet generated, one stood out.  It was from Nigerian chess master, Tunde Onakoya.

“I teach people how to drop weapons and pick up plastic,” he wrote.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of his humanitarian work around using chess to change lives.  In 2021, he’d gone viral on social media for playing chess with area-boys in the highly notorious Oshodi under-bridge. However, that tweet gave me a better perspective about the importance of his work and why he must succeed.

Two years after my epiphany, the 29-year-old continues his mission to spread the gospel of chess as an instrument of hope. On April 17, Onakoya will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest chess marathon. In his words, “he’s doing this for the dreams of millions of children across Africa without access to education”.

As his latest effort is receiving keen attention from the world, we thought it might be useful to highlight some of his wins since he started Chess in Slums Initiative in 2018.

Raising awareness on cerebral palsy after Ferdinand Maumo’s 2021 win

In April 2021, Onakoya and his team met Ferdinand Maumo in the Makoko slum. Ferdinand,  a 10-year-old cerebral palsy patient, expressed interest in the chess club. After two weeks of practice and playing with other kids, Ferdinand participated and won the junior section of a local tournament. Ferdinand’s victory gave people a different perspective about disability and education. In the months that followed, Onakoya and Ferdinand were hosted by Governor Babajide Sanwo Olu.

Playing and winning against 10 opponents at DLD Conference

In February 2024, Onakoya made history at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in Germany after he played a game of Chess against 10 opponents simultaneously, emerging victorious in every match. He attended the conference to spread his gospel of giving at least one million African children the chance to lead a better life by teaching them the game of chess.

Canadian high commissioner’s visit

In March 2022, Onakoya hosted the Canadian high commissioner to Nigeria, Kevin Tokar, and eight sailors from the Royal Canadian Navy to a game of chess at the Oshodi under-bridge. While the visit brought more visibility to his work around chess, the highlight was students winning against the commissioner and other members of his group.

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Raised ₦50 million against a global goal of $1m

Since he kicked off the Chess in Slum initiative, Onakoya has embarked on a personal fundraising campaign. In January 2022, the chest master revealed he’d raised over ₦50 million from social media donations to support his work. As part of his efforts to reach a global fundraising goal of $1m, Onakoya launched the popular ChessFila in November 2022. Every sale of the ₦5000 aso-oke went into giving 1000 kids access to formal education.

The Oshodi tournament

Onakoya and his team organised the first ever Oshodi Underbridge Chess Tournament in 2021. Among the 51 kids who participated in the tournament was 19-year-old Fawaz Adeoye, a previously homeless kid who worked as a bus conductor. Adeoye emerged as the winner of the tournament, walking away with a  ₦2m prize money. In a later update shared in December 2023, Onakoya said Adeoye “now works as an intern in a lawyer’s office and builds websites”.

Onakoya’s other many accolades

In 2021, Onakoya won the  Future Awards Africa prize for Community Action. This was followed by getting named  Leadership Newspaper’s Social Impact Person of 2022. Onakoya also won the inaugural Business Insider Award for Social Entrepreneur of The Year in 2022.

You can support Tunde Onakoya’s work by sponsoring a child’s education with $800 dollars or donating to the initiative’s mission to educate 3000 out-of-school kids.

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