The Watchlist – Playing to Win: Meet Tunde Onakoya, an incredible activist transforming the lives of young Africans through the game of chess.


We are pleased to present The Watchlist, a segment of the Blueprint Magazine where we highlight and profile Black individuals from around the world, who are up and coming in their space, that we feel you need to know about.

It has been said that your passion leads to your purpose. This has proven true in the life of Tunde Onakoya, the founder of Chess in Slums Africa (CISA). His love for chess led to the creation of a non-profit which has taken the world by surprise with its unconventional approach to tackling poverty. 

Using the game of chess as its framework, CISA’s goal is to transform the lives of deprived children in disadvantaged communities by teaching them academic and “critical thinking skills that will help them secure a better [future].” The objective of this initiative is to provide a safe and productive space for children that spend most of their time on streets, either trading, begging or even just sleeping, all as a means of survival.

This type of setting is not hard to come across, and as BBC news reports, Nigeria has the largest population of children out of school, approximately 10.5 million. Although some Nigerian public schools are free, many children, especially those living in the slums, do not have access to quality education. Tunde viewed the country’s severe learning crisis as a problem to address. 

What started off as a few playful games between Tunde and his friends slowly evolved into a groundbreaking, grassroot initiative that has changed the narrative of poor children from slums. Tunde himself was first introduced to chess randomly as a kid at a barber’s shop and he played it throughout his childhood as a member in different school teams.

However, his dedication to the game grew stronger in his postgraduate years. Tunde and his friends played chess a lot in their free time but following his graduation in 2015; they chose to tutor kids in chess at schools as a means of upkeep. The more he taught chess, the more he was exposed to more children living in poverty and the more he realised that chess was not just a game but could also be used as an educational tool that can empower lives.   

In the 5 years since its inception, CISA has recorded great success. Some of this success can be attributed to the business style its promoters adopt. There are many underprivileged children to reach however, they prioritise those that they consider as the most vulnerable.

Take the inspirational story of Fawas Adeoye as an example. The 19-year-old boy that once lived under a bridge now has a home. This was made possible through one of CISA’s rehabilitation initiatives where individuals that win chess tournaments are awarded monetary prizes. After winning several games, Fawas currently holds the title of the academy’s chess and mental maths champion.

This story of a turnaround of fortune is the same for many other CISA kids.

Tunde cheering on chess winners. Photo:
Tunde cheering on chess winners. Photo:

CISA has also gained traction from many global sponsors and supporters. From the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria, whose diplomats came to play chess with the kids, to a local Nigerian tech incubator that has pledged $1 million over the course of 5 years to help CISA realise its vision.

Many contributions to CISA have been made via sponsorships, but some others have come in the form of in-kind donations of chess material from companies like Chesskid, a US based charity. They have also received recognition from celebrities.

In January 2022, American socialite, Paris Hilton tweeted about how moved she was by one of CISA’s success stories. This past month, a famous soccer player, Patrice Evra visited and played a few chess games with the members of CISA

CISA is still fully funded by donations. According to Tunde, they have raised over ₦50 million (US$120,000) via social media. With these generous donations, the team has touched over four major slum communities and given out 200 academic scholarships to over 1,000 children. 

What started off as a few playful games between Tunde and his friends has evolved into a groundbreaking, grassroot initiative that has changed the narrative of poor children from slums around the world.

With one move at a time, Tunde has changed the trajectory of over a hundred lives. His plans are to build the biggest chess academy in the world and expand his reach across Africa. He has already begun this by hosting chess classes in Burkina Faso.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. There should be more stories like this for the world to acknowledge unsung heroes like Tunde.

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