• Friday, July 19, 2024
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FirstBank’s commitment to grooming ‘children entrepreneurs’ holds lessons for financial literacy

FirstBank

Ask financial literacy experts when they consider the best time to introduce children to money matters and they would say it should be as early as possible. The reason for their position is not difficult to appreciate. There are some seemingly innocuous habits that could be formed during childhood (e.g. indulgence in immediate gratification) that could evolve into adolescent traits and adult behaviours that would create money problems for the individual in later years (e.g. inability to save, to delay gratification and to stay off debts). There are also good money habits and money management skills that are best taught at childhood to prevent the individual from making common money mistakes and thinking in ways and taking financial decisions that run counter to the principles of wealth creation.

If the reason for seeking to introduce children to the subject of money management early enough is to prevent them from acquiring bad money habits that could imperil their future (financial life), how come the same logic and effort are not being applied to children and the subject of entrepreneurship and running a business? Available statistics suggest this is one area that could do with some of the ‘catch them young/catcht hem early’ bug. With over 80 per cent of businesses in Nigeria failing in the first 18 months of operation, according to Bola Adigun, a financial expert with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Nigeria, there should be concerted efforts by all to do something about this unflattering statistic and trend.

Nigeria has to do better in terms of grooming entrepreneurs from a young age. Nigeria needs to follow the example of Britain where the Centre for Economic and Business Research reports that the fastest growing small companies created two in every three jobs and generated almost 40 per cent of the UK’s economic growth in 2013 (according to an opinion piece by Alex Chesterman of Zoopla Property Group titled in Financial Times of 6 October 2015). Chesterman’s piece highlights a number of initiatives in Britain where young people get entrepreneurship grooming: the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Launchpad Competition, that is organised to honour innovations and the inventors (16- to 25-year-olds) behind them. It seeks to identify clever ideas that not only have strong business potential, but also could have a positive impact on society; leading enterprise and financial education charity, Young Enterprise’s Fiver Challenge programme that encourages children aged 5 to 11 to set up a mini-business to provide products or services to their local communities, with its scheme providing £5 in start-up capital for children who want to learn skills such as financial literacy, teamwork, problem solving and enterprise. There is also the Aldridge Foundation, which is helping to sponsor entrepreneur academies and colleges in areas of Britain with limited start-up opportunities, encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset among students in those locations, teaching them to engage with their communities and promoting active citizenship.

Unsurprisingly, the UK is ranked as Europe’s third most entrepreneurial country after Switzerland and Denmark, according to the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) developed by Washington D.C-based The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI).The Index puts the UK as fifth in the world after the US, Switzerland, Canada and Denmark. Africa does not show up on the GEI until the 51st position where her topmost ranked country, Botswana is placed. Seven other African countries follow Botswana – Tunisia (53rd), South Africa (58th), Namibia (62nd), Morocco (68th), Gabon (83rd), Algeria (88th) and Ghana (91st) – before Nigeria finally makes an appearance on the Index as the 92nd ranked country out of 137 countries. The GEI is composed of three building blocks or sub-indices, referred to as the 3As: entrepreneurial attitudes, entrepreneurial abilities and entrepreneurial aspirations. While the first sub index, entrepreneurial attitudes are about how a country thinks about entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial abilities are about the skills a country develops for it or develops in order to pursue it and the third sub index, entrepreneurial aspirations are about ambitions – like wanting to build a billion-dollar company. These three sub-indices stand on 14 pillars (opportunity perception, start-up skills, risk acceptance, networking, cultural support, opportunity start-up, technology absorption, human capital, competition, product innovation, process innovation, high growth, internationalisation and risk capital), with each containing an individual and an institutional variable corresponding to the micro- and the macro-level aspects of entrepreneurship. The pillars provide a way to capture the open-ended nature of entrepreneurship, analysing them can lead to an in-depth view of the strengths and weaknesses of the countries, including Nigeria, listed in the Index.

To ensure more new businesses in Nigeria survive and grow to become like FirstBank – 126 years and still going strong – Nigeria will need to multiply entrepreneurship programmes aimed at catching individuals early and young, such as the FirstBank-sponsored National Company of the Year (NCOY) competition organised by Junior Achievement Nigeria (JAN). Now in its tenth year, the NCOY, the annual flagship event by JAN, is the culminating point of JAN Company Programme. It convenes the winners of the regional competitions of the Company Programme across Nigeria together to contend for the National Company of the Year Award. The winner of the NCOY Award automatically becomes Nigeria’s representative at the Africa Regional Company of the Year competition, vying for the grand prize against other Junior Achievement (JA) Africa member-nation companies. Until 2020 when it assumed a virtual format because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition usually consisted of three levels – review of the annual report of each student company by a panel of judges; a stage presentation by each team after which they answered questions from the panel of judges; and a trade fair allowing each team to display their products and services for the judges and other guests.

What makes JAN Company Programme unique and the reason efforts need to be undertaken by all to multiply such a programme across the length and breadth of Nigeria is the practical, experiential and hands-on approach adopted to teach senior secondary level students how to start and run their own business, develop a product or service, and market their brand with the support of a volunteer. The students are taught how to come together to form a company, choose a business name and elect company officers (such as Chief Executive Officer [CEO], Director of Production, and Marketing, Finance and Human Resources Managers) to oversee operations of the company for the programme duration. They learn how to put theory into practice in order to fully appreciate what entrepreneurship is all about. They conduct market research to develop a business plan, raise capital by selling shares or stock, decide on what to produce and produce it, market and sell their products, keep proper financial records, pay dividends to investors and use 10 percent of their profit for corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The 2020 virtual format saw the competition being rechristened Virtual Company of the Year (VCOY) competition and it followed the implementation of the Virtual Company Programme. This unique digital Company Programme was divided into two stages. The first stage involved identifying the top business ideas from each region and selecting the top five most viable business ideas and rewarding the ideas’ originators and promoters with seed funding to fully develop their ideas into businesses. The second stage involved the introduction of top professionals across different sectors to serve as the panel of judges to determine each student company’s performance against a set of established criteria. The judges looked out for evidence of innovation and application of new ideas in all aspects of business and selected the best team to represent Nigeria at the Africa Regional Company of the Year competition.

That team was New Phase, the student company formed by Brookstone Secondary School, Rivers State. New Phase won with its eco-friendly building block, which points to a viable way for Nigeria to meet its growing housing needs in a sustainable manner. Amazing Amazons, the student company formed by Government Girls Secondary, Abuja, emerged first runner up and Jikoru, the student company formed by Alvana Secondary School, Owerri, emerged second runner up.

The honourable Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Sunday Dare was full of praise for the programme, which he described as enriching and promising for students to achieve their life ambitions and solve societal problems. Speaking during 2020’s virtual event, Mr Dare noted that entrepreneurship has a critical role to play in solving Nigeria’s unemployment problems. He pointed out that the world was looking beyond qualifications to get things done, while acknowledging, “the technological skills the participants exhibited showed that Nigeria has a future in younger generations.” In her own message, Folake Ani-Mumuney, group head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd, while noting that the 10th anniversary of NCOY was a significant milestone, conveyed her deep satisfaction that the annual celebration of the event has given young people an opportunity “to demonstrate their business acumen and spirit of entrepreneurship in a competitive environment.”

Chesterman avers, “Young entrepreneurs and innovators…need mentoring, advice and role models. They need nurturing from a very young age.” The Company Programme and JAN’s other programmes delivering financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to young people between the ages of five and 27 offer all of what Chesterman is talking about and much more. What is missing in Nigeria is the lack of commitment by government and corporate organisations to multiply such efforts by following FirstBank’s example of perpetually supporting a catch-them-early/young entrepreneurship initiative that will help to secure Nigeria’s future by raising the next generation of entrepreneurs who will start businesses that will keep going strong even after 126 years.