Global Banking and Finance Awards confirms FirstBank’s pacesetting role in CSR in Nigeria

Coming on the heels of BusinessDay’s 2020 BAFI Awards’ recognition as “CSR Bank of the Year”, which in turn followed CSR Reporters’ award of 2020 “Philanthropic Financial Institution of the Year”, the latest recognition of FirstBank as 2021 “Best CSR Bank Nigeria” by the Global Banking and Finance Magazine is a well-deserved accolade for a lender distinguishing itself in Nigeria’s CSR landscape. This award from a reputable global institution is unimpeachable evidence that international stakeholders agree with the assessment made by the panels of judges of the earlier two separate Nigerian awards on FirstBank’s unrivalled commitment to corporate social responsibility.

The choice of FirstBank as the worthy recipient of these coveted awards was rationalised on the basis of the bank’s unique and unparalleled CSR efforts following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, aka COVID-19. While being part of the private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) that pooled billions to support and strengthen the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its debilitating socio-economic impact, FirstBank did not just stop at those joint and widely acclaimed efforts but went above and beyond. Identifying a highly vulnerable group (children) and subsector (education for children), the bank worked with committed local and international partners to roll out an innovative e-Learning initiative. The initiative played no small role in ensuring that Nigerian children were not left behind and their education not totally abandoned at a time when the ultimate (and for most people and organisations, the only) goal was to avoid contracting or dying from COVID-19.

Delivered in collaboration with partners, such as IBM, UNESCO and Robert & John, and the Lagos State Government, the e-Learning initiative sought to move one million school children to e-Learning to minimise any disruption of their education as a result of the prolonged closure of schools across Nigeria. It aimed to ensure that the children remained fully engaged during the uncertain and difficult period in order to continue learning so they could compete favourably with other children around the world. With an eye to the future, the initiative incorporated frameworks and modules that underline the next century’s likely digital approach to learning, as well as courses such as coding and robotics that would prepare children for jobs of the future.

Although completely unique and different from anything ever seen or done on that scale before in Nigeria, the e-Learning initiative was not a pioneering education-fostering programme one would have struggled to associate with FirstBank. Given the bank’s antecedents in the education sector as one of the key focus areas in its CSR programme, FirstBank, more than any other lender, would easily have been linked to, and considered the natural bank partner and sponsor of, such an education-focused initiative even if information about the sponsor was kept out of the public domain. As Adesola Adeduntan, CEO of FirstBank, noted at the time of the launch, the e-Learning initiative was “in keeping with who we are at FirstBank, [where] our commitment to self-development and continuous improvement is never far from our thinking”. It is in keeping with this character that FirstBank has remained a member of the Global Education Coalition led by UNESCO, which was a strong platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right of education during the unprecedented disruption occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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UNESCO’s partnership on the e-Learning initiative guaranteed access to its Curious Learning platform designed to reach smartphone users using available curated and tested literacy and numeracy apps to which free access was provided. Curious Learning delivered academic-based content for children aged three to eight. This was done through several mobile applications designed to empower the young children in a fun, self-guided learning process through exploration and curiosity to help them with their cognitive skills at a fundamental level. Supporting with its own Digital-Nation Africa program (DNA), delivered as part of the e-Learning initiative, IBM’s partnership through DNA provided a broad range of courses for various levels of digital literacy to enable users understand the skills and demands of the market and acquire relevant skills to best meet the needs of the job market and enhance their job prospects. It offered free access to practical exercises, allowing for the inculcation of new lessons and ideas through focus areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Coding, Cloud, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Data Science and Analytics, and Cyber Security.

The partnership with Lagos State Government and Robert & John (the edutech company that owns the Roducate learning product) on the e-learning initiative, enabled access to the Roducate e-learning platform. Structured based on government’s accredited curriculum for primary, secondary and tertiary schools in various fields of academic endeavours, including science, commercial and arts, the Roducate e-Learning solution includes tutorial videos that help to reinforce the learning engagement, assignments and mock exams that test students’ knowledge and the progress they have made in the course of studying, note taking for quick reference and exciting features that make learning exciting and fun and fosters extra-curricular activities, allowing students to play with one another online, building relationships and promoting interactive learning.

Undoubtedly, the e-Learning initiative enabled FirstBank, the premier bank in West Africa and the leading financial inclusion services provider in Nigeria for over 127 years, to impact people in its host communities with technology to make learning available to individuals of all ages. It ensured the “empowering [of] our communities in the education space especially by bridging the digital divide through [the] e-Learning initiative”, according to FirstBank CEO, Adeduntan, while commenting on the latest Global Banking and Finance award. He dedicated the award to all the bank’s customers, noting that “the trust they reposed in us being their bank of first choice in meeting their business and financial needs has been instrumental to the success we have achieved in our existence of over 127 years”.

“We remain committed to putting you, our customers, first as we contribute to the growth and development of our host communities,” he said.

Organised to celebrate banks across the world that have excelled across areas such as corporate governance, sustainability and innovation, and have played a key role in the industry’s growth, the Global Banking and Finance Awards reflect the innovation, achievement, strategy, progressive and inspirational changes taking place within the global financial community. The awards were set up to recognise companies of all sizes which are prominent in their areas of expertise and excellence within the financial world. In recognising FirstBank’s prominence in Nigeria’s CSR landscape by awarding FirstBank 2021 “Best CSR Bank Nigeria”, the Global Banking and Finance Magazine is highlighting to the international community using its global platform a fact not lost on Nigerians and local players, as evidenced by the last BusinessDay’s BAFI Awards and CSR Reporters’ recognition that when it comes to corporate social responsibility in Nigeria, FirstBank is the lender with unrivalled commitment.

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