BusinessDay

How SFTF education grant drives human capital development

Investing in higher education to bolster the expertise and dexterity of its active segment would ultimately strengthen a nation’s position in the global marketplace. This is the driving force of the highly progressive 21st-century economy tagged the knowledge economy.

Ashish Pande, the country head for Olam Agri Nigeria, hit an important point that correlates with the foregoing at the launch of the business’ signature social investment vehicle, the Seeds for the Future Foundation in Abuja.

Pande mentioned that a strong pivot to building a knowledge economy is key to driving a nation’s growth and development.

To sheer applause, he affirmed that Olam Agri, which is a leading agribusiness in food, feed, and fibre and an operating group of Olam Group, is committed to driving the transformative pivot.

Of course, to drive the achievement of the all-important economic aspiration, the business decided to launch the growth-focused Seeds for the Future Foundation.

According to the country head, “Olam Agri Nigeria’s Seeds for the Future Foundation will focus on four key social action pillars, namely: supporting farms and farmers (improving local wheat production), enabling wider education and skills development for young people, empowering indigent women, and promoting health and nutrition across the country. These segments are critical to achieving development in any economy.”

Furthermore, Pande reiterated that it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to prioritise the growth of their host communities. It seems that the agribusiness has carefully selected those key action pillars to enable impactful growth in the economy.

The education grant initiative for undergraduates, for instance, is the business’ way of deepening its impact in the education sector to strengthen the country’s knowledge bank as well as raise the national skill level.

The education grants are targeted at the less privileged and indigent segment who hardly can afford higher education tuition. The grants will be awarded to the best-qualified applicants in the segment.

Recipients will be picked using a merit-based selection process that strictly adheres to the rules of fairness, transparency, and independent audit, from the application, and shortlisting, all through to the finalists’ selection stages.

More importantly, it will be open to all the courses of study offered in Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions. Notably, the grant will provide quality support for young, bright Nigerians, driving them closer to the actualization of their fine aspirations.

Read also: Beyond the basics: Literacy in the 21st Century workplace

Seeing that enabling wider education and skill development for the active segment of the population is critical to stimulating economic competitiveness, the Seeds for the Future Education Grant is in support of the government’s overall growth focus.

Yemi Osinbajo, the vice -president of Nigeria, who was a special guest at the launch event, and launched the Seeds for the Future Foundation, fittingly captured the significance of the investment in his speech said, “I think the board of Olam deserves our heartfelt commendation and gratitude for giving us several reasons to be hopeful and to celebrate.

“Through the Seeds of the Future Programme, Olam has invested in two important types of seeds. First, the seeds you are planting by investing in the education of our young people through the Education Grant initiative for undergraduates.”

“The second is of course the very highly successful and award-winning Wheat Seeds Trial project, which I am told, achieved its first-year milestone of producing 10 kg of pre-multiplication wheat seed varieties and was showcased at the UN Climate Summit and was nominated for an international grant,” he explained.

On the launch of the foundation, Pande said, “We’re supportive of the government’s economic development agenda and we recognise that the private sector has a key role to play to collaborate to drive sustainable growth in communities.”

Moreover, he revealed that enabling wider education and skill development for young people is one key area of the company’s focus.

“The education grant will make a valuable contribution to supporting students to fulfil their potential and more broadly developing the country’s human capital,” he said.

In 2021, Olam Agri Nigeria convened stakeholders in the wheat value chain to a consultation forum. As part of the takeaways from the forum, the business initiated the Seeds for the Future project. The project mandated investment in research to develop seed varieties that suit the unique climatic and topography conditions of the country.

The critical investment focus has further morphed into scaled socioeconomic development projects, the Seeds for the Future Foundation, targeted at delivering strong inputs across key sectors of the economy.

On a grander level, it focuses on accelerating the achievement of the Federal Government’s economic development agenda. The launch of the education grants is the offshoot of the scaled investment focus.

That corporate investment action underlines the company’s confidence in Nigeria’s future as indicated by Ashish Pande. The future hinges on a smooth transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge economy which prioritises human capital development, top-skill acquisition and service delivery.

Knowledge has become a priceless national asset. From the oval office in North America to the revered Berlaymont in Brussels, and the Zhongnanhai in China, governments are hashing out policies that would accelerate the adoption of education syllabi that focus on imbibing the underlying principles of the knowledge economy.

This policy focus is key to favourably positioning the national workforce among the evolving well-educated and highly skilled army of the 21st-century global workforce. It is also seen as fundamental in winning the race to sustain economic competitiveness.

Almost all modern growth theories support the transition to a knowledge-based economy. Charles Jones, an economist at the University of California posited in a World Bank paper that “Knowledge is a key driving force underlying economic growth”.

He mentioned Kramer’s O-Ring theory, and Ben-Porath and Bil’s models of human capital development as examples of growth theories that support the overarching role knowledge asset plays in enriching an economy.

Besides, the World Bank developed a framework that identified key knowledge economy pillars among which education, research and innovation come top. Meanwhile, a country that prioritises achieving economic competitiveness therefore must consistently shore up its vital sectors with new knowledge.

To attain food security, the agriculture sector would require deep investment in research, and training in trendy farming techniques to meet the challenges of a new climate era. The manufacturing, information and communication technology (ICT), and health sectors also require a similar focus.

By investing in research, education and training, and women empowerment while promoting health and nutrition for a healthy body, Olam Agri Nigeria is tackling those hurdles that had long impeded growth in the country.

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