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First Bank’s ‘bumper package’ to distil kindness

Nigerian undergraduates have better tales of suffering, especially the underprivileged ones. As a former student of a Nigerian tertiary institution, Pius (a pseudonym) often made unnecessary sacrifices just to survive.

For example: he cut down feeding, and endured the embarrassment of paying class dues late, if not last. But his living conditions began to improve as support came from one of his church leaders. This church leader, called Opeyemi, was consistent with his support to Pius until graduation.

“I can never forget brother Opeyemi,” he said. “His act of giving has taught me how to give too.”

Little drops of kindness can be reproduced in others who witness it. Researchers call this infectious effect a “moral elevation,” which not only feels good but inspires us to want to do good ourselves.

Decades of publications analysed by researchers found that acts of kindness and generosity, could have meaningful ripple effects in our communities, whether online or offline. The study’s lead researcher, Haesung Jung said people resonate when they watch someone do something good.

“The message that these prosocial behaviours are quite contagious is a really important message that people should know,” he said.

The poor socio-economic conditions documented daily in the legacy and new media presents exponential opportunities for individuals and organisations to distil kindness. And organisations like First Bank of Nigeria have been at the vanguard of this through their philanthropic Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week, an initiative held every year to promote acts of kindness.

Since 2017 when it began with initiatives largely focusing on its staff members, the bank’s benevolent week has evolved into one of the biggest CR&S events that staff, customers and the public looked forward to annually.

Deepening the gospel of kindness, it has become a veritable tool and platform for the bank to put its entire publics first and to steer people towards a return to societal values and the age-long virtue of kindness.

This went on for years until Covid-19 struck last year.

“The year 2020 came and went without the annual CR&S Week, which people have become so accustomed to,” reads a statement by First Bank. “It must have been painfully disappointing….”

Still, the financial organisation did not ignore the sufferings of Nigerians during that time, despite the lockdowns and the coronavirus regulations. It joined the Nigerian private sector-led initiative CACOVID (Coalition Against COVID-19) which pooled resources and embarked on social and health interventions on a scale that is unmatched by any previous efforts undertaken by the private-sector.

Its recognised path of uncommon responsiveness and compassion towards customers and communities was further emboldened by other initiatives of its own during the pandemic.

These benevolent gestures earned the institution multiple awards in 2020, including BusinessDay’s 2020 Banks and other Financial Institutions (BAFI) Awards ceremony where First Bank got recognised as the CSR Bank of the Year.

With that noted, it is now 2021, and there are plans for the firm to consolidate on those philanthropic works and continue its campaign for kindness.

“This year, First Bank, as though seeking to make up for the CR&S Week’s absence in 2020, is taking it several notches higher with a line-up of activities designed to entrench a culture of kindness,” the company said.

This year’s CR&S Week is themed “Kindness…A Way of Life.” The event will be marked with torrents of activities beginning with ‘Kind Comments Days’ which will run all through the Week—from Monday 26 to Friday 30, July, 2021.

The organisers said the ‘Kind Comments Day’ was designed to inspire and encourage staff, customers, the general public, and all stakeholders to say kind things about others, as words play an essential role in the “kindness ecosystem.”

They noted that kind people naturally speak kind words, thus, one of the truest reflections of how kind people are is their choice of words. This will be preceded by an internal eLearning training webinar for all staff.

According to the bank, titled “SPARK Initiative e-Learning Training,” the practical-oriented webinar would be hosted on Monday, 26 July 2021, aimed to help all staff to imbibe kindness as a culture in order to make the workplace kinder, happier, and more productive, leading to happier markets and communities, as well as better places.

‘SPARK,’ an acronym for Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness, is essentially geared towards embedding a culture of kindness in the bank by driving the understanding of how kindness (or the lack of it) can impact the workplace, the marketplace and the communities in which the bank’s staff live and work.

On Tuesday, 27 July 2021, participants will see the bank step up its drive to institutionalise SPARK through a dedicated programme in schools as part of this year’s activities. Part of the programme will involve using school SPARK champions (including students and teachers) to drive the activities in the schools.

“This is expected to give fillip to the new drive that has been structured to inculcate in students the SPARK values that play an important role in shaping their lives,” they noted.

On the same day, there will also be a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a Primary Health Care Centre at Ijedodo community in Alimosho LGA of Lagos State, which comes under the One Community At A Time (OCAAT) project. This is an initiative that gives expression to the company’s commitment to improving the health and welfare of the members of various communities in Lagos State.

Another webinar with the sub-theme “Education: Does Kindness Have a Role?” will be held on Wednesday, 28 July 2021, for the general public, still aimed at promoting the SPARK values. This and other webinars will draw their sub-themes from the three pillars of SPARK – Compassion, Civility, and Charity, and focus on different audiences and reflect speakers from varied backgrounds, including academics and NGOs, among others.

There will also be visits to orphanages and homes caring for the underprivileged in society the next day, to practically demonstrate the bank’s acts of random kindness.

The visits and giving/donation to the orphanages and homes for the less fortunate will be led by management staff and supported by staff volunteers wearing branded T-shirts and face caps.

The Bank says two orphanages or homes for the care of the underprivileged will be selected from each of the 24 states across Nigeria that have been chosen for the 2021 CR&S Week.

“Four states each have been chosen from each of the six geopolitical zones. For the North-East zone, the preference is IDP (internally displaced people) camps rather than orphanages,” they added.

A webinar targeting millennials will be on ‘Making the Cyber World a Kinder Place’, on Friday, 30 July 2021, to bring the event to a close.

BusinessDay learnt that all activities are expected to hold across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones from where four states each per zone have been selected.

For instance, in the South-South zone, Cross River, Bayelsa, Delta, and Edo States will host CR&S Week activities. Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, and Taraba States will host activities in the North-East zone. For the North-Central, Abuja, Kogi, Benue and Plateau States were chosen.

While North-West is represented by Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Sokoto States, Imo, Anambra, Abia, and Ebonyi States represent the South-East, and the South-West has Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ogun States.

Similarly, activities flavoured with the culture, priorities, and preferences of the host countries will be held outside Nigeria by subsidiaries of the bank based in the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.

The Bank also stated that all the 2021 CR&S Week’s activities and their distribution represent a bumper package for all the specific groups that regularly participate in the annual CR&S Week either in performing or benefitting from acts of random kindness which is the essence of the Week.

Pius may not have been a beneficiary of First Bank’s acts of kindness, but his disposition towards benevolent deeds has been altered positively—which is the entire point of the CR&S week and what the bank is striving to promote.

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