BusinessDay

‘We need to de-emphasize “paper” qualification, promote skills acquisition’

BISI ADEYEMI is the 17th and second female president of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) in over 40 years of its existence. In this interview with BUNMI BAILEY, she talks about her passion for grooming the next generation of leaders in Nigeria and the chamber’s Software Programming Academy & Incubator for young women.

Being the second female president of NBCC in over 40 years of its existence, it is evident that women are still poorly represented in almost all sectors of the Nigerian economy. What do you think can be done to tackle the poor representation?

We have to continue the advocacy. Continue to show the abysmal numbers and demand more. Appoint more women into leadership positions. The excuse that there aren’t as many qualified women as there are men is very lame and untrue.

Women have done well in many spheres of human endeavour and holding their own very well. Organisations should be encouraged to have gender quotas to bridge the gap. At the NBCC, we are making deliberate efforts to bring on board more women.

Why is your administration keen on grooming the next generation of leaders in Nigeria?

We have to be mindful of succession and grooming the next generation of leaders. The NBCC Next Generation Leaders Programme (an executive mentoring programme creating impact with the younger demography) is one way we intend to do this. We do a lot of disservice to the younger generation by referring to them as leaders of tomorrow.

Indeed, I dare say it is an unconscious attempt to perpetuate our own leadership and hold on to the role for as long as we can. We have an army of successful young men and women all over the world leading successful enterprises and creating value. We have our own fair share here in Nigeria. Young men and women are attracting investments and making a difference.

We have to do our bit to equip them with the skills required to thrive and stay the course. Leadership is at the very heart of nation building and by grooming the next generation of leaders, we are contributing our own quota to nation building.

NBCC recently launched its Software Programming Academy & Incubator for young women. Can you discuss more on this and what it seeks to achieve in the economy?

As with every sector of the economy there is an underrepresentation of the female gender in the tech sector. We identified one of the reasons for this as an aversion to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professions by women, primarily because of the way STEM is taught in schools. Also, there are not many female role models to look up to.

I have also personally witnessed the frustration of many young women who have studied certain courses (law, medicine, etc.) to please their parents, but are not finding fulfilment. They want to do something more meaningful and acquire new skills. The Academy will provide young women – undergraduates and graduates with the skills required to launch serious careers in tech.

The impact on the economy will be far reaching as the skills acquired will enable them to contribute their own quota to technological advancement, create employment and engender economic prosperity.

I have also personally witnessed the frustration of many young women who have studied certain courses (law, medicine, etc.) to please their parents, but are not finding fulfilment

One of the country’s biggest challenges is the high rate of youth unemployment. Being very passionate about youth development, what can the government and private sector do to help solve this?

The government has set up too many programmes to stem youth unemployment. What is required is to get the economy working. You can’t create jobs without economic activity.

Also, we need to begin to de-emphasize “paper” qualification and place more emphasis on skills acquisition – useful skills. That is one of the reasons we are setting up the Programming Academy. Ultimately, skills trump paper qualification.

If I have the appropriate skills, I am employable and can also create employment opportunities. Many of our youth are unemployable because they don’t have the appropriate skills.

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What are the challenges and opportunities the Chamber has experienced and how have you navigated some of these challenges and turned them into opportunities?

Our members have been impacted by the vagaries of the economy made worse by the pandemic. We have continued to engage them as well as the relevant agencies of government via our vibrant advocacy platform.

We have invited industry captains to share experience on what has worked for them as well as State Governors and other Public Sector players to share details of investment opportunities. We have deployed technology to run even our annual Trade-Mission and hosted virtual exhibitions given restrictions on physical gatherings.

As challenging as the pandemic has been, we have made the best of it and our members are the better for it. We are of course looking forward to more in-person hybrid events that will foster better interaction and networking.

What roles does NBCC play in the Nigerian economy and how has these roles shaped the economy?

We are a credible voice of business and provide a platform to discuss government policy and the impact of these on the private sector. We have lent our voice to the Value Added Tax conundrum, the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Ease of Doing Business, Tariffs, etc. We continue to encourage trade between Nigeria and the UK by providing active Trade Desks in both countries and helping to impact policies that will improve the economic prosperity of both countries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, it had a negative impact on the economy. Being the Deputy President at that time how was the NBCC able to sustain its visibility, relevance and impact?

Without a doubt we were pretty much caught unawares when Covid hit. The Administration of the Immediate Past President Kayode Falowo- was just settling in, having set a clear tone of a new dawn at the NBCC. There was justifiable concern as to how we would sustain our visibility and more importantly our relevance and impact.

However, we not only exceeded our own expectations, but raised the bar several rungs higher. We went fully virtual and technology enabled us to continue to deliver value and indeed expand our reach. We have continued on this trajectory and are without a doubt the Chamber of Commerce to beat in Nigeria.

In your acceptance speech, you referred to your late parents on how they shaped you to be the woman you are today. What values and lesions did they install in you?

From both of them, I learnt integrity, sincerity of purpose, hard work, respect for self and others and empathy. My dad taught me professionalism – timeliness, excellence, not settling for mediocrity, continuous learning, and the imperative of networking.

He was always on time, a gentleman, who treated everyone fairly. From my mum, I learnt entrepreneurship – she was an illustrious businesswoman after she retired from public service. I got my can-do spirit from her.

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