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How MTN is helping MSMEs scale through COVID-19 headwinds

In every economy, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are considered as an engine of growth, creating jobs and contributing to the broad development of the economy.

Back home in Nigeria, the story appears no different as MSMEs contribute about half to Nigeria’s economic activities (GDP) and employ more than 80 percent of the country’s population, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Considering the massive inputs of MSMEs to the national development, it is no longer news that the outbreak of COVID-19, including the accompanied lockdown, has resulted in an unprecedented economic tailspin which has led to a decline in business activities, consumer spending, and living standards. It is based on this backdrop; MTN Nigeria commenced the Revv Programme to address the critical needs of MSMEs. To achieve a greater impact, 200 MSMEs have been selected to be a part of MTN’s first accelerator programme, Y’ello 200.

In fulfilment of the core mandates of the Revv Programme, MTN Nigeria hosted Y’ello Clinic, a virtual tell-it-all session, with the company’s top executives. This allowed MSME owners to learn from industry leaders like Modupe Kadri, chief finance officer; Lynda Saint-Nwafor, chief enterprise business officer; Adekunle Adebiyi, chief sales and distribution officer; Esther Akinnukawe, chief human resource officer; Tobechukwu Okigbo, chief corporate services officer; Cyril Illok, chief risk officer; Olubayo Adekanmbi, chief transformation officer; and Ugonwa Nwoye, chief customer relations officer, as they address the crucial challenges business owners may encounter in preparation for a post-COVID era.

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Olubayo Adekanmbi: Empowering SMEs with data science

Olubayo Adekanmbi, a man born with a tall vision is inclined to build an AI-first society where Artificial Intelligence is effectively deployed to solve local problems, particularly the sustainable development goals.

For him, Nigeria’s 180 million people with a median age of about 18 years is a strategic advantage- it positions the nation as one of the top 10 AI Knowledge centres in the world, with the opportunity to raise 1 million AI talents in 10 years, equipped with globally relevant skills that can drive increased employability.

He believes AI will provide a springboard for Africa’s development by enhancing how we live, work and play. Indeed, Adekanmbi has started taking giant steps to match his words with action.

As the chief transformation officer of MTN Nigeria, he deploys his global experience, creativity and data science strategies in leading a team shaping the future of Africa’s biggest mobile network through the proactive introduction of specific measures to help accelerate the company’s business performance and innovations. He also sits atop as the founder of Data Science Nigeria (DSN) a social initiative to promote business transformation, through the application of data science in business, policy, investment, and community planning.

His intimidating credentials in Data Science, Strategy, Marketing and Analytics across the two largest economies in Africa – Nigeria and South Africa, made him a well sought-after resource person for The Revv Programme by MTN. The programme was created to help small business owners rethink and retool their operations to enable them to withstand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From working as the strategy and business director at DDB and MTN’s chief marketing and strategy officer, the University of Reading and Columbia Business School-trained Data Scientist rose to become the chief transformation officer of MTN Nigeria. With a passion for continuous learning, Adekanmbi also has in his bag, a PhD from City University Cass Business School in London, as well as certificates from other institutions across the world.

More than 200 participants at the Revv Programme masterclass with the theme “Re-defining Customer Experience through Effective Customer Relationship Management” drew real and practical technological lessons from Adekanmbi’s accomplishment.

With nearly two decades of international experience in Data Science, Adekanmbi is a powerhouse of knowledge for SMEs in search of business lessons. This is especially as the world economy is gradually finding a balance after the COVID-19 pandemic which threatened the survival of many multinationals and sent world economies into recession.

At the MTN Revv Programme masterclass, he told SME owners that “Even though we are in a new normal, we are still dealing with a person who can adjust to every environment.”

“As SMEs, we have to observe the environment, learn from it and take actions accordingly,” Adekanmbi added.

He left them with the OLA approach – Observation, Learning and Action, which, in his view, will help business owners observe prevailing circumstances to know what customers want, learn deliberate efforts to find patterns in the observations and take action based on this body of intelligence to service customers better and bundle the best product to them.

As a denizen of the digital world, to drive sales, Adekanmbi strongly advised SMEs to make use of data available on social media to gain intelligence.

For SMEs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram analytics are basic tools that must be mastered, understood and applied in this emerging economy, but the fundamental principle, in the words of Adekanmbi, is not about the tools, “it’s about the principles of running a business like the ‘mama put’ who knows how to imagine the future, plan, own the customer and win the largest share of the future.”

Ugonwa Nwoye: Grooming streetwise SMEs

The business world could be likened to a large, well-stocked lake with many fishers waiting to get the best with their intimidating arsenal. In such an environment, what is left to small and emerging players is identifying and wisely choosing their fishing hole.

Many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are faced with the challenge of how to win and retain customers in a business world dominated by multinationals and other big players. The solution to this, according to the chief customer relations officer, MTN Nigeria, Ugonwa Nwoye, is “fishing where the fish are”.

At the Revv Programme masterclass themed “Redefining customer experience through effective customer relationship management and data analytics” which held recently, Nwoye and other industry experts showed more than 100 SME owners in attendance how to improve the customer experience while maximising data analytics to scale business growth.

The Revv Programme is another initiative by MTN that brings SMEs together under the mentorship of top business executives and industry experts to relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy. The programme which commenced in September aims to reach and support 10,000 small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) across Nigeria.

With a degree from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, Nwoye possesses business development experience spanning over 20 years. Since ascending to her present position as the chief customer relations officer of MTN Nigeria in 2014, she has been leading wide-ranging customer operations and oversees the business development transformation of the telecom giant.

Beyond the title, Ugonwa Nwoye brought to the Revv Programme panel over 25 years of experience in strategy and management consulting, oil & gas and the telecommunications industry, garnered from work at Bain & Company Inc., South Africa, Mercer Management Consulting, San Francisco and Schlumberger in their Gabon, Nigeria and Indonesia offices.

Those are part of the experiences and skills she deployed in mentoring small and emerging business owners to help them decode the dynamics of changing attitudes of customers, develop innovative business and customer relations models, and make smarter strategic decisions.

Nwoye’s proven strategy for keeping customers and making them happy rests in what she describes as the ‘hands-on approach’.

“Every member of the team that I lead understands this and is how we ensure that you continue to experience effective and high-quality service,” she revealed.

As a panellist on the MTN Revv Programme in September, she summed up this strategy by remarking that there is a need for business owners to pay attention to diverse customer channels as they arise and identify tools to drive efficiency and win new customers.

After identifying the right fishing hole, deploying the right strategies to win the customers is key.

“You need to meet the customers where they are. To achieve this, a good customer database is essential. You need to know the kind of channels your customer wants to be reached,” Nwoye advised.

To thrive in a market where customers are active, doing some research, checking on competitors before making up their minds, the MTN chief stressed the importance of choosing the right strategies to identify customers and how to sustain them. One of such strategies is knowing customers’ history which reduces the amount of efforts business owners make on customers.

“When brands know their customers’ history, it helps to build the intimacy that customers have with every brand,” she said.

“When customers go to different channels and they see consistency in the way they are treated, they begin to build a lot of confidence in the business and they begin to tilt towards loyalty. The amount of effort you make on such customers reduces over time because you have an omni-channel approach to serving those customers.”

Adekunle Adebiyi: Nurturing customer-driven SMEs

Some business executives are great at the vision; others are very good at managing human and material resources while many are great at execution, effectively managing talents to drive the vision to reality. Adekunle Adebiyi may just have it all.

Adebiyi leads the sales and distribution arm of MTN Nigeria and is responsible for ensuring that the more than 70 million subscribers of the telecommunication giant enjoy unlimited access to the benefits of modern, connected life, wherever they are, whether in Makoko, Lagos or Mararaba in Nasarawa, Mabushi in Abuja, or Otukpo in Benue, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, and everywhere they go.

Since taking the reins as chief sales and distribution executive in 2018, the biggest contribution of the Animal Science graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, in the role is daily evaluation of MTN Nigeria’s performance to see if it has accomplished all its goals.

“Whether we’re providing big city Nigeria with the services it needs to keep buzzing or ensuring a specific product is available even in the most remote part of the country; we are constantly dealing with vast distances and great diversity. It’s a big job, but someone has to do it,” Adebiyi said.

The most crucial part of his job is to make the services available to those who need it even if it requires taking it to their doorsteps from his office in Victoria Island, Lagos to Sabon Gari in Kaduna. The customers must be able to access it with ease.

The ease of accessing a product is exactly what the MTN Executive advised SME owners to start factoring into their business model when he spoke as a member of the virtual panel of the Revv Programme masterclass themed: “Smart Marketing & Sales – Your Customers are out there”.

According to him, “apart from coming up with innovative ideas to make the product better, you need to expand your base by taking the product to where the customers are”.

The Revv Programme is another initiative by MTN that brings SMEs together under the mentorship of top business executives and industry experts to relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy.

The programme which commenced in August aims to reach and support 10,000 small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) across Nigeria.

Adebiyi brought to the training his wealth of experience and expertise in sales operation with Pfizer Products Plc., Livestock Feeds Plc., Econet Wireless Nigeria Limited, Vee Networks Ltd., Celtel (now Airtel) Nigeria Limited and Visafone Communications Limited.

Since joining MTN Nigeria in 2012 as general manager, sales, Adebiyi has held the positions of general manager, regional operations – North (2014) and general manager, enterprise sales (2016) before assuming his current role in an acting capacity in 2016 and in 2018 he was confirmed chief sales and distribution officer (CSDO)

The popular saying that people search for treasure even if it is hidden beneath the earth may no longer be true with the way business has evolved in the 21st Century. People now form an opinion about a product or service based on how it is presented and packaged, especially online. Looks now matter. Adebiyi said that asides from being innovative, there is a need for SMEs to make their products more attractive.

Away from the pro-bono training and advisory SMEs get from business experts on how to grow their businesses, participants in the masterclass also qualify to be a part of the 200 SMEs selected to make up the “Y’ello 200” at the end of the nine masterclass sessions that will be delivered in the course of the programme. This will be further supported with empowerment tools and marketing opportunities.

MTN’s Cyril Ilok – Guiding SMEs on risk and compliance to achieve business objectives

In a time when consumers are demanding transparency, integrity and accountability from businesses more than ever and regulatory policies are constantly changing, the place of risk management and compliance has become increasingly more important to the survival of any business – big, medium or small.

Compliance and risk may sound like cliches to those in the business world, but they are issues everyone doing business must give utmost attention to if they want to remain profitable. This is important because, according to the chief risk and compliance officer of MTN Nigeria, Cyril Ilok, without the right behaviour and lack of understanding of the emerging business risks, an organisation may never achieve its business objectives.

As regulatory policies and obligations are constantly changing and becoming more complex, expectations are also shifting, making risk and compliance a multi-dimensional challenge to businesses, especially the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who believe they are too small to be seen by the preying eye of industry regulators. With this mindset, many SMEs fail to do the right things like paying taxes, investing in insurance, ensuring services and products are of high quality and meet the required standards stipulated by the regulators, thereby falling foul of the law and becoming endangered when crises come knocking at their doors

Through the right training like the MTN Revv Programme masterclass, industry experts like Ilok with ample experience in risk and compliance are guiding SMEs aright in business and achieving their set goals.

Ilok who was one of the panellists at the October Revv Masterclass brought to the panel more than 25 years of experience in the banking and telecom sectors working with Standard Trust Bank Ltd (now UBA Plc) between 1999 and October 2002, as Regional Manager, Internal Control for the Western Region.

A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN), Ilok joined MTN Nigeria in 2002 as Senior Internal Auditor and rose through the ranks to become the chief risk and compliance executive on December 3, 2018.

With a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Calabar in 1992 and a master’s in business administration from the University of Benin in 2002, certifications from the Institute of Risk Management (UK), Ethics Institute, South Africa, among others, Ilok has equipped himself with the right skills and certifications needed to be a successful business executive in the present business environment and now he is passing on knowledge through the MTN Revv Programme.

Introduced in August 2020 by telecom giant MTN Nigeria, the Revv Programme consists of a series of business-related masterclasses, advisory services, marketing and technology support targeted at over 10,000 SMEs. The goal of the initiative is to address the critical needs of SMEs and proffer solutions to their many challenges as they struggle for balance amid the COVID-19 induced storm threatening the survival of businesses across the world.

According to accounting and auditing firm, KPMG, 94 percent of the Fortune 1000 across the globe, and businesses in Nigeria have been impacted by COVID-19.

With the alarming economic impact of the pandemic, MTN is showing leadership by looking out for SMEs and guiding them through the turbulence with the right mentorship.

As Ilok sat on the panel, reeling out his points like a senior lecturer in the business class of a university, he highlighted the strategies needed to prepare for risk, overcome them and use them as a platform for profitability.

The mood in the masterclass as Ilok spoke extensively on the topic: ‘the resilient small business: a stakeholder and crisis management perspective,’ could be likened to a classroom session. Inquisitive participants who showed keen interest in the topic perfectly dissected by the risk and compliance expert had a lot to ask. Taking the centre stage were questions like – what are the benefits of risk investment? What do SMEs stand to gain or lose when they pay little or no attention to risk and compliance?

Many SMEs do not consider risk management as an important factor in their business; a trend Ilok warned could threaten their value chain and hinder the actualisation of their business objectives.

To prepare for risk, he advised SMEs to have a governance structure that guides their company’s activities and help them manage business risks.

“You need to design a staff code of conduct to govern the operations of the company and state how the authority will be delegated. Set objectives, identify challenges that may stop you from achieving the objectives,” the MTN risk and compliance chief advised.

“Brainstorm with your team and design a risk register – a compendium of challenges you have identified that threaten your objective then identify how to address the risks.”

In his words, this is a constant exercise SMEs must engage in to remain relevant in business.

Warning that many businesses may not return after the COVID-19 crises, he stressed the need for SMEs to put plans in practical and legal places to help them manage the risk and manage their business back to profitability.

As some of the participants expressed concern about investing in risk without any crisis in sight, Ilok advised “see risk investment as an investment into the future of your business.” Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic which many businesses didn’t prepare for, he said risk does not always mean negativity, it comes with opportunities.

Tobechukwu Okigbo – Helping SMEs turn crises to opportunities

More than ever before, the way businesses operate is changing, there is greater diversity, more competition, stricter regulations, consumers purchasing power are declining even as they seek the best services with the least budget.

To thrive in the new world of business already dominated by multinationals with a structure to adapt to any form of change, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), in the words of Tobechukwu Okigbo, need to understand their business environment and the stakeholders in order to align them around their organisation’s action plan.

Okigbo leads the corporate service team at MTN Nigeria as the chief corporate services officer (CCSO).

When he sat on the panel of the October edition of the MTN Revv Programme where he spoke to more than 500 new and emerging business leaders presently driving the wheels of SMEs in Nigeria and in search of strategies and mentorship to navigate these difficult times for businesses, it was an opportunity one of the participants described as a “Harvard standard business class” which came at no cost.

With 30 years of experience in business, there appears to be no ocean in the business world too deep for Okigbo to swim in. As the recent COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the survival of businesses, he was tapped as part of the panel to train the SME owners on managing crises and turning them into opportunities.

Okigbo, who oversees the team responsible for corporate relations and stakeholder management at MTN Nigeria, is an accredited certified resolution professional of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) the United Kingdom.

Called to the Nigerian Bar in 1990 after earning a bachelor’s in law from the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, Okigbo’s interest in ensuring businesses succeed and operate responsibly led him to the University of Liverpool, England, where he added a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) to his bag.

Before joining MTN in 2017, he had spent years garnering experience and honing his corporate relations, stakeholders management skills at Eddie Ntephe and Co., the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG) and Airtel Nigeria, amongst others. He was with Smile Communications where he served as the chief corporate services officer.

At MTN, Nigeria’s largest telecommunication network with a revenue of N638 billion in the first half of 2020 and over 80 million subscribers as at July 2020 according to the Nigerian Communications Commision (NCC), Okigbo coordinates the team focused on ensuring that the telecom giant lives up to its promise of doing business responsibly and giving back to the Nigerian community through numerous interventions like the Y’ello Hope, Y’ello Life Plus, Y’ello Star, and now the MTN Revv Programme.

The Revv Programme, an initiative by MTN, is a virtual training programme aimed at helping SMEs relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy.

The programme which commenced in September 2020 aims to reach and support 10,000 small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) across Nigeria.

The expert in corporate relations didn’t mince words at the Wednesday, October 14, 2020 edition where he harped on the need for SMEs to have a good understanding of their business environment if they don’t want to be blown away by crises confronting small and big businesses.

Okigbo said while some businesses face crises and shrink, others assess the opportunities in the crises and grow amid the turmoil.

Making sweeping changes in a time of crises is no small feat for any business, large or SME. To overcome the storm and come out stronger, Okigbo explained to SME owners that they need to carry every stakeholder along on the journey and communicate more effectively.

“In stakeholders’ management, the same thing that agitates the mind of big organisations like MTN should also agitate small businesses, no matter how small they are,” the corporate relations expert said.

Surviving the period of crises, Okigbo said, business owners must study and have a clear understanding of their business environment and stakeholders – the customers, government regulatory agencies and employees.

“The better you understand them, the better you’re able to respond to crises. And you also need a structure and policy. But as a start-up, it may be expensive to have a structure; you have to build the mindset of knowing what is expected of you to do, how and when to do them.”

Making reference to how some restaurants managed the COVID-19 pandemic by switching to food delivery, he said this was possible because they have a clear understanding of their stakeholders and environment.

From a legal point of view, he advised SME owners to avoid legal pitfalls and need to be clear on what the law says about their business. Know when there is a change of law and how it can affect your business.

In times of crises, SMEs and the informal sector are more endangered and it could mean the end of their existence. This has been confirmed by an Oxfam report on the challenges confronting Nigerian SMEs and Startups in the COVID-19 pandemic. Published in March 2020, the report revealed that 71.43 percent of businesses are experiencing market decline and about 47.62 percent of the companies have stopped all forms of production in March 2020. With these scary figures, MTN is putting the right measures in place to help SMEs survive with The Revv Programme Masterclass.

Modupe Kadri: Supporting SMEs growth with decades of finance experience

Since returning to Nigeria from Ghana in March 2020 to lead the team balancing the books and planning the spendings of MTN Nigeria, Modupe Kadri, the chief financial officer (CFO)/executive director of MTN Nigeria has been committed to, not just the deployment of financial resources but also the nurturing of talents and human resources that drive the vision of the organisation.

As the CFO of a multinational company with a revenue of N638 billion in the first half of 2020, over 80 million subscribers as of July 2020 according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), a Network infrastructure value of N1.04 trillion, and total assets valued at N1.74 trillion as of June 2020, the role demands having more than just a knowledge of accounting, finance and ensuring the books are balanced. It requires a deep understanding of how the organisation and the industry work, to position the company to become more profitable and competitive without leaving the customers out of focus. Above all these are the responsibility of transferring value and knowledge to the younger generation to fit into the emerging digital world and assist them with the advisory needed to access the right fund to support their venture.

Kadri joined MTN Nigeria in 2007 as the general manager, financial operations and held various positions within the finance division before he was moved to Ghana in August 2014 as the CFO until February 29, 2020. He has been the CFO/ED for MTN Nigeria since March 1, 2020.

In five years and six months of managing the finances of MTN Ghana, Kadri was twice named the CFO of the year in the Telecoms industry in 2015 and 2016.

The Economics graduate from the University of Lagos, came to the MTN CFO job well-equipped with over two decades of finance and accounting experience from his first job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Lafarge Africa Plc, working in the United Kingdom and with MTN. He attributed his success at MTN Ghana to his dedication to learning and relearning.

“I had to learn the nuances of, and the challenges the economy was facing in Ghana. I had to learn the way to tackle them in order to maintain our leadership as the foremost network provider in the country,” he told Muslim News in a 2019 interview.

A Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Kadri said to survive in today’s world; there is a need for learning and relearning to replace redundant knowledge. And this exactly is what the organisation he sits atop as CFO is doing with The Revv Programme, an initiative by MTN. The programme is aimed at helping SMEs relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy.

The need for this has become more imperative with the cloud of uncertainty brought upon the world by the COVID-19 pandemic which threw the world economy into turmoil, crippling the financial and economic activities of multinationals without sparing SMEs. While the world is gradually overcoming the pandemic, many businesses in Nigeria are now struggling for survival as they are confronted with myriads of challenges from fluctuating foreign exchange/devaluation of the naira, increasing inflation, increase in the price of commodities and raw materials, and regulatory issues among other economic factors.

A report by Oxfam in March 2020 said a survey to understand the challenges and responsibilities Nigerian SMEs and Startups face in the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that 71.43 percent of businesses are experiencing market decline and about 47.62 percent of the companies have stopped all forms of production. The collapse in purchasing power caused by mass job loss and salary reductions has taken a huge toll on SMEs who are the worst hit by the pandemic.

To address the critical needs of SMEs and proffer solutions to their many challenges as they struggle for survival during this COVID period and in the aftermath of the pandemic, MTN introduced the Revv Programme which consists of a series of business-related masterclasses, advisory services, marketing and technology support targeted at over 10,000 SMEs.

In one of its masterclasses on ‘Accessing The Right Funding For Your Businesses,’ Kadri joined other panellists like the co-founder of Flutterwave and Andela, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji; Executive Director, Commercial Banking, Ecobank Nigeria, Carol Oyedeji; executive director, SME, Bank of Industry (BoI), Shakarau Omar and chief transformation officer, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, Chika Ileka.

During the session, Kadri stressed the need for SMEs to get the packaging of their businesses right to be able to attract the right investors who will be convinced to put their money into the venture.

“Packaging is very important; you may have the best of ideas or business and not know how to present them. You must be able to articulate them in a form that others will be able to relate well with you otherwise you will struggle with it,” he said.

As a financial expert with over two decades of experience, Kadri noted that investors will not just put money into a venture without having some level of trust in the owner, he advised a high level of trustworthiness and added that learning the act of self-discipline will unlock all the potentials and opportunities for SME owners.

The Revv Programme is not just a talk shop and mentorship session. Aside from the deep insights and advisory SMEs get from business experts on how to grow their businesses and access funding, participants in the masterclass also qualify to be a part of the 200 SMEs selected to make up the “Y’ello 200”, who are being supported with empowerment tools and marketing opportunities.

From all its actions – donations in billions of naira, support for health workers and affected households (HelpNow) and massive campaign to curb the spread of the virus (Wear It For Me) in the past seven months since the COVID-19 pandemic spread into Nigeria, MTN, despite being affected by the crises, has proven its commitment to safeguarding and preserving the life and the livelihood of Nigerians especially the vulnerable SMEs. The Revv Programme bears another testament to this.

Lynda Saint-Nwafor: Impacting businesses through digital transformation

Late in July 2018, commuters along Lekki Expressway encountered an unusual billboard. It was see-through, and in it, a man seemed to be working. Was it a product launch, or a new workspace invention? Soon, everyone was talking about the encounter.

The phenomenon soon went viral on social media, generating unending speculations, and becoming skit material for social media users. Within three days, the conversations reached nearly 7 million people on Twitter and Instagram with over 9 million impressions. ‘Man-In-The-Box’ was born.

Aptly named ‘Man in the Box’, the initiative marked the formal relaunch of MTN’s Enterprise Business Solutions. Four days into the wave, Lynda Saint-Nwafor, chief enterprise business officer at MTN Nigeria Communications Limited explained that the campaign symbolised MTN’s unwavering dedication and desire to help support business growth and transformation, using a wide range of world-class business solutions, backed by cutting-edge technology.

Over 2,400 entrepreneurs applied to showcase their products while 79 met the selection criteria. For a 10-week period, the businesses enjoyed free advertising for 24 hours, as details of their offerings were displayed on both sides of an LED ‘box’ screen.

The chief executive officer, Little Tulips Kids Spa, Iniye Emelife, acknowledged a 50 percent increase in bookings and inquiries after her business was showcased in the box. The business also experienced a nearly 90 percent increase in followership and visibility across all social media platforms. Olufunmilayo Gombe, founder, Event Nanny, stated that sales peaked by 10 percent while the social media following has increased by over 1,000 in the 24 hour period.

Two years later, MTN’s Enterprise Business Solutions is still going strong, under Lynda Saint-Nwafor’s expert leadership. This comes as no surprise as Lynda is a veteran in network planning, project management, organisational and business transformation, as well as people management.

A graduate of Engineering, Lynda obtained her BSc from Enugu State University in 1996 and became a valuable addition to the MTN team, when she joined as systems planning engineer in the networks division in 2002.

Lynda began her career in 1994, as a trainee system analyst with Data Sciences Nigeria Limited, where she amassed a wealth of experience, before leaving to head the engineering, development & project management department at EMIS Telecoms Nigeria in 2001.

Since joining MTN Nigeria in 2002, Lynda has been on the rise. In 2011, she became the chief technical officer, until June 2016, when she assumed the position of chief enterprise business officer at MTN Nigeria, where she steers the ship that leads enterprise and ICT strategy in MTN.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria have contributed about 48 percent of the national GDP in the last five years. However, there is still a long way to go for SMEs, as they face several challenges including lack of skilled manpower, a multiplicity of taxes, and high cost of doing business, among others.

In recognition of this need, MTN’s Revv programme, under the supervision of Lynda Saint-Nwafor, as the chief enterprise business officer, was created. The business scape around the world is fast-changing, a transformation made even more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding technology for business advancement has become critical. The Revv Programme is aimed at helping SMEs relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy.

Small and Medium Enterprises, which according to a report by the NBS are estimated at 41 million, are too important to the Nigerian economy to be allowed to suffer. Adequate equipping and exposure are required to guarantee that they not just survive but get a chance to thrive.

As economies were forced to shut down to contain the spread of the pandemic, SMEs in Nigeria were the worst hit. To cushion this blow, the Revv programme organized masterclasses aimed at imparting relevant knowledge and applicable skills to business owners. Practical business resources and solutions were provided to enable efficient remote operations.

An important tool that every business owner should possess today is data, as the application of insights gleaned from data is essential for business growth. Every business decision has to be informed, and data enables informed decisions. Advisory services in the form of daily insights, access to free digital training, advice from experts were also provided to business owners that were a part of the programme.

According to Lynda, concern for SMEs is at the core of the Revv programme, “We have the interest of SMEs at heart and whilst we do not provide all the services that are applicable, we are willing to partner with organisations that provide access to technology tools that are relevant to SMEs on a platform that makes it is easy for them to access at the right price.”

Just as several businesses were able to benefit from the publicity that appearing alongside “Man in the Box” granted them, the same opportunity will be granted to businesses, to generate brand awareness, this time on MTN’s online property, where their offerings will be seen by millions.

The Revv Programme aims to reach 10,000 businesses, to provide much-needed marketing and technology insight and support, to ensure the continued growth of SMEs in Nigeria. At the Revv masterclass held in September, during a session themed: “Smart Marketing & Sales – Your Customers are out there”, industry experts showed the SME owners in attendance how to guide their businesses towards effective sales and marketing especially when digital is their only avenue.

Panellists and facilitators at these Revv masterclasses are business and technology experts, with years of experience in leading and growing companies, including the chief marketing officer, MTN Nigeria, Rahul De, chief sales & distribution officer, MTN Nigeria, Adekunle Adebiyi, and founder, BTDTHUB, Dipo Awojide. Others were founder, Trainquarters, Stephanie Obi, founder and CEO, Terragon Group, Elochukwu Umeh and country sales director, JCDecaux, Opeoluwa Filani.

According to the NBS, Nigerian SMEs employ 84 percent of the country’s workforce. The growth and development of small and medium-sized businesses through technical and digital transformation will be instrumental in lifting a significant number of the country’s 82 million poor people out of poverty.

To achieve this objective, Nigeria will need the contribution and investment of large successful corporations like MTN Nigeria who can leverage the expertise of their most talented seasoned business executives, like Lynda Saint-Nwafor, in this important nation-building exercise.

Esther Akinnukawe: Nurturing trust within SME workspace

When Esther Akinnukawe appeared before over 100 SME owners at the virtual MTN Revv masterclass held recently, her core message to them was ‘Building Trust’.

The Revv Programme, an initiative by telecommunication giant MTN, is a series of virtual training sessions aimed at helping SMEs relearn, rethink and retool their businesses for growth in the emerging digital economy. Akinnukawe is the chief human resource officer at MTN Nigeria who has efficiently managed talents in different organisations during the course of her illustrious career spanning over 26 years. She didn’t mince words as she spoke on the importance of business owners building trust with their employees.

“The right hire is the first foundation you can then begin to build on,” she advised. “If you’re going to build a culture of trust, you can’t afford to be disrespectful.”

While it is likely that falsehood and deception may drive short-term profit, making the temptation of cutting corners more luring, it is ephemeral and no serious business with a vision of building a strong and lasting institution headed in that direction. It is only by the trust that businesses build a strong institution and a customer base that can be kept and nurtured. For any business to survive, grow, and thrive, trust is essential between the company and its customers as well as its employees.

Akinnukawe is an authority in the business of hiring and training, with a proven track record. An alumna of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, with over two decades of experience in talent management, she maintained that building trust with employees begins from the hiring process.

“Get your hiring right. If you don’t bring the right people into the organisation, unfortunately, the foundation has not been properly built,” she said.

With an MBA from IESE Business School, Universidad de Navarra, Spain, she joined MTN Nigeria in 2012 as the general manager, business partnering and services and became the human resources executive in 2018. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), as well as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Before joining MTN, Akinnukawe was on the Faculty of Lagos Business School of the Pan African (now Pan-Atlantic) University and had garnered experience from consulting, teaching and HR management is drawn from positions held at Andersen Consulting, Lagos (now Accenture); Societe Generale Bank, Trust Bank for Africa and FCMB.

The task of leading the team in charge of hiring the right people, for a multinational with more than 1800 employees, according to Bloomberg, demands more than just hiring, motivation plays a crucial role in ensuring the right hires take responsibility to meet the goals of the organisation and expectations of the customers.

Undaunted by the challenge of managing over 1800 ‘right people, it is safe to say she has motivated the team to constant wins.

A year after Akinnukawe joined MTN, the telecom giant bagged the Investors in People (IiP) Standard Certification for the first time in 2013 and in six years, it moved on to clinch the Gold Certification in 2015 and Platinum in 2019 which implies that MTN has a robust Employee Value Proposition (EVP) as an organisation.

The IiP is an internationally recognised people management standard accreditation programme, and “what it means is that internationally, including the United Kingdom and the USA where IiP has a presence, we are in the top percentile of organisations with the best people practices,” Akinukawe said in an interview in December 2019.

A self-professed motivator, Akinnukawe is focused on what she knows how to do best: living a life of impact and significance, influencing others to be the best they can be while enjoying the ride. She is passionate about an environment that inspires greatness and empowers people to unleash their potentials to achieve personal and professional growth.

And this is exactly what she demonstrated on The Revv Programme as she opened her pool of experience to SMEs to tap from the knowledge and strategies that have helped her stay at the top of the game for close to three decades.

With an Oxfam report on the challenges confronting Nigerian SMEs and startups in the COVID-19 pandemic revealing that 71.43 percent of businesses are experiencing market decline and about 47.62 percent of the companies have stopped all forms of production, MTN is showing true leadership with The Revv Programme Masterclass.

If the succession of developments brought upon the world by the pandemic could challenge the survival of multinationals, small businesses need not be told to stand firmly in order not to be blown away by the raging storm.

MTN introduced the Revv Programme which consists of a series of business-related masterclasses, advisory services, marketing and technology support targeted at over 10,000 SMEs to address the critical needs of SMEs and proffer solutions to their many challenges as they struggle for balance amid the COVID-19 storm.

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