The 21st Century Capitalist’s Dilemma (2): A Sparkling Perspective
(In conversation with Uzoma Dozie – The Chief Sparkler)
I am particularly excited to write this article for two reasons – first is, I am an ex-Diamond (proudly so) and secondly, would like to share my perspective of my interactions with Uzoma and what I refer to as his ‘Un-Nigerian-ness’.
Uzoma Dozie was the last Managing Director of Diamond Bank, Nigeria. He is the founder of Sparkle, a mobile-first platform for Nigeria’s retail sector, using technology to power financial inclusion, at scale. Uzoma runs angel investment and mentorship platform, Black-Knights and also the tech-focused TV show TechTurks, where he interviews leading entrepreneurs and digital pioneers.
It was one of my conversations with Uzoma that inspired the topic of discussion. He had challenged the “all talk and no action” attitude of some of the businesses in our environment in the area of social impact.
I worked in Diamond Bank for 4 years, and it was an interesting experience. Interesting because it refreshingly surpassed my expectations of what working in an indigenously owned organisation would be, following a 5-year stint with an international bank. I was however pleasantly surprised at the quite “Un-Nigerian” culture that Diamond Bank displayed and I, personally, attribute this to Uzoma’s unpopular perspectives – i.e. not the typical Nigerian Business Leader’s perspectives.
He was that CEO/MD that demystified the role because you were not too junior to share a great idea with him and he would listen, keenly so. More importantly, he backed his talk with action, and so when he declared the Bank would go paperless, he ensured it was a habit that became second nature – if you wanted Uzoma to sign something, then it would not be on paper. There were many other such of these experiences that made me refer to him as “Un-Nigerian”. To give a bit of context, my awareness of people with typical Nigerian views in Corporate Nigeria was laced with prioritisation of hierarchy over value, and more talk than action. So, it was of course, shocking and refreshing at the same time, to find quite the opposite in a wholly-owned Nigerian Bank.
Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t mean that Uzoma was soft, in fact, his expectations in terms of performance, which he ardently drove were always of exceptional standard. He encouraged innovative thinking, and this was demonstrated in his digital and retail vision for the Bank. My capitalist impressions of Uzoma were formed on the basis of these high expectations in terms of numbers that impacted the bottom-line. There was one key differentiator however, Uzoma genuinely cared about people – he demonstrated empathy and as Niyi noted during the interview – empathy does not mean soft.
Quite vividly, I recall when I was leaving the Bank and went to see him – he was trying to resolve a branch staff’s request to work from a branch closer to her place of residence because she was pregnant and had some health challenges. Her Branch Manager had however, reportedly declined. Uzoma was bewildered as to why the manager would decline the request, in the face of evidence that the staff was in dire straits and more so, a high performer. He just couldn’t’ understand the seeming lack of empathy. That’s how seriously he took people issues.
So, when Uzoma came on the Show to discuss Stakeholder Capitalism over Shareholder Capitalism essentially, ‘people over profitability’ – I wasn’t surprised to hear his balanced view. He summed this view up by sharing a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s quote that says “’You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong”. This quote was so poignant for me and Niyi, because, right there was the nexus between capitalism and socialism – one can not really exist without the other. My interpretation is that seeming capitalism aggression is a requirement for the survival of the masses.
When asked how his organsiation is dealing with the profitability versus people prioritisation amid the pandemic, Uzoma said:
“When we started Sparkle, we were going to do two things, we were going to make money from doing good and we were going to protect the environment”.
He noted in addition, that Sparkle operated a paperless policy, and prior to COVID, employees already had the flexibility to work remotely. He went on to share some of the additional steps they had taken as an organisation to protect people and the environment – from using solar energy and strategically fostering female inclusiveness in the Tech space.
Even more profound, was his response to the question about the acceptability of using money from illegitimate sources for social good. Uzoma’ statement, which easily summed up the entirety of the conversation that evening was as follows:
“Capitalism is hunger. In some instances, you have to be completely capitalistic and do socialism much later. Right now, it’s more socialism and less capitalism.”
As noted in my last article, my conversation with both Uzoma Dozie and Adeniyi Adenubi was illuminating. Both business leaders who happen to be in the Financial Services sector agreed that at the end of the day – “Balance” between capitalism and socialism is what is optimal.
Indeed, ‘Balance’ is what sums up Martin Luther King’s views on the subject which I will be closing with below:
“Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis.”
For me, the higher synthesis is the healthy balance of capitalism and socialism. On that note, please visit www.socialconscience.africa or www.africabusinessradio.com to listen to the full conversation and follow my Instagram handle @with_nasa.
I remain, yours conscientiously,
Chinasa Ken-Ugwuh (‘Nasa) is the Founder and Anchor of the Social Conscience with ‘Nasa (SCwN) radio talk-show on Africa Business Radio (ABR) also curated as podcasts on multiple platforms. She works full time as a Social Development consultant with a global professional services firm.