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Positive societal impact is a vital element of our corporate philosophy — Wema Bank

Oseni seeks bridging of MSMEs’ funding gap, managerial skills

As a major player in the economy and the financial services market in Nigeria Nigeria, what is your organization’s policy on CSR?

At Wema Bank, our sustainability vision centeres on developing digital solutions for societal impact. This is based on our strength in digital with a focus to meet social, environmental, and business needs in our community. We align with local and global best practices in proffering our services. Our strategic focus is to leverage our strong digital capabilities to drive business for efficiency, increased innovation, identify untapped opportunities in the market space and impact positively on the society, environment and most importantly, the economy.

Our sustainability policy includes the integration of the local and global sustainability principles into our business decision‐making processes through frameworks for environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in our business activities and operations.

In promoting positive impact on the society in which we operate, all initiatives are based on our Corporate Social Investments (CSI) framework across Economic Empowerment, Education, Environment, Finance and Health.

How has your policy impacted the economy and environment?

Our policy has impacted the economy and environment by bridging inequality gaps along diverse societal and environmental strata. This is central to the corporate social investment structure of Wema Bank. Through the years, communities across Nigeria have been positively impacted through initiatives targeted at different segments. These socio-economic and environmental impact initiatives are implemented across the internal structure and corporate landscape highlighted below:

Financial Inclusion: At Wema Bank, we believe that financial inclusion is fundamental to poverty eradication and overall economic development. Financial inclusion is one of the key socio-economic strategies that will drive development and growth in Nigeria. Our financial inclusion initiatives are in alignment with Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 1 – No Poverty.

Our flagship product ‘ALAT’ was created to promote the national financial inclusion drive as well as meet the changing needs of bank-account users, especially youths. Carbon emissions arising from customer footfall at branches have drastically reduced through digital account opening, online card request, delivery, and activation on the ALAT platform.

BankPass: Our account opening tool for Tier 1&2 accounts has also been instrumental in financially including the unbanked and underbanked. USSD Micro-loans were also created to improve access to finance for people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Financial Literacy: Volunteers – employees across the Bank– drive financial inclusion by enlightening existing and potential customers on managing their funds and assets to be financially independent. Monthly financial literacy sessions and SME Clinic events have been held for entrepreneurs, business owners and market traders across Obalende, Ikate, Sangotedo, Ikorodu, Port-Harcourt, Aba, Pansheke, Egbeda, Badagry, Ijede, ASPAMDA, Kaduna, Kano respectively. University undergraduates are also trained on Financial Literacy. Over 200,000 people have benefited from this initiative with significant impact on their knowledge of earning, saving, spending and investments.

Hackaholics: Since the first edition of the annual hackathon, Wema Bank has consistently brought together developers, web designers and creative thinkers annually to build products and services and discover new technologies across the ESG criteria. The four editions have created and supported startups to close various inequality gaps and improve the Nigerian economy through solutions in renewable energy, waste-to-health-and-wealth, financial inclusion, healthtech, edutech, agritech, govtech, civictech, etc.

Women Empowerment: In alignment with SDG 5 – Gender Equality and the Bank’s commitment to the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles (UNWEP), women empowerment initiatives are also implemented as part of the Bank’s drive to foster an inclusive economy and close the gender gap in the economic space.Through the Bank’s female proposition, SARA by Wema, over N263m has been disbursed to 300 female entrepreneurs under the SARA Gender Loan at 9% and no collateral.

Female-owned MSMEs have also been empowered with seed funds and grants across Lagos, Ekiti and Niger States respectively. Financial literacy sessions are also held for women to educate and empower them with free financial advisory services. We also launched the Pad-A-Girl drive in 2021 to provide free sanitary products for teenage girls as part of efforts to combat and curb period poverty prevalent in the country. Over 2500 girls have benefitted from this drive across Lagos and Rivers States.

Corporate Social Investment: Wema Bank is committed to supporting the communities in which we operate. Positive societal impact is a vital element of our corporate philosophy as evidenced by the various initiatives targeted at specific societal segments in alignment with the Corporate Social Investment pillars. These include Salary for Love – an annual campaign where members of staff are encouraged to donate their one-day basic salary to address pressing needs in immediate communities. Projects are executed across all regions with Wema Bank representation including donation of borehole facilities, textbook donations to secondary schools, renovation of classroom blocks and lavatory facilities, environmental cleanup drive amongst others. Over 120,000 beneficiaries have benefitted from this initiative since 2018.

Community and Coastal Cleanup and Advocacy: We also promote environmental sustainability through community cleanups and advocacy. This is done to mitigate the effects of environmental and marine pollution in communities across the country. Environmental advocacy further spreads awareness and aids the development of environment-friendly consciousness amongst members of society. Over 7000 beneficiaries across communities in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Aba, Port Harcourt, and Abuja have been positively impacted through the regional environmental cleanup and advocacy drive.

What specific projects have you done in the area of CSR in the past year looking at the environment and green economy?

The far-reaching effects of environmental degradation and climate change on the national economy and societal development cannot be overemphasized. From more extreme weather conditions to increasing food prices, loss of income and biodiversity, these effects are felt by people everywhere. The ensuing risks can also lead to severe consequences on our business as a bank. In the light of these happenings and the national commitment to the 2060 Net-Zero Emissions target, Wema Bank has taken intentional measures to strengthen our response to climate change and promoting a greener economy through the following projects:

Launch of Green Finance Facility: We understand that our financing choices can enable the necessary transition to a greener and more sustainable economy and contribute to building climate resilience through the financing of adaptation measures. To this end, the Bank launched a Green Energy Finance Facility to enable SMEs and individuals reduce their emissions through power generation. The facility provides opportunities for SMEs to access up to N10million for renewable energy solutions in their business operations.

Sustainable Finance Project: We launched the Sustainable Finance Project to reduce our lending to high climate risk sectors, thereby reducing our financed emissions and promoting investment in more sustainable segments of the economy such as renewable energy, waste management, gender finance, smart agriculture amongst others.

SME Business School: SMEs are crucial to national economic growth and prosperity. They provide products and services, contribute to employment and create value for economies. When given the right support, there are various benefits to the society and economy. To this end, Wema Bank in partnership with Frankfurt School of Business and Management created the first-of-its-kind Wema SME Business School, which is open to all business owners as a means of enhancing the crucial MSME sector in Nigeria and supporting them to scale by bridging existing knowledge gaps amongst businessowners. The SME Business School also provides avenues to share our ESG vision and enlighten stakeholders on the importance of implementing sustainable practices in their activities and operations.

Environmental Cleanup: In commemoration of World Cleanup Day 2022, the largest volunteering drive across the Bank was held in September across Lagos, Aba, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt respectively. The iVolunteer team joined non-governmental organizations such as SosoCare and International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) to clean up communities and areas along the coastal line. Over 2218kg of waste and recyclables were generated with about 1500 people impacted across the country.This initiative, in alignment Sustainable Development Goals 6, 13 – 15 (Clean Water & Sanitation, Climate Action, Life Below Water & Life on Land) respectively has contributed positively to the overall health and well-being of the communities impacted.

We also partnered with Nehadar Environmental Sustainability Project to clean up Makoko Community, Yaba, Lagos. Over 375kg of waste and 120kg plastics were evacuated with over 300 residents positively impacted.

What are your green economy initiatives that relate to your CSR framework and how much, in terms of investment, has gone into this area in the last five years?

As a responsible organization, we take deliberate action to ensure our business operations and activities are executed in alignment with global best practices whilst promoting the transition to a more sustainable economy through the initiatives below;

Renewable Energy Drive: In alignment with the country’s Net-Zero commitment and the enactment of the Nigerian Climate Act, we increased awareness on energy transition to alternative sources which are safer for the environment. This was done through periodic webinars and newsletters for customer sensitization. The Bank also launched a Green Energy Finance Facility to provide opportunities for SMEs to access up to N10million for renewable energy solutions in their business operations.

Sustainable Finance Project: We launched the Sustainable Finance Project to enhance our green finance portfolio, reduce our lending to high climate risk sectors, thereby reducing our financed emissions and promoting more sustainable financing opportunities.This also includes seeking partnerships with Development Finance institutions (DFIs) to support our drive to a greener and more sustainable economy.

Recycling Initiative: Since 2019, our waste recycling process for proper disposal and management of recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and can) has improved. We leverage partnerships with waste recycling companies and non-governmental organizations to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. The initiative extends beyond Lagos State, and reaching over 60locations across the country.

The proceeds of the processed recyclables are used for social causes such as school fees payment for children in disadvantaged communities through RecyclesPay and purchase of healthcare insurance premium through SosoCare (one of our Hackaholics 2.0 winners). This contributes to the economic growth of the recycling industry whilst also encouraging a responsible waste disposal system.

Over 15,000kg of recyclables across the locations have been collected and properly treated. We have also improved our environmental sustainability advocacy by creating increased awareness on the importance of adopting the 3Rs of recycling (reduce, reuse, and recycle) with our employees and vendors.

Energy Efficiency: We are continuously seeking alternative and more environmentally friendly ways to generate energy for our business activities. We have reduced our carbon emission by 900metric tonnes through our 33 solar-powered branches. All our facilities are powered by LED energy-saving bulbs and ATMs points across the country use hybrid power supply (solar, grid and inverter) to meet the needs of our customers within and outside our business locations. The generator shut-down policy is also daily enforcedbankwide and this has led to a significant reduction in our energy consumption and carbon emission.

Paper Usage Reduction: We recognize that decreasing the use of paper helps to protect valuable natural resources, reduces carbon footprint, and saves cost. We have achieved over 80% paper reduction in our operations through PurpleWorks, our electronic correspondence and document management system, where our correspondence are fully digitized. This has also helped to reduce our carbon footprint and improve operational efficiency.

Would you say you have met society’s expectations on environmental impact, looking at the infrastructural decay across the country where you operate?

Wema Bank has done considerably well in driving positive environmental impact across communities and the larger society through the environmental initiatives listed above.

Our climate risk policy and incorporation of environmental and social checklists into the credit process have contributed significantly to the reduction of the Bank’s financed emissions and negative environmental impact across our client base. The launch of the Green Energy Finance Facility has also paved the way for SMEs and households to access affordable financing opportunities to ease their transition to renewable energy sources.

We have also financed businesses providing clean energy through gas to power system, hydro power plants and other locations especially at school environment, teaching centres, manufacturing plants to ensure consistent supply of power to support critical services and efficient output. We have helped our customers in the adoption of sustainable business practices through our lending processes and periodic client site visitation to mitigate their negative environmental impact.

Since 2018, over 25,000kg of recyclables have been generated through the recyclinginitiative. Proceeds from the recyclables generated have been used to provide health insurance premiums for women across Abia and Kaduna states in partnership with SosoCares. Wema Bank is also a RecyclesPay ambassador andchildren in low-income communities across Ajegunle and Ikorodu have their academic tuitions covered through proceeds generated from the Bank’s recycling initiative.

Over 7000 beneficiaries across communities in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Aba, Port Harcourt and Abuja have been positively impacted through the regional environmental cleanup and advocacy drive. Our solar-powered branches and generator shutdown policy have reduced the Bank’s carbon emissions by 900 metric tonnes since 2018.

What is your medium to long term plans for impacting the society looking at poverty eradication, job creation and human capital development within your CSR policy?

Our goal is to continue to leverage our strength in digital to create products and services towards the achievement of global sustainability goals and enhance the Bank’s drive to reduce the inequality gaps with a view to enabling shared prosperity.

Our strategy also includes the enhancement of our activities and investment in impact and growth areas of the economy. We will continue strategic collaboration with Development Finance Institutions (DFIs)to support our customers’ businesses with concessionary funding to achieve sustainable wealth and economic development across all sectors.We will also continue the drive for positive impact anchored on our core corporate social investment (CSI) pillars in alignment with global and local sustainability principles such as the SDGs, UNEP-FI PRB, UN-WEP & NSBPs with the aim of ensuring that no one is left behind.

What is most exciting for you about your CSR initiatives post Covid-19 pandemic?

Beyond excitement, our focus is centred on making positive impact across the ESG criteria. Despite the severe challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to keep our promises to various stakeholders through impact initiatives to drive socio-economic recovery efforts including the following:

Moratorium & Loan Restructuring: SMEs were granted moratorium principal and interest repayment.

Project Zero: The Bank partnered with the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) and other collaborators in an initiative tagged Project Zero – a multi-sector partnership effort to ensure that children whose parents have lost their source of income/livelihood due to the COVID-19 pandemic can stay in school.

Increased Customer Support for Product Extension: We provided support for product line extension to accommodate the increased demand to certain products due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SME Business School: We established the SME Business School to provide capacity-building sessions for our SME customers to sustain their businesses during the pandemic and beyond.