• Monday, December 11, 2023
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How MTN’s N90m equipment grant offers lifeline to small businesses

Subscribers rejoice as debt on MTN network vanish

There are many grant programmes targeting small businesses in Nigeria, but access to these grants is very difficult for entrepreneurs. In many cases, the grants often go to entrepreneurs who are literate, live in urban centres and are plugged into a network that helps ease the process in terms of referrals.

Millions of entrepreneurs who do not fall into any of these categories are not having it easy getting funded. For Abafi Sokowonchi Angela who runs her business Sokowonci Computers in Kogi State, access to funding is a herculean task. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Kogi State has a poverty rate of 49.8 percent, which is higher than the national poverty rate of 40.1 percent. Her experience is similar to Christy Francis, who owns a fashion business in Adamawa State, another state with a poverty rate as high as 74 percent making it the 8th poorest state in Nigeria.

“Raising funds has not been easy, as my business equipment is quite pricey and raising funds has not exactly been a walk in the park,” Abafi said.

Sokowonci is a computer business center which utilizes computer training, photocopy, lamination, binding, typesetting, internet services, CBT practice, graphic design, and scanning. The business has to grapple with the rising price of computers and other equipment that are required to provide ICT solutions for its customers. Abafi says she needs a Direct Image printing machine for coloured printing.

“These days when I have customers who need coloured printing, I have to take the job somewhere else to get it done,” Abafi said.

A report by the International Trade Centre (ITC) found that the vast majority of Nigerian SMEs are underfunded, with only 15 percent of SMEs accessing formal credit. This is a challenge, MTN Foundation is attempting to fix.

Abafi was one of the recipients of the Equipment Grant by the MTN Foundation, which was as a result of participating in the MTN ICT and Business Skills Training Programme. The objective of the training is to build the capacity of young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 to 35, at the same time enhance their employability and entrepreneurial skills. The training is implemented with the support of ecosystem partners such as Oracle, Microsoft, KPMG, Cisco, and IBM.

Abafi and Francis say participants do not need to be connected to anyone to be admitted.

“I got to know about the program when I visited a friend who told me about the online ICT and business skills training registration. Just like every other person I registered and it was a great experience,” Abafi said.

“I was selected because I applied to be a part of the training and I was super excited when I received the message that I have been selected,” Francis said.

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Since it was kicked off in 2018, the programme has targeted mostly entrepreneurs building innovative businesses in rural areas. Hence, it is by a stretch, one of the far-reaching grant programmes that seeks to offer lifelines to businesses beyond the urban centres. It has so far covered 16 states including Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Borno, Cross River, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Oyo, and Rivers with 4,036 people completing the programme.

“I learnt a lot from the Microsoft training and Meta training which I currently implement in my business and also teach my student. I also learnt not to give up and start with the little I have. Initially, I had lost the courage to start the computer business as I had just two computers without a shop. When we started the training, we were taught that we could start our business with whatever little we had. I also learnt proper customer relationship skills. I am very grateful to the MTN Foundation for making my dreams come true,” said Abafi.

Unlike other grant programmes, the MTN ICT and Business Skills Training Programme takes a different approach. The businesses that are selected for the grant are not given cash directly. MTN rather provides them with business equipment. The participants are required to list equipment to aid their business and MTN Foundation provides it for them.

This model ensures that the funds are deployed to exact needs enabling entrepreneurs to focus their energy on reaching their goals in business.

“I’ve always had this great passion for fashion and that’s because I’m always intentional about the things I wear. I have a great sense of fashion. But sometimes I feel I’m the only one that sees that uniqueness in people and myself,” Christy Francis said. “I will need the funds to get a shop, and shelves, because for now I don’t have a walk-in store and it’s really affecting my business.”

MTN Foundation is currently inviting new participants to apply for the 6th edition of the programme. The selected businesses will have the opportunity to be trained in a 5-week online programme which includes masterclasses from key industry experts. The programme partners like Microsoft will train participants on Entrepreneurship in the Digital Age, ICT for Business Success and their new Generative AI skills. Meta will also be training participants on Skills to Build Brands and Grow Businesses Online through their Meta Boost for Small Business.

The deadline for application is 18 August 2023.