|What Business Owners Need to Attract Funds - Dr. Olumide Ajayi, ED ALF
Dr Olumide Abimbola Ajayi is the Executive Director of Africa Leadership Forum (ALF). He spoke to PAUL OMOROGBE of Nigerian Tribune, a newspaper outfit in Ibadan, on how ALF is leading the charge in a silent economic revolution sweeping through the South-West via the Central Bank of Nigeria Entrepreneurship Development Centre (CBN-EDC), Ibadan that has through free trainings and support, created hundreds of entrepreneurs in a short space of time.
What is the African Leadership Forum’s involvement with the EDC and what are the goals of its involvement?
The African Leadership Forum (ALF) was created about 28 years ago, by General Olusegun Obasanjo after he left office in 1978. He discovered that African Leaders had very weak capacity to lead; there were development challenges they were facing; so he decided to create a forum where leaders’ capacities can be built at all levels, both in the private and public sector, for young and old, and in business and academic circles. It is a capacity development and leadership development organizationthat deals with advocacy and training and research all put together.And this we have done successfully for 28 years. When it comes to entrepreneurship, the ALF was the first organisation in the 1990s that started what is known as Junior Business Seminar where we went to universities to train final year students to show them that blue collar jobs can be an alternative to white collar jobs, so that after training they too could set up businesses. So we have behind us very many years of involvement in private sector development and small enterprises, dealing with young people over these years.
In 2007, the CBN foresaw what could happen ahead, looking at the example of the Asian Tigers and decided to focus on small, medium enterprises development by creating this entrepreneurship development centre to begin to train people and build up their capacity. Why didn’t they run it by themselves? This project is constructed within the PPP- public-private partnership- framework. For us to drive development, government and private sector need to come together to do this. This is being done in the area of infrastructure development now. It is the same template CBN has used to do this programme. ‘We don’t have expertise to build people’s capacity in the area of enterprise development. There are organizations all over the country that can do this,’ they said. And so ALF bided for that project and became the implementation agency for the South-West. They provided the resources, we provide the expertise and manpower to be able to drive this and we have been able to achieve great results as a result of this approach.
Can you tell us some of those results that you have been able to achieve?
The first phase of this project took place between 2008 and 2013. During that period we trained 18,000 people across the six states of the South-West. We were able to counsel over 19,000 people on business development. We trained more women: this has some historical background because of our involvement with the Lagos State Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Ministry. About 715 of our trainees were able to access loans of about N200million from various financial institutions, individuals and organisations. We created about 2,723 jobs, 817 existing enterprises were expanded because of their involvement with EDC, while 222 new businesses sprung up during this time. We also provided business development advisory services to people and monitored them,and we were able to produce close to 5,500 business plans. So through our involvement, a national platform for job creation has been developed by the ALF.
Under the current dispensation which is the second phase of this project, a new template is being used. In the previous template, it was a bipartite relationship between the ALF and the CBN. But after the evaluation of the first phase, the CBN thought there was a need to bring the state governments to be involved with the EDC in each of the geopolitical zones. So, states were asked to bid for hosting rights so that it could be a tripartite arrangement between the CBN, the host state and the implementation agency, which is the ALF (for the South-West). That is why we are here in Ibadan – Oyo State won the hosting rights and they have been very good hosts.
We started March last year, and as at February this year, we have been able to train more that 1,436 people. Some of them graduated in February. About 200 new jobs have been created and new enterprises are springing up. There is a new development that we did not enjoy in the first phase: the reason we could not create a lot of jobs and enterprises was because there was no intervention fund. Now, we have the CBN-MSME Intervention Fund which allows each of the states of the federation to plug into N2 billion for the small businesses in their states. Oyo State has done that, and in the magnanimity of the state Governor AbiolaAjimobi, he allocated N120 million for the state indigenes who have been trained here. So those ones are now accessing these funds and they are now creating new jobs. Ogun State has also approached us, because we have a zonal technical committee that has representatives of the state governors in it, such that anyone we have trained in this centre who are indigenes of Ogun State or who has business in Ogun State will be funded from the fund they created with BOI. Osun, Ekiti and Lagos States are coming on board to find a way to facilitate access to the funds. So this is one unique thing we are doing now that is different from what we did before.
On the issue of business capital
Funding is not actually the issue. It is about ideas, creativity and innovation. One of the things we teach in this centre is to be innovative and creative. When you are creative you will be able to get funds. The first thing is about ideas; when you come in here, we not only change the mindsets of people, we also take them through idea-generation classes where they think and generate ideas that are relevant and germane to the economy. Then we teach you how to convert your idea to a business. Furthermore, integrated into our programme is what we call ICT Incubation Initiative. We have people who have ideas that they want to use ICT to drive, so we have an incubation scheme here which we call ALF Techno-Hub where we bring young people who have ICT-related ideas to develop them. We also help them organise themselves into companies that they begin to run from this centre; because they don’t have money to rent offices so we have provide space for them.
So anyone who has ICT-related business can come to us, we will give them space to set up, so they can be running it from this place, because we believe that when you give young people space they will do wonders.
The reason we are where we are today is because our educational system teaches us to use our heads and not our hands. Here, we teach people not only to use their heads but their hands also, because that is the only way our economy can develop.
Entrepreneurship and Nigeria’s economy
Entrepreneurship is what can take Nigeria out of its economic quagmire. I believe that when we invest in the youth by teaching them entrepreneurship, a lot of problems about job creation will be solved; poverty will disappear. Here we teach people how to create wealth. One of the philosophies of the ALF is that we believe giving people money will not solve their poverty problem. We believe poverty can be solved through effective creation of wealth, because you can only drive away darkness using light. What we do here at the centre is to give people skills to create wealth and solve their poverty problem. And we believe that when other stakeholders join us in this venture of teaching people how to create wealth, we will do better than we are doing now.
Culled from Nigerian Tribune, May 2, 2016