The Bank of Industry is Nigeria’s oldest and largest Development Finance Institution (DFI). The bank focuses on providing finance for the establishment of large, medium and small projects as well as the expansion, diversification and modernization of existing enterprises and rehabilitation of existing ones. These sectors include; Agro and Food Processing, Light Manufacturing, Gas and Petrochemicals, Engineering and Technology, Solid Minerals and Creative Industries (arts and entertainment).
In an interview, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Olukayode Pitan, speaks broadly to the African Leadership Magazine about the operations of the Bank of Industry in the country and the institution’s projections. Excerpts.
A lot of our readers will be interested in knowing your background and some of your experiences growing-up in Nigeria. Kindly share with us your social and educational background.
Thank you. Well, my name is Olukayode Pitan. I am the current Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Industry, a role which I assumed in May 2017.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Ibadan, and a Master’s degree in International Management from the American graduate School of International Management – Thunderbird, Arizona, USA.
During my time at the University of Ibadan, I had the privilege to act in capacity as an executive with AIESEC, an international non-governmental organisation that provides young people with leadership development, cross-cultural global internships and volunteer exchange opportunities across the world. My time with AIESEC afforded me the opportunity and platform to work in different countries across the globe where I was able to build habits that I still apply till today. It also provided me with early exposure on the advantages that comes with networking. I can say that this exposure was a key contributing factor to the career that I have been able to build through the last 30 years.
I am also an ordained pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
You have over 25 years of experience in the banking sector with a track record of innovation and commitment to the development of the sector. Please tell us more about your career journey and what informed your choice of sectors.
My relationship with the Nigerian banking sector started in 1986, with the now defunct Nigeria International Bank limited as a trade officer. From there, I moved to the Industrial Bank Limited where I supervised the trade finance division of the bank.
Between 1996 and 2004, I worked at FSB International Bank Plc in many capacities. I was appointed as the Group Head in charge of Corporate Banking group. Thereafter, I, at different times led the Public Sector, Information Technology, and Energy Groups. Between 2001 and 2004, I acted in capacity as an Executive Director where I directed the Corporate Banking and Markets division of the bank. You may notice here that I worked in a wide range of industries during my time at FSB. I can say in hindsight that these numerous deployments were largely due to a sustained record of excellence in discharging my responsibilities.
I left FSB International Bank after almost a decade to assume the position of Managing Director at First Interstate Bank Plc in 2004. As you may know, this was before the consolidation exercise that took place in the banking sector. The outcome of the exercise led to First Interstate Bank merging with other banks to create Unity Bank Plc. Here, I again acted in capacity as the Executive Director in charge of Corporate Banking and Treasury Management.
It is no longer news that the bigger problem for Nigerian start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs is access to funding. Statistics from the Nigeria Bank of Industry (BOI) reveal that there are more than 17 million SMEs not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and less than 7 percent of those registered have access to credit facilities. What are some of the efforts of your Bank to reduce the challenges of access to financing in Nigeria?
Yes, you are right when you say that there is a huge imbalance between the numbers of non-registered enterprises in comparison with registered enterprises in Nigeria. We have over the years been consistent in advocating for a more favourable business environment that encourages and makes it easier for more entrepreneurs to register their enterprises with the corporate affairs commission.
Also, in line with this government’s mandate to drive entrepreneurship growth in the country, the Bank of Industry, since 2015, has sought to intensify its efforts to support SMEs in the country. We went from supporting MSMEs to the tune of about ₦5.6bn in 2015 to ₦8.0bn in 2016. This number increased significantly in 2017 where we disbursed about ₦29.5bn to MSMEs. We have continued to pursue this strategy, consequently in 2018, we disbursed about ₦33bn to MSMEs.
Towards empowering the Bottom of Pyramid, who are typically informal businesses, and as such not registered, we managed the Government’s Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), one of the initiatives under the Social Intervention Programme (SIP) which provide financial support to micro-entrepreneurs. To date, ₦28.63billion has been disbursed to 1,517,030 beneficiaries: most of whom are petty traders, market women, youth and artisans.
Furthermore, we provide loans at favourable conditions when compared to the conventional financial institutions. These include relatively lower interest rates, longer moratorium periods and tenor.
Finally, our experience in supporting enterprises has led to our realisation that most entrepreneurs in Nigeria have limited business management skills. Hence, we also provide capacity building support through our strategic partnerships with over 200 Business Development Service Providers.
Lack of access to bank loan is worsened by high interest rates, which at present hovers between 25 and 30 percent in Nigeria. Last month, while giving a breakdown of the 2019 budget in Abuja, Mr. Udo Udoma, Nigeria’s Minister of Budget and National Planning, stated that the Federal Government has made provision of ₦10 billion for the Bank of Industry to subsidize interest rate charged on loans to SMEs. What is your take on this and how far can this provision go in reversing this trend?
Indeed, the Federal Government provided N10bn to the Bank through the National Budget. We applaud the government’s commitment to ensuring that the bank is able to achieve its mandate. To complement this gesture, we have adopted a strategy of consistently seeking out partnerships with other financial institutions who can provide us with lines of credit at low-interest rates. We have been relatively successful in this objective and continuously engage the government for support as required.
As at December 2018, the Bank of Industry disclosed that it had disbursed ₦11.5 billion in loans to petty traders and artisans under the Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government, known as TraderMoni, as part of efforts to help the petty traders to raise capital. How sustainable are the “TraderMoni” and “Marketmoni” schemes?
TraderMoni and MarketMoni are products under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) which I had discussed earlier. Since inception, a total of ₦28.63billion has been disbursed to 1,517,030 beneficiaries. The programme is funded solely by the Federal Government’s annual appropriation budget. We believe that both schemes are sustainable. It’s important to mention that the funds disbursed are not grants but rather, loans. Hence, it is expected that the money disbursed to the beneficiaries will be paid back and recycled. Additionally, borrowers are incentivized when they repay, by being able to borrow higher amounts.
The board of the African Leadership magazine has recently endorsed your induction into the African Leadership CEOs Hall of Fame and conferment with the African Banker of the Year Award. How do you feel about this?
I thank and appreciate the African Leadership magazine for the award. I recognise the importance and prestige that comes with this award. But I want us all to reflect on the collective mandate that we as bankers have to support the real sector in the country.
A consequence of the recent recession that occurred in Nigeria, was a decline in credit to the private sector. While I am sure that my colleagues can provide very cogent arguments as to why support from their respective institutions to the private sector has declined, I still want to use this medium to challenge them to come up with creative and innovative solutions that will see them improve their support to the private sector, especially MSMEs, whilst still operating profitably.
I am aware that this will not be easy, but I am also quite confident that with a collective buy-in and commitment by all stakeholders, we can do a lot more.
In a remarkable twist of fate, one of Zambia’s notable doyen of financial services tells a story about how she left her initial love for Architecture found herself in banking. Mrs Mukwandi Chibesakunda, in an interview with African Leadership Magazine narrates the journey from her entry as a graduate associate with the Standard Chartered Bank, to the management and directorship roles she currently holds.
Quite humble and unassuming, she took out time to also share her experience in public service positions with veritable lessons underlining her successes so far. Excerpts.
You have contributed immensely to the growth of the financial service sector in Zambia, can you tell us more about your journey?
I was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. I graduated with Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics at the University of Zambia and I possess an MBA and a post graduate Diploma in Business Administration from Manchester Business School in the United Kingdom (UK).
My father was once Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and also served as COMESA Director of Administration. He also worked as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet of Zambia. His vision for me was to become a lawyer as he thought I would make a good one. My mother would have been happy regardless of what I chose to do. However, my desire was to become an architect and banking was never a part of my dream initially.
My career journey began as a Graduate Associate in Standard Chartered Bank, rising through the ranks to management and directorship roles for an overall time frame exceeding 15 years. Banking eventually became a natural and desirable career for me, which I have come to love and cherish.
I have worked in a number of financial institutions and held positions such as Head of Personal and Business at Stanbic Zambia Limited, Chief Executive at Access Bank Zambia Limited, Executive Director Consumer Banking, Zambia and Regional Head of Service, Southern Africa at Standard Chartered Bank Group as well as a stint as Financial Analyst in the Bank Supervision Department at the Bank of Zambia.
I have also been non-executive Board Member of the Zambia Revenue Authority, Vision Fund, and The Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism. I’m currently Board Member of The Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board, The Livestock Development Trust Board, The Strategic Committee of the Mulungushi Conference Centre. I am also a member of the CDC Africa List Zambia Working Group.
On the personal side my journey would be incomplete without my family. I am married to Chita Chibesakunda, and we have four lovely children Chushi, Lombe, Liswani and Kwani.
The National Savings and Credit Bank (NATSAVE) was established in 1972 by an Act of Parliament; how has the Bank fared thus far?
NATSAVE is a wholly Government owned Financial Services provider, with a mandate is to accept deposits, operate savings schemes, provide loans as well as administer any other form of banking business. NATSAVE was essentially created to address the financial services provision gap for Zambians particularly as relates to financial inclusion.
The bank has evolved since then and is currently one of the preferred financial services institutions, particularly in the rural parts of the country. The bank has expended its geographical presence and delivery channels to circa 300,000 clients served through a network of 38 Branches, in all the 10 provinces of Zambia, with 4 Money Windows, 31 Automated Teller Machines and 48 Agencies operating on Point of Sale devices (POS). NATSAVE is currently the only bank providing financial services to populations in 16 remote districts of Zambia. Our products and services are focused on marginalized segments such as women and youth. With the technological revolution, the bank has now embarked on the introduction of various affordable digital solutions such as mobile banking and internet banking.
The ‘Vision’ of NATSAVE is Delivering Financial Inclusion. How is the bank under your leadership, working to actualize this vision?
The bank is on a drive to deliver sustainable business performance and lay the basis for long term value addition to the economy of Zambia. This is the most important task for all of us at NATSAVE. Our mission is to ‘be a digital social enterprise providing inclusive financial services to all.’ We are moving from an institution that offers basic banking products to a digital social enterprise that provides inclusive financial services to all through a sustained simple business model supported by a digital platform and points-of-presence in communities we serve.
Through financial inclusion services, we are responding to the 7th National Development Plan and Ministry of Finance’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2022 that targets to increase financial inclusion for formal and informal sectors from 59% to 80% and 38% to 70%, by 2022 respectively. We place financial inclusion services at the center of economic growth and we will be responding with customized products and services to meet the needs of our customers through the use of digital technology.
You are a woman of many firsts, you were the first female President of the Zambia Institute of Banking and Finance and currently the first woman to be appointed as the first female Chief Executive Officer at National Savings and Credit (NATSAVE) Bank. Can you share with us your experience in a male-dominated industry?
I feel honored by the trust and confidence bestowed in me through these leadership roles that I have been given with great potential to impact the Zambian people. NATSAVE specifically is very close to the hearts of many Zambians due to its wide reach in remote area as the pioneer of financial inclusion in the country. It is an absolute privilege and responsibility to serve in this role which has given me an opportunity to add impetus to the dynamic team with a clear mandate to attain sustainable goals and bring about prosperity in Zambia.
The honest truth is that it’s still really a man’s world out there but there is a window open for us to participate and share the opportunities. As women executives we often work harder than our colleagues, and we have minimal support through any challenges, but I believe it can only get better for the next generation as we continue to prove ourselves, and lay the ground work for our future leaders.
A trustworthy environment which recognizes that women are equal partners who are ready for growth opportunities based on merit and hard work is needed for women to thrive in corporate world.
Public Sector Banks are often associated with smaller profit and interest margins, due to non-performing loans and bureaucratic nature of state-owned institutions. As a CEO with years of experience in the public and private sector, what are you doing differently to make NATSAVE profitable?
Having spent most of my working life in the private sector, the first thing I had to do when I joined NATSAVE was to understand the organization and various stakeholders. Although there are a number of differences, private and public sector institutions share stark commonalities in areas such as corporate governance and growth which includes implementing enterprise risk management frameworks and setting up of the vision, strategy and policy frameworks. I have found that clarifying expectations is the most effective adjustment required to ensure that change happens.
NATSAVE for instance required some organizational redesign which has since been largely concluded with very few critical staff additions. The rest of the work has been done by the loyal staff who have been there through it all.
The bank faces a myriad of challenges, as do other businesses. Firstly, the huge presence in rural areas means the bank faces operational difficulties in view of poor road and other communication infrastructure. The business model was also hitherto less commercial in nature, hence creating sustainability insufficiencies.
However, the simple fact that NATSAVE is 100% owned by the Government of Zambia creates an inherent strength and resilience in the organization. Furthermore, the bank enjoys strong brand loyalty from its customers. The wide branch spread can be an advantage despite the advent of alternative channels. NATSAVE also has some fairly unique product offerings such as a the refugee savings product which truly includes the most excluded in our society.
NATSAVE is a Bank with a heart for the people, and that makes it a worthwhile journey even as we learn and grow.
What does it mean to you to be inducted into the prestigious African Leadership CEO’s Hall of Fame?
I am extremely honored to be receiving such an important recognition. I am earnestly grateful for the recognition I have received for my work, because I am very sure that there are other executives and women in particular who are looking up to me and saying it is possible.
The challenges I have faced during my journey have been just a stepping stone to what we are witnessing today. Receiving this recognition would not have been possible without the inspiration I have received from my family, seniors and my colleagues, for whom I have the deepest respect, and from whom I have derived the strength to challenge myself and perform better at each stage. We do stand tall because we stand on great shoulders of past inspirational leaders in homes, offices, and the wider global stage.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank each of them and everyone in my life for helping me reach a stage where I can proudly hold up this award as a mark of my achievements. I also promise to do better every day and help others to on their journey towards their success and similar awards. Thank you!
You are well-known today as one of the leaders in the Africa’s banking industry, as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, CalBank Ghana. Please tell us about yourself and some of your experiences growing up.
There isn’t much to say. Growing up, I knew my vision was limitless. I wanted to teach and I did. I have students who are Colonels in the army, Professors and Deans at the University of Ghana. I taught at the University for two years as a teaching assistant.
Significantly, my best friend was my father. When I was ten (10) years old, he woke me up one early morning and said, “You are ten years old and I’m not going to cane you again, that’s the first thing; second, you must always ask why, anytime anybody asks you to do anything. So you must have a questioning mind”. He concluded by saying “if you fail to ask me why, I will cane you”. So, I started asking why. That is not necessarily good in this country because people may feel you are arrogant, you don’t respect etc. I remember having such an encounter in the university. Two instances; my English professor was teaching us 16th century English and I raised my hand in the second lecture and questioned why we were in the 20th century but studying 16th Century English. He said, “Youngman, how dare you? I went to Cambridge University and you are at a place called University of Ghana at Legon and you dare challenge me. Now get out of my class”.
In another class; Geography class, there was one lecturer (name withheld). He too directed me to stand up when I questioned in class. He said, “when I look at you, you are a petty bourgeois that’s why you can ask me such a foolish question”. I said it’s not a foolish question. Needless to say both Professors are good friends of mine now although I haven’t seen the English Professor for a while. My father told me at the age of ten (10) that if anyone tells me something I don’t understand I should ask why. That is how I have always lived subsequently.
You have over the course of your career garnered diverse expertise and experience in Ghana’s banking industry. Kindly tell us about your career journey.
I didn’t set out to be a banker but I wanted to be a teacher. My first degree was Geography. I majored in Geography and minored in Ancient History. After University, I was taken on by my department as a Teaching Assistant. First and foremost, when I was teaching Geography I was very good to the workers in the department; the department secretary who was an old man, the office boy and messenger. Every day, I used to give them 20 pesewas each. I didn’t even know that it was important for them. One day, the messenger informed me that the 20 pesewas I gave to them was very helpful. This was 1984/85. He commented on how the 20 pesewas sustained him daily without the need to buy any food with his personal finance. To them I had become the major source of nutrition for them every day. After two years of my teaching, I had applied and been granted scholarships to two (2) universities abroad and the letter of references required three (3) professors to send in their recommendations. Two (2) of the referees, Dr. Yankson and Prof. Ardayfio Schandorf filled the form and called me to discuss their recommendations. The third (3rd) Professor, name withheld, filled it and enveloped it to be posted.
When I got to the office, his secretary who appreciated my kind gestures toward them instructed me to open the envelope. I was surprised and asked why? I also explained to him the consequences involved once the envelop was opened but he still insisted I did. So, I opened it. Lo and behold, this professor basically appraised me as a 3rd Class student. This was the same Professor I was serving; I did all his research works, wrote all his speeches etc. After reading his recommendations, I tore it up. I took a paper from the secretary and wrote: I resign forthwith and I signed and walked out. I just walked out of the department, and I never went back. So I had to find a job. During the next year I travelled, started playing polo and then got married.
During this period, I was doing all kinds of jobs as well as teaching privately and then, I went for an interview at Merchant Bank now Universal Merchant Bank (UMB). We were about 25 applicants faced with a panel of ten (10) interviewers. We were screened and left with only two (2) of us. Unfortunately, well fortunately the other applicant was employed. So, I went there to enquire about the basis for the decision and was told the other applicant studied Economics and I did Geography. At this time, I had applied for schools to do my MBA in the US. But as a result of the UMB disappointment, I drove straight to the University of Ghana from UMB and applied for the MBA program for that year. I qualified for the program and ended up in the same class with the former Board Chairman of HFC; Samuel Ashietey, the MD of Ecobank; Ekow Afedzie, the Deputy MD of Stock Exchange; Robert Kow Bentil, the former MD of The Royal Bank etc. That is how I ended up doing finance. I passed and graduated. I, then, got many job offers; with CalBank then Continental Acceptances Limited, Ecobank, GNPC, Unilever etc. and I chose CalBank.
I started with CalBank from the onset as an analyst in 1990. I became the treasurer in 1994 and in 1999, the Deputy MD and finally the MD in the year 2000. So ten (10) years as a staff and seventeen (17) years as MD. Under my tenure, we metamorphosed from a small corporate focused bank with three (3) branches to a universal bank with 28 branches and about 850 employees.
Bank of Ghana, last year, increased the minimum capital of banks to GH¢400million, with a deadline of December 2018 to comply with the new capital requirement. What is your take on this? And how poised is your bank to meet up with this requirement?
First and foremost, let me say, unequivocally that, CalBank will meet the requirements come 31st December, 2018. CalBank has already shared with Bank of Ghana its roadmap to achieving the GHS400M target.
I don’t think that the increase in the minimum capital is necessarily bad. I think that banks need to capitalize. The capital of banks in Ghana has always been low but it is not just about recapitalizing, it is also about the banking sector being given the necessary institutional protection to handle bad loans or reduce the incidence of bad loans or protect our loans.
If we do not have that and we continue to address this as we have done in the past we will continue to have high non-performing loans, which will deplete banks capital over time. Don’t forget that in 2007, when the capitalization was GHS16M, we tried to raise US$200M in capital, for which reason I was taken to an Emergency General Meeting to be fired for being overly ambitious. I don’t want to say the chickens have come home to roost, but clearly there is vision and there is vision.
Findings have indicated that a robust performance in exports and higher investment flows should buoy Ghana’s economic growth in 2018. However, the economy’s elevated public debt burden and a high level of non-performing loans in the banking sector pose downside risks to the outlook. What is your take on this?
Public debt burden is a given. It is a fact that 70% or so debt to GDP ratio for the size of our economy is high. Similarly, Non–Performing Loans of 21% in the banking sector is also high. But I think that all these indicators can be dealt with once we rein in the rampant and rabid corruption in the Ghanaian fabric.
Corruption affects everything we do economically. If government borrows heavily for infrastructural development but half of the amount is dissipated or lost through corrupt practices, there is no amount of exports or investment flows which would buoy the economy and if corruption is not dealt with properly then the country is not going to get the high investment flows. If the NPLs are not reined in, then capital dissipation for banks become an issue. When that happens, banks would not be able to support economic growth and they will always be asked to recapitalize. At some point, investors in the banking sector without seeing returns on their investments will not be interested in reinvesting.
I persist in my thoughts, that the NPLs are not the problem but our biggest problem is corruption. So we need to strengthen the institutions and institutional framework in the country. But all that is undermined because of corruption; where a regulator becomes a player, there is obviously going to be a problem. Our economy in all sectors is replete with such conflicts of interest.
Some experts have predicted GDP growth of 6.8% in 2018. What role will your bank play to ensure that your country experience a robust growth in 2018?
CalBank continues to invest in productive sectors of the economy. Our balance sheet or our loan portfolio will show you that around 70% of our loan book is actually medium to long term loans financing the real estate sector, manufacturing and projects not in trade, not in the business of importing products from China to be sold in our economy. We invest in industry, manufacturing, energy, education and in infrastructure. We have built a US$51 million price Off Dock Container Terminal at the Takoradi Harbour, one of Ghana’s harbours, which has helped to decongest the port thereby creating room for ease and speed of doing business in Ghana. We also invest in the transport sector heavily. Clearly, given our size we are punching above our weight in the area of the economy where productivity impacts positively on GDP growth.
As a Bank we will continue to support industry, SMEs and the retail space. We have re-strategized going forward to ensure that the retail space is fully utilized. With Government’s digitalization focus, it has led to reduction in the bureaucratic red tapism and the bottlenecks that previously characterized our business operations. For instance, with the paperless clearing at the country’s ports, imported goods no longer take long hours, reducing the clearing process from over fifteen (15) days to two (2) days. We will continue to ensure that our operations are aligned to ensure we are able to provide support to businesses in this sector. For that matter, our branch at the Sekondi Off Dock Container Terminal was fully digitalized to tie in with the national agenda of paperless port clearing. So upon walking into the branch and walking out, it’s completely paperless.
I do, however, have a problem with the make-up of government, that is, the Ministry of Trade and Industry. I think that ministry should be divided into two; i.e. Trade and Industry because one is the competitor to the other. Obviously politicians, needing to show rapid growth, will support trade because it is a quick turnaround business as against industry and manufacturing or agriculture or certain agriculture type products which will require patient capital.
First, I would suggest to any government that, they should seek to create Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Industry separate from each other. Next, they need to deliberately focus resources on each of them if they want to develop GDP and generate growth in high numbers on a sustainable basis. Finally, and more importantly, there must be deliberate resources channeled to industry and agriculture because they give the country the required sustainable growth as well as job creation. So let’s see how the Government’s planting for food and jobs program will pan out.
Financial Inclusion and access to finance have been a major challenge faced in Africa. Your bank has been involved in projects aimed at reaching the unbanked population. Please tell us more about your efforts towards financial inclusion?
As the use of digital technology and smart phones expands in emerging markets such as Ghana, CalBank as a matter of strategy has postured itself to take full advantage of this burgeoning segment to expand our customer base and provide high quality service.
As a strategy, CalBank’s focus is reliant on electronic and alternative delivery channels (ADC) contrary to brick and mortar structures. For this reason, we invest heavily in building a robust IT infrastructure that will enable the bank to reach across the nation. First, we have deployed over 100 ATMs across the nation in areas of high population density to serve the people there. Whereas some of these ATMs pay out cash a few of them receive cash as we identify that customers cannot travel long distances to access our branches. We also have the Internet Banking and our Mobile Apps which are accessible to customers who are IT savvy.
For such customers who are not, we developed the USSD short code *771# where customers without internet access can easily access their banking services. This USSD enables our customers to connect their Mobile Money Wallets to their bank accounts, so that wherever they are and at any time, they can easily transfer funds from their accounts into their wallets and cash out. With this service, the bank doesn’t have to be everywhere.
In addition, as part of our plans of reaching the unbanked, CalBank partnered with IFC to introduce our Agency Banking franchise. Here, we are deploying about 1,400 agents across the nation to provide such services as banking and savings, microloans, micro insurance, provision of loyalty programs etc.
Finally, our financial inclusion projects also include ensuring that we increase our partnership with the Telecommunications offering mobile money services as we intensify our provision of mobile banking.
Ghana Labour Force Survey Report says more than 1.2 million persons from 15 years and older are unemployed, representing the total unemployment rate of 11.9%. What is your advice to government on jobs creation? And kindly tell us some of your bank’s efforts to promote SMEs, entrepreneurship and youth empowerment in Ghana.
I think on the issue of job creation; we have to look at the genesis or the root of the problem. Unfortunately, for some reasons successive Governments after Kwame Nkrumah have thought that, the way to handle education strategy in this country is to make everybody a university graduate even though, we have polytechnics which focus on artisanal skills, technical skills and productive skills.
The past few years, governments have converted these polytechnics into what they call Universities and these universities are teaching courses which don’t help anyone to become employable. So we are graduating 80,000, to 100,000 unemployable youth every year, so of course you have a problem. We have all these people walking about rightly so calling themselves graduates with absolutely no employable skills. So what will be my advice to government on job creation, I think they should go back and look at the educational policy. The developed countries have on average between 45% – 65% of students leaving high school willingly going into technical vocations because the systems have also set it up such that, it pays to go into technical vocations.
We have a situation where everybody is searching for a white color job and so you go to a university and they will deliver you a course in Public Administration; for instance, BA Public Administration, BSc in Public Administration, MPhil Public Administration, Masters (MA or MSC) Public Administration, Doctorate Public Administration and when you look at the syllabi there is no difference, so what is the point, it doesn’t achieve anything. It doesn’t develop the country. We are just producing half-baked unemployable graduates who become frustrated and then they become societal misfits.
So government should go back, understand the problem from what we produce in our educational institutions and then with a strategic view point look at the sectors that can provide jobs quickly. So we talk of agriculture; agriculture is key but the young boys and girls of today don’t want to go into agriculture because it’s an information technology age and we don’t have a Silicon Valley. Must we create a Silicon Valley type operation here? Why not, it is possible. But I think that, reviewing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will provide avenues for job creations which will address these problems that we have.
On the issue of SMEs, entrepreneurship and youth empowerment in Ghana, the bank knows that without supporting SMEs it will not necessarily achieve its vision, growth and profitability targets, so we have a robust SME franchise which keeps growing. Doing business with the SME sector in today’s digital era requires new thinking. Our financial inclusion products also entail making E-loans on mobile platforms. I am very excited about that product because CalBank is one of the bigger “MOMO Banks” offering mobile banking so I think it is one of those things we recognize at the bank that if we did not address seriously the future of the bank itself will be questioned.
How do you provide mentorship for the young people in your country?
At CalBank, we ensure that coaching and mentorship is well grounded in the fibre of the bank particularly in this era of high unemployment. We do so through the bank’s Graduate Training (GT) Programs. There are designated mentors as part of this mentoring and coaching program who train the young graduates as they are inducted into the bank. They are given mentors, and these mentors would work with them with me of course as the Chief Mentor for the duration of the GT program which is twelve (12) months.
Again, managers outside of the Graduate Training Programs are also encouraged to coach and mentor the younger generation. We have a few of our managers who visit some of the educational institutions on a rolling basis to engage and share their knowledge with them. I have also visited some institutions both here in Ghana and other top management schools outside of Ghana where I interacted with the students as well as even for other work professionals.
Mentorship for me is key, and so what I have sought to do and have been doing for almost a decade, is becoming a patron of Waves International. Waves International is a Not for profit organization which basically goes to the schools and provide guidance, counseling, employer opportunities, career options and career pathing, supporting those entrepreneurial skills with advice etc.
And having worked with Waves for the past 10 years or so I have had the opportunity to meet with students from almost all the universities. Most times, on my visits, I engage with about 30 – 40 students at a sitting. There was one such interaction at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and I think there were about 200 students and I do this on an ongoing and yearly basis. So these are the various channels through which we do this and I take it very seriously.
How has your bank embraced digitalization and innovative electronic banking in its approaches?
Without a doubt, the wave of now and the future is digitalization and electronic banking at its highest level. It dawned on me again about eight (8) years ago, when my first son who had then moved from the US to UK called me once and said, “Dad, I just got a call from the bank” and I said what is the problem, and he said, “the bank said I should come to the banking hall, they need to speak to me about some transactions.” I had opened bank accounts for him when he was in New York and when he relocated to the United Kingdom. So, I asked what the problem was? “But why must I go to the banking hall, I lived in the US for five (5) years from the day you walked me to Citibank to open an account and I have never had to go to the banking hall since then. I did everything by my laptop or phone. Why must I take a bus or taxi and go to the bank, I don’t want to go to the bank, I want to do my banking on my phone.”
That was when it dawned on me that, if you took the demography of this country, 65% or so of the population is the youth and majority of that 65% fall in the ages of 15-28. These people have grown up on tablets and hand held devices, coding is their new language, mobile applications are what they eat, so if you are not going to give them the ability to use their telephone, then you are going to lose out on their custom and business.
So we have had to gladly embrace digitalization and electronic banking and so for the past few years, particularly in the last two (2) years going forward, our strategic orientation and mantra has been digital transformation. We have and continue to provide all the necessary resources, technology platforms and technical support etc. engaging the right kind of people to actualize this vision so that we are not left behind. This vision also will necessarily now include a strategic look at our business orientation, so whereas the bank has in the past been predominantly corporate oriented, we’re now using financial inclusion to push our retail and consumer banking strategy.
In summary we are moving from BRICKS TO CLICKS.
Investment in Africa has been a front-line discussion. Some of the areas of great interest are infrastructure and power. With the growing population, and a consequent demand for electricity and other major infrastructure, the growing demand for various forms of supply has arisen.
Ahmed Al Shemeili is the head of the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) unit in Supreme counsel for National security (NCEMA) and leading the strategical planning for the CBRN emergency in the UAE. He is also the head of the national committee for Nuclear and radiological preparedness and response and recently he forms the supreme committee for the CBRN emergency which is responsible for putting the strategical plans for the Arabic Gulf countries. He speaks with the African Leadership Magazine on a plethora of issues. Excerpts.
Mr Ahmed, You have quite a rich portfolio under your belt which spans across very important areas of global concern. How does your leadership of the UAE CBRN manage public communication regarding the source of Energy to be implemented especially in regards to the global concern of the usage and control of Nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is a source of clean energy which has to be highly efficient. Both factors play key elements in determining the type and source of energy to be implemented. The Global Concern of Nuclear accidents that have taken place has spiralled many global voices been directed against nuclear energy. However, having said that, we have to also consider that there are a lot of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); regulatory bodies and private sectors who supply nuclear technology. These organisations have developed many modernised development techniques to solve many of the problems of nuclear accidents and there is still much work to be done. However, through the regular public communication, there is sometimes, a conflict between the two sides which can’t be overlooked without each other
As a leading light in the development of the Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear energies, what are your fundamental objectives of nuclear energy from its inception till now?
The purpose of my entry into this science was to transfer and resettle the CBRN technique. Certainly, this work falls under a larger national strategy that has been developed by the state. However, my participation is spurred by my passion and technical ability in this field. The region is ahead of major nuclear industries and the private sector in this field is very weak. As you are aware, this industry is new to the region so in order to settle this industry, I joined in this field before the issuance of the UAE nuclear law of 2009, which was based on the start of the peaceful nuclear project. I joined the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and began to develop my skills and experience and then became the head of the nuclear and radiation emergency in the same body. In 2016, I joined the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority to develop the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergency sector. MY commitment to been part of the ever-changing industry, In this context, it was necessary to develop a national program adopted by the government, which works to build a research industrial base and the use of all legislation to serve this trend to enable the private sector to grow smoothly with collaboration with the international organization. And this is exciting and creates the adrenalin rush for legislative growth and success within me.
The UAE is far advanced in the development of Nuclear energy and its derivative. How can African countries key into this initiative with the intent to resolve the power (electricity) challenges?
The Nuclear Energy Initiative needs a strong infrastructure and through our experience we have observed that some African countries are qualified to undertake such mega energy-saving projects. However other aspects need to be considered. Many African countries have a lot of resources, for example, hydroelectric and solar emergency. Also, important to consider that the GCC is well known as an oil hub. However, some in countries they try to duplicate that as a hub of the future power for the Battery cars. Africa has a huge reserve of that material which is required for such future power. This means that Africa CAN BE the hub of car power in the future if everyone collaborates and work together. Integration of resources in African countries is highly recommended because it reduces the overall cost and increases productivity. Integration is not applied to the energy field only, but also to industry, investment, trade…etc. Inter-governmental work is one of the areas which must be initiated, and all institutions must remove all obstacles that stand in their way
Africa seems to be a new foray for you in business and many investors have been vocal about the peculiarity of the African market. Africa side-by-side with other markets, what are the key things you’ve seen?
The main thing about African countries is the lack of real representation of their capabilities and possibilities available. Many investors do not have the slightest idea of the opportunities available in Africa, as well as being afraid of capital to be invested in the African market. This delays development and prolongs the benefit of the main players, who only look at personal interests without considering the needs and interests of the people of the region. Knowing that the work with players that are less influential on the policies of the countries has a highly positive effect compared to the impact of investment by major entities that play a role in the local policies. There should be greater African representation, especially with the huge economic neighbour, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which shares a long history and economic impact especially in the north, east and west of Africa. The existence of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Africa will have a major role in trade, industry, mining, and other common industries. In order to achieve this, there must be an ambitious plan that we can announce and share if approved by African organizations and entities
Under your watch, there has been a remarkable increase in private sector participation. How can African governments integrate the private sector efficiently in the scheme of things, and why is it a difficult thing in most developing nations?
According to our experience in the field of system building and management, firstly, it is critical to have a clear vision and investment strategy reflected on all sectors of the government which will have a great impact on achieving the integration. Achieving the integration of the private sector with the government will require a strong vision and a clear desire to achieve development of the strategical objectives. Some governments today lost a great opportunity in the development of their capabilities because of the lack of real and true vision.
The second thing is that there is no such a thing as “difficult” or “Can’t be done” if there is a desire to achieve but there is are different chapters in your journey; some of them positive and some are negative, but both can make you achieve like a river with barriers, it can draw a very nice natural picture. The key to achieving the goals of achieving vision is by getting an ambitious and positive work team that has a passion for doing it and persevering through difficult times.
And finally, We all MUST be united in accepting that Africa is making progress, but we must also agree that it is not fast enough. In fact, in the last three years, some of the fastest economies entered and exited recession. South Asia’s Per Capita GDP is overtaking Sub Saharan Africa’s while the gap with East Asia is widening. Only the private sector can help in checking this trend. And I and my organisation are extremely committed to making this happen on the Private sector
The African Leadership Magazine recognizes and celebrates those who have contributed to the development of Africa in critical sectors. How do you feel being celebrated today as one of the Persons of the Year 2018, Energy Sector, as Distinguished Business Executive and how much from you do Africa and the world stand to gain going forward?
Firstly, I am honoured to be nominated for this award by such a prestigious organisation like African Leadership Magazine in partnership with Training Excellence South Africa. Thank you, I am Humbled and honoured celebrating this award amongst top and distinguished political, diplomatic and corporate leaders all over Africa.
Secondly, in reply to your question, I do not claim that I contributed to the development of Africa because I believe that Africa is far greater than ME Alone. However, having said that, I want to believe that my small contributions are narrowing the gap of challenges and contributing to its development holistically. I must also reiterate today through this platform that there is great scope for cooperation and that today we are building ambitious plans for the integration process through your platform and that I am ready with all my private institutions in building bridges of cooperation at the governmental level between Africa and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which I believe will be a reality through your station. This includes requiring the willingness of the leaders and politicians to achieve both sides of development. This platform and events are in response to the yearning of Africa’s business leaders, who have often advocated for a platform for robust engagements and shared experience.
Our idea today is simple: linking Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and opening up reliable investment channels between the two sides to achieve integration and prosperity for all.
Achieving the integration of the private sector with the government will require a strong vision and a clear desire to achieve to be written as strategical objectives.
– Ahmad Zaid Saeed Al Shemeili
Some analysts have argued that Philanthropists in Africa are often pressed for results and as such, they invest more in projects that are easily implemented in a short-term; how would you react to this?
That is true because one would not want to invest in projects which will take long time to show results. Long term projects are normally undertaken by government or bilateral or multi-lateral agencies.
What is your position on the call for a shift in the traditional areas of focus for Philanthropist in the continent, to areas like funding for research work in universities and institutions of learning?
Being a chancellor of two Universities, we have found difficult to attract philanthropic money for research as majority of universities are publicly owned and despite African Union, deciding many years back that two percent of their budget should go towards research, a fraction of that percentage is being supported by the government. Call to shift from the traditional areas is a good thing but difficult to convince the philanthropists.
The institutionalization of philanthropy in Africa is somewhat recent; how has this fared in providing a coordinated approach to philanthropy?
Presently there are organizations which are bringing philanthropy together and trying to coordinate a common approach. Last year the United Nations pronounced SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) which now allows the participation of UN, government and the private sector. Under this platform, a common and a coordinated policy is being created.
The growing number of unemployed youths in the continent is quite alarming. As an industrialist, what in your view can be done to create more jobs for our teeming unemployed youths?
As an industrialist I think that the major industrialist groups must create avenues for training and trying to create job opportunities for the trainees. My Group has created Mabati Technical Institute at our flagship plant supported by our Foundation and the students who graduate are trained to create their own businesses.
Some analysts are of the view that there is no nexus between industries and the education sector in Africa, as such graduates are been churned out without the requisite knowledge and information about the industry they intend to work in. What in your view can be done to connect industries with the education sector?
The views are correct. We are creating avenues for students to come for internship at our plants. In my view majority of industries must create avenues for training students as interns while they are studying at the Universities.
Tell us more about The Chandaria Foundation and how you select your recipients of your grants and support?
We select three areas education, health and support to people with disability. Let me give you three examples. Gertrudes Childrens Hospital is the only specialized children’s hospital in the eastern coast of Africa. To continue to keep the lead, they had to in new facilities and equipment. The Chandaria Foundation decided to create Chandaria Medical Centre at the Hospital which houses the most modern equipment and departments. We felt that University Students needed a place to incubate their thoughts and ideas into projects. We endowed the Kenyatta University to create the Chandaria Business Innovation Centre. Swimming for paraplegic children has been supported by the Foundation and early next month there will be an international competition in Kenya which is supported by the Chandaria Foundation.
What is the five top success tips you would give to any young entrepreneur?
Vision, hard work, capacity to stand up to challenges, honesty and integrity
You are one of the most celebrated philanthropists in Africa. What inspires you to give?
I come from a Jain family which is a very small community which believes in non violence, truth and acceptance of various different beliefs. Charity and generosity is value which is taught from childhood.
What is your personal definition of success?
Success to me is the satisfaction you derive for making life of others better
How do you feel winning the African Leadership Person of the Year Philanthropy?
I feel very excited to be picked up from among one billion people and for being noticed for doing good work in the society.