Innovention Round Table targets SMEs

Verdant Zeal CEO, Tunji Olugbodi

em>DR. TUNJI OLUGBODI is the Executive Vice Chairman/GCEO Verdant Zeal Marketing Communication and convener of ‘Innovention’ Round Table. He spoke with OMIKO AWA on the programme, which holds on Thursday, October 19, at the Umar Musa Yar’Adua Hall, Kaduna.

What is Innovention doing this time around?
The Innovention round table is a spin off of the Innovention Series, a brainchild of Verdant Zeal. It is conceived to examine Africa’s development, through which we can discover opportunities for growth while focusing on leveraging inherent strengths of the continent and its people.

For the past six years, we have attracted patrons from both public and private sectors, local and international participants, scholars and corporate executives, to plot development agenda for Africa’s development, with Nigeria as the epicentre. The innovention Series has become a strong voice in stimulating pragmatic conversations that challenge the status quo.

Three years ago at one of the proceedings, people requested we take the programme to other states of the federation. So, we began to look for states that are on their own doing things like creating platforms for business start-ups and encouraging existing ones to grow, get involved in youth empowerment and mentoring, and also forward looking; all these informed the choice of Kaduna State.

We have expanded the programme in scope and subject matter; reason it is called ‘Innovention Round Table.’ This is the first edition and it is for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The theme is: ‘How Innovation Drives Entrepreneurship; The Case for SMEs and Start-Ups.’ Jointly organised by Verdant Zeal in partnership with Kaduna State Government, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), and the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, the programme will create a free platform for all employers of labour, e-commerce solopreneurs and SMEs to appreciate the place of innovation in business growth.

The Chairman, Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, Yusuf Hamisu Abubakar, would chair the event; the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai would be Special Guest, while the Managing Director, PAN Nigeria, Mr. Ibrahim Boyi, would deliver the keynote address. It will be moderated by the General Manager, Supreme 96.1FM, Kaduna, Mr. Isaac Bare. Other panelist are, Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) Mr. Laoye Jaiyeola; founder/CEO, Zamani Foundation, Philomena Zamani-Henry; and Kabir Farida Mohammed, Chief Executive Officer, Online Training and Awareness Campaign (OTRAC).

So, as global trends keep changing and world economic indices continue to defy predictions, it becomes evident that to be relevant in politics, business and the society, leaders must focus on identifying and developing the various ecosystems that contribute to growth. As identified by various studies and development models, this iterative process has a stronger influence on business, policy and the economy. It is against this backdrop that we are presenting this thought leadership spin offs of the ‘Innovention Series.’

What are some of the gains of these series in our economy and polity?
We interrogate issues and create platforms for intellectual discussion. What it also does is that it brings to fore issues to be addressed; what I regard as the latest issues in different fields of human endeavour. The series have been able to focus on issues that have to do with political and national development; issues of business ecosystem that deal with business strategy, ways of doing business, mentoring, youth empowerment, and development.

Why partnering Kaduna State government, the electricity company and PAN?
Kaduna State government has achieved great milestones in terms of economic development and growth and platforms like this play a contributory role in expanding the scale to capture more interests and beneficiaries, while strengthening the government’s vision of creating an enabling environment, notable for peace, security and welfare; and ultimately, restoring the state as the true ‘Centre of Learning.’

The state government is seriously addressing issues of unemployment, youth empowerment and infrastructure. It continues to offer support to entrepreneurial drive and they have proven that Kaduna can achieve greater things. There’s the right platform on ground to build on. It shows that Kaduna is in safe hands and on the right path to the future. Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) is a forward looking organization, even with all the challenges facing the company; it is still coming up with world-class vehicles. Their vehicles can march any other in the world.

We shall be having a similar event this week at the Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State. We will be looking at states and institutions in the country. In our six-year existence, we have discovered that there is a significant interest among young adults and youths, including students of tertiary institutions, which is the reason we need to partner institutions, particularly higher institutions. Our expectations are that in the nearest future all those in our scope of interest would have had real opportunity and achieved great results.

Why this interests in youths and start-ups?
If one takes a look at the statistics, you will find out that young people are more; so, it’s time we begin to think about them for the growth and development we need. We need to focus on the youth and young adult to propel us to the future and for gainful opportunity. In this same vein, they represent the real potential that will leap us into the future. It is the same way they represent the present day challenges in terms of the despondency that comes with unemployment and unemployable graduates that come with the whole educational system that is turned upside down. This has to do with the educational curriculum, how that prepares them and the nation. We shall be talking about competence that are lacking whether they are hard issues or soft ones. How to get a job, keep it and also how to create jobs because government cannot employ everyone. We need to talk about vocational skills and entrepreneurial education because entrepreneurship is the only way to emancipate the masses. But the youths are not our focus at the Round Table, as we shall be looking at entrepreneurship, small and medium scale enterprises, as well as corporate organisations.

Why do many businesses in West Africa not last long?
There is no one answer to this question and this is part of the reason we are organising this Round Table, so that we could create multiple channels to attend to this particular challenge. For business to survive, we must look at the institutional challenges, and this has to do with infrastructure such as electricity. If there is no electricity, there is no way you can make any major progress; I do not think there is anyway a business could sustain itself for long either you are in services or manufacturing without power supply.

Another is transportation, because you have to get to your market either with your farm produce or manufactured goods around the nation and if the roads and the means of transporting the goods are not there it begins to tell on the business.

Then, there is educational enlightenment. Many people start business without the right and adequate education and information about their businesses and how they could grow. Here we are talking about entrepreneurial education or knowledge; there are thoughts and plans put in place to make people better entrepreneurs.Capital is another thing either as start ups or for companies already existing because with capital one can expand, meet demands and actualize investment plans or dreams.

Finally, the issue of legislation is key; we do not have the legal frame work to support and project some of these initiatives that we talked about so that there would be continuity and not when new government or management comes in and when they do not believe in what is happening they change the whole system. Lastly, we should all believe in the global national vision, where we let our businesses not to be connected to politics, be free from government; so that there will always be global participation irrespective of the government that comes to power. It is really about engagement and continuous work in unity of purpose and purpose in unity.

What are the antidotes?
This is what we are going to discuss at the roundtable; here we shall be talking about access to capital, creating ideas, synergy, mentorship, creating clusters that would enable businesses to grow and preparing for the market. We have tested some of the ideas in communities in Kebbi State in Northern Nigeria, where there is ongoing grain revolution. And the result has been wonderful. Our expectation is that by the time we are through, we will be able to deepen that whole connection that exists among institutions, individuals and governments that can facilitate for people who want to start up their businesses or who are already engaged in their own businesses.

Would you adjudge Nigerians to have the right entrepreneurial knowledge?
Nigerians have enough passion and exposure than knowledge in business; this could be seen in the various roles they play in business enterprises across Africa and other continents. But these roles are more in the informal sectors than the formal, so we need to move from trading and trader’s mentality to the structural and more formal sector. I do not mean formal in the way we are now inhibited to make things happen. We should convert our passion to making things happen, not just about brand, but about plans, strategy and engagement that would position us better in the 21 century.



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