Wema Bank’s Skills Acquisition Programme Impacts Youth Development and SMEs Growth

 Moses   Adeyemi

With the permeation of innovation and technological advancement, the world is constantly evolving, prompting individuals, businesses, institutions and nations to adapt, evolve and stay abreast with the rapid rate of development or risk being left behind.

The simple idea behind innovation is to conceive and implement new ideas, methods or solutions. A popular misconception is that innovation is limited to creating new products or services. In truth, innovation could be as simple as creating solutions to old problems or developing new and improved features on old products. The point is, the world is rapidly evolving and as time goes by, status quos become outdated and the need arises for us to evolve with the times and either adopt new methodologies or tweak old ones to capture these evolving needs. This codependency between change and adaptation is why the digital evolution and innovation go hand in hand.

The digital evolution has placed the world in a spot where the success of individuals, businesses and nations depends on their ability to adapt and leverage innovation to stay ahead of the curve. One could even argue that the foolproof solution to mitigating discrepancies in countries’ economic performance and achieving national development, is digital empowerment. Let’s adopt Nigeria as a case study. The most prevalent gaps in Nigeria’s economic landscape are low Foreign Deposit Investment (FDI), high unemployment and underemployment rates, limited foreign exchange capacity, low export to import ratio and high poverty rates. What impact could digital empowerment have on these economic indicators? You’d be surprised.

Imagine a world where Nigerian youth were empowered with advanced and highly demanded or sought after digital skills. These youth would not only unlock the secrets of rising above unemployment and contributing to reduced employment, underemployment and poverty rates in Nigeria, but also gain a competitive edge on the global scene. Bridging these prevalent economic gaps means boosting the economy and a thriving economy attracts Foreign Investment, promotes increased FX capacity and high export potential; essentially solving these identified economic and national development impediments through digital empowerment. This is the profound impact that Nigeria’s most innovative bank, Wema Bank Plc, is generating through the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme and empowering youth for national development is just the tip of this iceberg.

In today’s fast-evolving world, the potential of MSMEs remains one of the greatest assets that Nigeria possesses. The country is essentially bursting with human resources, however, limited non-human resources and opportunities weaken the strength and productivity of this diverse and gifted population. To bridge the gap between people and resources, all hands must be on deck to not only provide more resources for individual growth but to also empower these individuals to in turn, provide opportunities for others. This method of driving sustainable empowerment guarantees that each person who is empowered becomes an investment in the nation, one that will in due course, provide returns in form of opportunities and resources that will impact other Nigerians both on individual and national levels. This is where brands like Wema Bank come in; nurturing this intrinsic potential that MSMEs possess to generate the economic growth and national development that Nigeria seeks to achieve. 

Wema Bank has built an admirable reputation for itself, evolving from Nigeria’s oldest and most resilient bank to Nigeria’s most innovative bank, pioneer of Africa’s first fully digital bank, ALAT, and partner of choice for all. The most prevalent areas of its impact are in the MSME Sector, Women Empowerment, Sustainability, Technology, Digital Penetration/Adoption, Innovation and Financial Inclusion. These key areas stand exceptionally significant not just to promoting economic growth and national development but ultimately, to boosting Nigeria’s position on the global landscape. 

Through a plethora of products, programmes, partnerships and solutions, Wema Bank has empowered youth and businesses with cutting-edge solutions, resources and tailored support for growth; from its newly launched its SME Business School which has served to strengthen the technical knowhow of MSMEs to its Export Trade Academy designed to empower more Nigerians for effective export trade, Wema Bank’s female-focused proposition, SARA by Wema, through which the bank has created unique solutions designed to help Nigerian women thrive in their personal and professional lives, Hackaholics, the bank’s youth-focused tech competition designed to empower youth towards building successful tech-related startups, and even the Wema Bank 5 for 5 Promo through which the bank rewards customers with millions of Naira monthly for their personal and business needs; these are all excluding the MSME forums, trainings and Tradefairs that the bank has sponsored over the years. It is no surprise that Wema Bank has become a beacon of hope to all Nigerians. 

However, Wema Bank’s uniqueness lies not only in its commitment to constantly innovating for increased MSME impact but more importantly, in its strategy of championing that intersectoral synergy between the public sector and the private sector to achieve the shared goal of empowering youth and MSMEs. The NYSC-ALAT Accelerator Programme championed by the bank in partnership with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and Microsoft to help graduates transition seamlessly into the labour market is one of these collaborative efforts championed by the bank. Perharps the most prominent of such partnerships championed by Wema Bank to promote its mission of Empowering Lives Through Innovation and solidify its commitment to supporting MSMEs, is the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme. 

Wema Bank, in partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria (Through the office of the Vice President), launched the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) on September 29, 2023, with the goal of training and equipping two million youths and one million MSMEs across Nigeria with advanced, relevant, highly demanded and sought-after digital skills for accelerated business performance and career success in the digital driven world that exists today. 

With the advent of emerging technologies, it is clear that the digital evolution is here to stay and beyond its effect on individuals, this digitisation has put businesses in a tight spot with only two options—adapt or perish. We see this in the hundreds of brands that dominated the world less than three (3) decades ago but are now extinct, which makes one wonder how Wema Bank did it. Being the oldest Indigenous Bank in Nigeria and simultaneously Nigeria’s most innovative bank seems somewhat paradoxical but on deeper analysis, the answer is clear: Wema Bank’s drive for constant innovation is what has helped it thrive for over seven (7) decades and for other businesses to remain relevant, they must adapt to the evolving needs of the digital economy.

One thing is certain; digital skills will be in demand for a long time. Cybersecurity, data analysis, artificial intelligence and many others, are skills that cut across diverse fields and businesses and as such, will remain relevant for decades to come. It is therefore safe to say that acquiring such digital skills is essentially investing in the gift that keeps giving and this is exactly what Wema Bank is partnering with the Nigerian government to achieve—empowering more young Nigerians and businesses with the gifts that will keep giving on individual, business, national and even global levels through this groundbreaking digital empowerment programme.

The FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme Curriculum empower participants with key digital skills to help the business sector including software engineering, product management, business analysis, cloud computing and product design, among others. By choosing to focus on increasing the digital expertise of Nigerians across these key areas, Wema Bank is ensuring that Nigerian businesses remain competitive on the global landscape and that Nigeria as a nation, is not left out as the world moves towards full digitisation.

As is second nature for the prestigious financial institution, Wema Bank has tailored this programme to suit the needs of both entrepreneurially inclined and professionally inclined Nigerians. Entrepreneurial minded participants will gain in-demand skills for efficient business management while professionally minded participants will acquire highly sought-after digital skills for optimum employability; all essential to promoting increased value addition in Nigeria’s workforce and giving more Nigerians a competitive edge in the international market, enabling them to become unequivocal assets to a diverse range of industries in Nigeria and across the world. This unique programme is not just arming SMEs for more efficient business management and growth, it is also arming the workforce for increased productivity. The ripple effect of the strategic design of the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme is one that will not only reduce Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment rates significantly, but also drive economic growth and national development, boosting the country’s position on the global landscape. 

Since the launch of the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme in the last quarter of 2023, over 300,000 Nigerian Youth and Business Owners have leveraged the platform as a launchpad for their business and professional success; and this was all just in the just concluded Virtual Learning Phase. Participants from the thirty-six (36) states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have undergone basic trainings under self-paced learning conditions, allowing them to fully internalise the course content at their own speed. As reported by participants, this Virtual Training phase was a huge success, with many referring to the programme as an eye-opener, and this is just in its preliminary phase. As the first quarter of 2024 wraps up, the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme is set to begin its next phase—physical training.

In truth, different people have different preferences in terms of learning methods. While some are able to assimilate excellently from virtual sessions, many others require a physical learning experience for maximum retention; hence the virtual-physical dynamic of the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme. However, it is common knowledge that virtual learning bridges the gap in access to learning based on geographical restrictions, so this Physical Training agenda of this programme naturally begs the question, “How can Nigerians across the different parts of Nigeria access this programme?”. The answer is quite incredible—the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme will run across the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and here’s how.

The FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme will be executed via FGN-ALAT Digital Hubs, which will be set up in the different states across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria to ensure that every Nigerian can access the full benefits of the programme regardless of their location. These hubs will be equipped with cutting-edge training and incubation facilities ideal for advanced and ultra-modern digital-driven learning, giving participants the opportunity to acquire marketable and transferrable digital skills in a state-of-the-art learning space within their reach, and gain a competitive edge in the global digital ecosystem. The FGN-ALAT Digital Hubs will be set up in phases and trainings will commence accordingly, starting with two states in April 2024: Borno State and Anambra State.

In addition to these virtual sessions and the physical training to follow, Wema Bank has organised several workshops across different states, allowing participants to ask questions concerning the programme, their professional journeys, etc., additionally providing small-scale trainings for them. It is also worthy to note that the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme is also creating increased access to viable opportunities for women across the different parts of Nigeria. In states like Anambra and Imo State, the male to female ratio in participants’ gender segmentation was skewed to the right, with women in the lead. It is commendable that this programme is serving to promote inclusion for women and bridge the gap in gender equality in Nigeria.

Beyond the trainings, Wema Bank is going a step further to provide financial support tailored to the unique needs of these businesses. Over the course of the programme, participants will receive millions of Naira in equity capital, soft loans and grants, to enable them to put their learnings to practice and build substantial and sustainable streams of income that could potentially make them employers in the nearest future. With the combination of financial and intellectual resources to supplement the opportunities being created, the commitment to providing round-the-clock support for participants throughout the programme and the provision of financial resources beyond the scope of the programme, Wema Bank is living out its promise of being “With You, All The Way” for young Nigerians and business owners.

In a nutshell, Wema Bank is, through the FGN-ALAT Digital Skillnovation Programme, joining forces with the Nigerian government not just to tick the box of private-public sector collaboration, but to truly alleviate Nigeria’s economic conditions by empowering youth and MSMEs with digital skills and providing resources for the economy to thrive. This programme is simultaneously bridging the gaps in unemployment and underemployment, reducing poverty rates, creating more export potential and boosting the Nigerian economy. 

The math is simple: A thriving economy attracts investors and increased exports, strengthens foreign exchange capacity and potentially, limits inflation. With this programme, Wema Bank is creating sustainable solutions to the earlier identified gaps in Nigeria’s economic landscape which are low Foreign Deposit Investment (FDI), high unemployment and underemployment rates, limited foreign exchange capacity, low export to import ratio and high poverty rates. Imagine what Nigeria’s macroeconomic indicators would reflect in few years to come if there were more of “Wema Bank” in Nigeria; organisations taking the initiative to forge strategic intra and intersectoral partnerships and making intentional moves to boost Nigeria’s economic growth and national development.

Wema Bank has flawlessly reset industry standards for societal impact and set the pace for institutional contributions towards accelerating economic growth and National development. Nigeria clearly needs more quadruple threat organisations like Wema Bank, creating more sustainable opportunities for youth and MSME growth, empowering both to reducing poverty, unemployment and underemployment rates, boosting the Nigerian economy on a large scale and promoting national development to propel the African Giant to the peak of the global playing field.

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