What did (the various territories that were later to be amalgamated into) Nigeria look like in 1894? How about a hundred years later in 1994? And what could Nigeria look like in the year 2094? History provides elaborate answers to the first two questions. Answers – accurate or near-accurate answers, that is – to the third, however, will rely entirely on the ability to predict/envision the future and work to invent and create the predicted future.
With a continuing shining legacy of nation building – supporting innovative financial, commercial and other developments in Nigeria and even Africa – one bank is already projecting beyond today to the year 2094 – exactly 200 years from its founding in 1894. The bank, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd, is not just predicting a bright, innovative future for Nigeria but is going all out to foster what is required to invent it. FirstBank is putting its money where its mouth is. The bank has been betting the farm on Nigeria’s young and emerging generation for decades.
Take the last two decades, for example. FirstBank has been involved with Junior Achievement Nigeria (JAN) for over twenty years as one of the many ‘fronts’ in the bank’s engagements with the next generation of Nigerians to collaboratively create the bright, innovative future that Nigerians dream of. For ten years now, FirstBank has been supporting the National Company of the Year (NCOY) competition, an extension of the JAN Company Programme, designed to help senior secondary school students better understand how businesses are organised and operated. The students will be required, during the course of the competition, to develop a business plan, establish production and sales of goods and services for their company, monitor progress toward goals at regular department and company meetings, maintain complete financial records, compile a report to stockholders, and liquidate the company at a given period with the support of a volunteer.
FirstBank’s partnership with JAN on the National Company of the Year competition has meant a decade of impact and innovation illustrated by the very nature of innovative products and services created by young minds to solve real problems facing society and the business systems they put in place in form of student companies to successfully produce and market the products and services sustainably and to impact their local communities. Consider the growing problem of fire accidents and deaths from gas explosions resulting from gas leakage in homes, offices and industries. The students from Taidob College, Abeokuta, through their student company, TC Achievers, created an innovative solution to address it.
TC Achievers produced a domestic and industrial gas leakage detector – a device which raises an alarm and sends SMS to the owner’s mobile phone once there is any gas leakage. Their innovative device fetched TC Achievers first position in the regional competition in Ogun State and at the national level in Lagos, earning them the right to represent Nigeria in Ghana at the 2019 African Company of the Year competition. Taidob College emerged from Ghana with four awards, the most by any of the participating Junior Achievement member countries, including Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Nigerian representatives won the following: Client Focus Award, Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, Facilitator of the Year Award and were second runners-up for Company of the Year Award.
The 2018 National Company of the Year competition winners who went on to emerge the grand winners at the Africa Company of the Year competition in Ghana same year, Inventive Explorers from Caro Favoured College, Ajegunle, Lagos were concerned about traffic accidents, especially in areas with school children crossing busy streets. Their innovative device, a rechargeable handheld LED traffic light, was designed to solve this real problem faced by various congested communities. Besides the grand prize at the Africa Company of the Year competition, they also brought back home the Access Award, given to the business that best exhibits the principles of global connectivity.
Guided by the same spirit of innovativeness and enterprise and a passionate desire to solve a real problem facing society that were at work when TC Achievers and Inventive Explorers devised their award-winning innovative solutions, the first runners-up in 2018, Brain Max, the student company formed by student representatives of Government Girls Secondary School, Abaji, Abuja designed a website and software application for connecting local produce farmers directly to their customers. Brain Box also won Best Corporate Social Responsibility Project Award on account of which they visited camps of Nigeria’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) to provide financial literacy and entrepreneurship education to occupants, including helping the IDPs to secure seed funding. It was the same inspiration for the second runners-up, Sharon Glory Ventures, the student company formed by students of Sharon Rose College, Saki, Oyo State who produced a water-level indicator to enable homeowners to determine the level of water in their tanks. Sharon Global Ventures also received the award for the Most Innovative Product.
In 2020, given the global COVID-19 pandemic, the FirstBank-sponsored National Company of the Year competition will be conducted virtually. The virtual format will, however, not take anything away from the allure and competitiveness that the competition has been noted for over the years. This year’s unique competition, holding on Saturday, 12 December 2020 at 3 p.m. (West/Central African time), will bring together six outstanding student companies across Nigeria to lock horns for a lifetime opportunity to carry Nigeria’s flag at the JA Africa Company of the Year competition later in the year, and possibly repeat the feat achieved by the 2018 Nigerian representatives.
The Virtual Company of the Year (VCOY) competition is the culminating point for the implementation of the Virtual Company Programme. The goal of the VCOY is to create a signature showcase for JAN and the students who benefited from the impact of the digital JA Company Programme. This pilot programme will be in two stages where the first stage will identify the top business ideas from each region and select the top five most viable business ideas and reward them with seed funding to fully develop their ideas into businesses. The second stage of this competition sees the introduction of top professionals across different sectors who would serve as the panel of judges to determine each student company’s performance against a set of established criteria. Judges look out for evidence of innovation and application of new ideas in all aspects of business and select the best team to represent Nigeria at the Africa Company of the Year competition.
Whichever student companies emerge as winners of the 2020 National Company of the Year competition, one thing is certain: All the participants, not just at the national level but also at the regional levels, will join the ever-growing and rapidly-expanding crop of young minds engaged, trained, prepped and reoriented in a FirstBank-sponsored empowerment programme to become innovative and entrepreneurial thinkers and problem solvers. The bank is supporting such programmes so the young participants will join it in the arduous task of nation building and inventing the desired future for Nigeria. FirstBank is confident that the young minds who come through the JAN Company of the Year competition will be Nigeria’s future Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In their time and in the envisioned future for Nigeria, the country will stand tall, unintimidated by her Western counterparts, having been catapulted to the status of a leading developed nation by the young and emerging generation FirstBank has been betting big on for years.