‘Doing good is good business and Sterling Bank has chosen that path’

Sterling Bank Plc, a commercial bank, recently partnered with iCreate Skill Fest 2018 to host premier youth empowerment festival in Abuja in a bid to transform skills acquisition across the African continent. iCreate is Africa’s biggest vocational skills event with the objective to create an environment that encourages phenomenal display of talents and skills.Besides Sterling Bank, other co-partners and sponsors were Abuja Chambers of Commerce and Industry, NECA, Bosch,Cachez, Trace TV, NTA, Bon Hotel,Sound City and Federal Government of Nigeria Industrial Training Fund (ITF). The event attracted talented technicians, artisans and innovators from more than 50 universities, polytechnics and vocational training centres in the country, showcasing skill excellence and competing for tremendous funding opportunities as well as exclusive internship programmes.

It also brought together top manufacturers, employers, sponsors and clients, face to face with the very best; vocational experts, innovators and a pool of young creative peopledoing phenomenal things on the continent. In this interview, Bright Jaja, the promoter of iCreate Festival speaks on what motivated him to host the exhibition. Excerpts:

By way of introduction, may we know better who Bright Jaja is?

I am a young Nigerian who is eager to touch the lives of other young people around me. I am also keen to see how touching the lives of these young people can translate into a valuable tool for the transformation of society and the economy as well. I live every day to solve a problem and add value to everything I come across. I also see myself as a problem solver.

How was your growing up like as well as academic background?

Although I grew up around old people, I give all the credit to my mother – a trader – who is responsible for making me the person I am today. She made me work harder than everybody around me. Even though I was the second of four children, I was the one who had to do most of the work and this forced me to grow up faster than my peers as my youngest friend today is 54. She made me a man when I was still a boy. I was always working for my mum.

As for my educational background, I had my primary and secondary school education in Abuja and Gwarimpa, respectively before proceeding to the university. I have been doing a bunch of online courses and reading a lot while also learning from some of the best people around, especially on how to think.

What inspired you to conceptualise the iCreate festival?

The festival has been on my mind for a long time. It was almost like a puzzle.iCreate has become a tool for connecting all the dots to be one thing. iCreate came into being to address the problems that Nigeria and Africa as a whole are facing. I wanted to do something that will change the narrative and add value. Also, the urge to do something about the level of unemployment in the country and the need to give Nigerians the opportunity to become the best at whatever they do led to the founding of iCreate. The idea is to nudge Nigerians towards doing things that will disrupt the entire system and create a new norm. We want to be the solution that will affect the growth of the economy.

Will it be a yearly event or a one-off?

It is not going to be a one-off event. It will be a yearly event. It will be a sort of Olympics for vocational skills, that no African country currently participates in, through partnerships with international organisations like the world skills organisation while giving power and celebrating the actual makers of things. It will also create a skill park where people can go to acquire vocational skills they want as well as an online platform

Do you have any plan to engage with the participants post-event?

We do not just have a plan of keeping in touch with participants as every single participant selected from over 750 applicants is going to serve as our brand ambassador. Also, negotiations are ongoing with our partners to train participants, give them opportunities and work on giving them endorsement by connecting skilled labour with opportunities.

What is responsible for the lack of skills among Africans and what can be done to bridge the gap?

I think the problem of skills gap is not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa but to every part of the world. We have failed to take advantage of the abundance of natural resources. The structure that places priority on white collar jobs in education is also one of the foundations of the problem. We have found ourselves in a situation where more attention is paid to the theoretical aspect of the training of skilled labour and this is why such trainings are overlooked by the people.

What is your take on the campaign for a change of curriculum of tertiary institutions in favour of entrepreneurship and skills acquisition?

If a child learns to talk before he walks, he will never walk. Think about it. Let me tell you why. The moment a child understands what you are saying and can speak back, whenever he tries to walk, you will be the one telling him don’t do that and this will make him to be afraid. In relation to the question, it is why educational institutions in Nigeria turn the people into dullards. This is because the schools teach people what to think and not how to think, they are thought what to learn not how to learn. And if you know how to learn, you will learn from everything. Education should be about bringing out what is in you and becoming better instead of having a curriculum that teaches what to think. The current system should be trashed and replaced by a curriculum that teaches people how to learn in order to bring out the best in them.

What is your opinion on mentorship?

Mentorship is key. I use myself as an example. I got to where I am today by learning from the best people in the world. I open myself to virtual mentorship. I do not have to know you but understand your thought pattern. I am mentored every day, first of all, by God. I learn from every conversation daily and I still have a lot more to learn.

How has Sterling Bank supported you to organise the festival?

Abubakar Suleiman, the MD, is one of the first people I sat with and had a conversation about the fest, he gave me the belief that it is possible and also that it will not be easy. On a personal level, he mentored me through the process and Sterling Bank was the only organisation that was interested in the idea and not bothering about track record. The bank embraced the idea as it resonated with its HEARTS broad strategy

What word do you have for Sterling Bank?

Sterling Bank is full of amazing ideas that will change the world. Doing good is good business and Sterling Bank is focused on doing good instead of just making money. The bank is looking to solve issues than making money from them.

What do you think are the challenges of budding innovators and entrepreneurs in Africa?

I think one of the biggest challenges is that Nigerians as a people do not believe in start-ups. Many people see failure as evil and sometimes we do not have the right intention. Having the right intention helps with the patience needed with the process of seeing ideas actualised instead of just reaching for immediate gratification.

What do you think the government should do to create an enabling environment for them to thrive?

I am going to say like everybody that the government should concentrate on creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. And I am going to also say that we should not wait for the government; everyone has a role to play in the development of Nigeria; do your part while you wait.

What is your advice for your budding entrepreneurs and innovators?

They should stay focused on doing one thing because when you put all your efforts on one thing, it is easier to achieve results than dissipating energy on many projects at a time. They should also be patient and be willing to fail because failure is not a bad thing but an opportunity to grow. They should also learn better ways of doing things. Finally, they should always have the right intention when going into business.

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