Building Entrepreneurial Competencies

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With the conclusion of the 2017 edition of the Ideatrophy competition, a  development initiative of Unilever designed to create an ‘out-of-the-classroom’ learning experience for undergraduates, Raheem Akingbolu writes on its impact on participants in the area of strategy and innovation

Few years ago, Unilever Africa flagged off ‘Unilever Africa Idea Trophy Competition’, and declared that it was in furtherance of its commitment to develop human capacity and talent potential. Six years after, the company has not only deepened entrepreneurial competencies among students, it has helped talented young Africans to realise their potentials. Unilever Nigeria is part of the multi-national Unilever group, which produces products like Close Up, Lux, Lipton, among others.

This was affirmed recently during grand finale of the 2017 edition, where, after a keenly contested competition, Team Triarchy from Nigeria emerged the overall winner of the edition. The initiative, which is in line with the company’s quest to groom young talents in Nigeria and Ghana, had undergraduates from both countries at the 6th edition held in Lagos.

While the competition lasted, participants from various teams appeared as business strategists, who have come to proffer solution to how to deepen penetration of different brands. Aside exposing members of various teams to core marketing challenges, the platform also offered participants networking opportunity with many experts, who were already masters of the game.

The winning team -Triarchy had the trio of Temitope Smith, an undergraduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Uzomba Ikechukwu, from the University of Ibadan and Egbo Chidera, from University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Other teams that won at the competition were, Ghana’s Team Kool T that was the first runners up, Team Classic (Nigeria) that was second runners up and Team Supernova (Ghana) as third runners up. Team Midas (Nigeria) also won the “Most Compelling Idea Award’’.

The competition has been designed to develop young talents, mostly undergraduates across universities in Nigeria and Ghana along the lines of personal, leadership and entrepreneurial competences. The boot camp for the 2017 edition was opened in Lagos on October 2nd, where contestants were exposed to Unilever activities in sales, marketing, finance and Supply Chain. The participants were assigned to mentors who are seasoned business professionals, to guide them in the development of their business plans in preparation for their presentations whilst also engaging in other recreational activities.

The grand finale was attended by over 400 undergraduates from different Universities across the country. In addition to the competition, the visiting undergraduates were taken through series of employability workshops on how to prepare for interviews, writing of CVs and networking for career development.

Speaking at the event, Managing Director, Unilever Nigeria-Ghana, Mr. Yaw Nsarkoh, reiterated Unilever’s commitment to touching lives every day through its products and social missions. He appreciated the efforts of all the participants and advised them to be persistent in the drive to achieve their goals. He also encouraged them to develop their knowledge and skills to meet up with global standards.

“Being awake to what really matters, which is the theme for this year’s edition, is about understanding the power in you to make choices that will determine your future. There are constraints in life that compelus to make choices but every choice we make will always come with consequences. What is most important however is that whatever we do, we do to the best of our ability,” Nsarkoh said.

Beyond CSR

Though it has been described as Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives by some analysts, Idea Trophy Competition is a unique intervention programme that government and other corporate entity should encourage to develop talents and prepare Nigerian youths for the future. One of its benefits is the free mentorships from top-notch achievers within the business cycle, which the competition offers to participants annually.

One of the judges, Mrs. Biola Alabi, founder and Managing Partner at Biola Alabi Media, captured the essence of the exercise, when she described it as an eye opener and intervention programme that would help the students realised their potentials.

‘’With the initiative, Unilever has touched positively on a sensitive area –innovation and strategy development.  Without doubt, this intervention programme has given the students opportunity to put into practical, some of the things they have learnt in their various schools. So far, it has been a rare opportunity for the undergraduates to make real impact. Human capacity building and talent development are key to national development, hence the need for stakeholders to buy into such initiative,’’

Alabi, an expert with a career spanning over 20 years in the area of marketing and development of concept and strategies, however called on participants in the competition to build on the experience garnered while the challenge lasted, as they look into bright career years in marketing.

Alabi’s position resonates with the declaration of the company when journey started six years ago. Speaking at the kick-off of the competition in Lagos, the then Managing Director of the company, Mr. Thabo Mabe had noted that the company’s investment in Idea Trophy went beyond just doing good, but actually doing good business within Nigeria’s social and economic environment.

“Driving and sustaining our business is hinged on the quality of our people, and that is why Unilever Nigeria has remained committed to discovering, uncovering and developing talent at different levels, not just for now, but also for the future,” Mabe had stated as he explained the company’s rationale for Idea Trophy.

Since then, the company has been going into the Universities to stimulate thinking amongst undergraduates and challenge them with real life business cases. This is with the intent that these students will develop intellectually and begin to have a view of what lies ahead after University life.

Until this year when Ghanaian students were involved alongside their counterparts in Nigeria, the Idea Trophy competition used to be a national competition in the country that called on University undergraduates to respond to a business case presented by Unilever Nigeria. These undergraduates are to form teams of three people, and come up with an idea that will address the business case presented, which they will get the opportunity to develop. However, the team of three people model is still retained.

As a challenging and creative experience, where students need to figure out how business works in real life while developing their own skills and competencies, the company has been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the initiative is actually a business challenge and not a game because it appears too real to be a game.

Among other criteria, judges in the challenge look out for; particiapants’ excitement and passion, creative ideas built on an innovative strategy, great fit with the project brief, and applicability to real business life and appeal to the adopted case study.

Few weeks ago, as the grand finale for 2017 ended, the company was again able to showcase the event as an educative platform to meet people with progressive mind-sets.

Feedbacks

Commenting on their success, a member of Team Triarchy, Uzomba Ikechukwu said the experience from participating in the competition will serve as a leap to their greatness. “The Ideatrophy competition has been a life changing experience. We have learnt so much about working as a team to developing viable strategies for brand positioning and growth. Winning the competition is a dream come true for us and we will put in more efforts to win at the Africa region and global leg of the competition,” he said.

The Human Resources Director, Unilever Nigeria-Ghana, Ms. Eniola Onimole, on her part noted that the initiative serves as a major stepping stone for youths who desire first-hand experience in dealing with real life business challenges.

She said: “The Ideatrophy competition gives us the opportunity to develop young Nigerians and Ghanaians right from the University. By connecting with Undergraduates through this programme, we attract and invest in young talents that would be among some of the world’s best leaders in future,” she said.

Meanwhile, participants in the previous editions of the initiative are said to be doing well in various areas of human endeavours. In 2012 for instance, Team ‘Life buoy Musketeers’, from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, beat six other teams in a keenly contested battle of business ideas to emerge winners at the grand finale of the competition held in Lagos.
Two other teams ‘Aspire’ from Federal University of Technology, Minna and ‘Deluxe Brains’ from Abia state University emerged first and second runners up respectively.

Team Blueprint emerged the winner of the 4th edition of the competition in 2015 at an event also held in Lagos.  With over a thousand entries from universities across Nigeria, Six teams from various universities made it to the grand finale that year. The teams who made it to the grand finale were taken through series of mentorship sessions where they learnt business skills, development and networking, working with people from diverse backgrounds, ethics, co-existence and integrity as it relates to the workplace.