Fostering National Unity via Unity Dolls

0

Eromosele Abiodun takes a look at Auldon’s efforts at fostering national unity, its buy Made-in-Nigeria products campaign, and the company’s enduring goal of drawing attention to the African girl-child via its Unity Dolls

Going beyond a product or service function and becoming a set of values, symbols, and  icons that target consumers can relate to, is a key goal for brand owners. This is a relationship building function that needs to evolve along with culture, society and changing preferences. In most developed countries, companies create unique products that reflect the identity and culture of their country. Most times, such companies end up as multinationals and buyers from other countries opt for their products.

In Nigeria for example, people prefer imported products to what is made locally, a situation that has brought the nation’s manufacturing sector to its knees resulting in massive unemployment in the country. While it is difficult to change adults, experts believe early child education is what can remedy the situation.

This aptly captures the status of the unity range of dolls since it was launched into the Nigerian market two years ago by Nigeria’s foremost toys dealer; Auldon Limited. Today,  the company  is very much on course to fulfilling every timeless dream of the Nigerian girl and by extension, every African girl child who has held the doll and learnt the key lessons of culture and in the process, is being shaped to improve her society.

From the onset, the company’s vision was to promote girl-child education and inculcate in her, positive African values and ethos, like feminine decency, commitment to family, respect for elders, hard work, honesty, arts and crafts, unity of purpose, etc.
All these are geared towards uniting Nigerians and delivering social change within our communities.
Auldon’s commitment to the development of education for the Nigerian child, through a handful of empowerment programmes has been unwavering.

Little wonder, the company’s range of dolls and toys continue to record note-worthy success becoming the most preferred dolls in the Nigerian market. Realising the impact the dolls have made with the first Nigerian themed dolls, Unity Girl dolls, again introduced a new range of Dolls, with an expanded focus targeting an enhanced mission of uniting Africans.

Just like Unity Dolls, which quickly captured the Nigeria doll market, the new Malaika Unity Girl doll for Africa, a more Afrocentric doll range from Auldon is set to capture the rest of Africa.

Malaika is a 14 inch tall doll, beautifully dressed in local African attire and particularly fashioned out to depict Africa’s rich culture, lifestyle and values.  According to the company which trades its toys with the brand name Auldon Toys, the introduction of Malaika Unity Dolls will further spread the social relevance and impact of Unity Girls’ dolls across Africa. This it plans to achieve through its strategic partnership with some major South African chain stores, in view of the unity dolls’ popularity and spread across the continent.

Detaching Unrealistic Psyche
The Chief Executive Officer of Auldon Toys, Paul Orajiaka, speaking on the introduction  of Unity and Malaika  dolls range into Nigeria and the rest of Africa respectively, said: “When we first conceptualised Unity dolls, our intention at that time was to carefully detach the unrealistic psyche of some very popular brands that impacted no cultural or moral benefit to the Nigerian girl child.  More importantly, the unity dolls are packaged with the intention of influencing a more tolerant society and by extension, continent united in diversity.”
He Continued: “Now taking into consideration, the remarkable success we recorded with the Unity Dolls range in Nigeria, we decided to replicate that same success with the purpose of ensuring we equip the African girl child with the right values needed to take Africa to the height we all envisage.  Our model is based on the idea of harnessing the power of buyers who want to make an impact with their purchases.

 “We have portrayed the Unity Girl, as far more than a doll, with a brand identity, which represents the social concern bordering around the challenges of the girl child, particularly her education and ware-fare in Nigeria and the world at large. Currently, it has become a household name among Nigerian parents and now we are working hard to push this further across the entire African continent. This is why we are planning on stocking the shelves of major chain stores across Africa with Malaika Unity Girl.”

“Acceptance of these dolls and our other toys all over the country has been massive, I can tell you because of a handful of reasons, namely; affordability, premium quality, availability, uniqueness and most importantly the educative value the dolls offer. So it is safe to say we are a market leader with strong prospect for increased growth. Currently, we distribute to all leading retail outlets and supermarkets across the country, namely Game, Shoprite, Spar, Next, Park n Shop, Sahad Stores, Ebeano among others.

“Our visibility level is very high and that’s because there is a growing level of attachment between the dolls and our target market which are the girl child ranging from age1 – 10 and their parents. Unity Dolls has also started a fan club for the girl child where they can be groomed with positive key values needed to grow, and it is open to all children who fall within the stipulated age, 1-10. All they need do is register or have their parents register for them to become members on the Unity girl Facebook page. We also hope to increase distribution and presence over a period,” he said.
Teachers, he added, also appreciate it for the educational value it gives and the fact that children learn faster when they are taught with fun things that easily captures their attention.

“That is why, If you observe these days, most things in nature are replicated in toys. For instance, when teaching a child about fruits, say an Apple, you show him a replica of that fruit, so he/ she can grasp easily, same goes for animals, e.g.  Zebra, you must show the child a zebra toy because children no longer go to Zoos to see animals.  In the same vein, you find children learning how to become engineers by dismantling and assembling toys.

“That’s why I always appeal that parents buy educative toys that possess good quality for their children. You need to be sure of the quality. Toys should be safe   for children to play with. We want to be sure that children play with toys that have social relevance and not ones that teach violence. That is why if you go around our shops, you will never find a gun toy in whatever form. We do not even sell toys that have violent features. We ensure that our toys are 90 per cent educative.  We deal more in educational toys because we believe that aside being in business, we want to impact positive values on our children,” he explained.

Training Employers of Labour
Also, the company has taken further steps to train Nigerian students on the act of manufacturing doll to reduce the unemployment situation in the country.
Recently, Auldon Nigeria Limited signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB).

The partnership is intended to empower graduate apprentices of the board with sustainable source of livelihood immediately after graduation, by making them gainfully engaged.
Also the initiative, under the Graduate Apprenticeship Programme in dress making, the graduates have been hired to make 40,000 pieces of unity doll dresses for the entire project in batches of 5,000.
Under the contract, which is supposed to be executed within four months, 40 per cent mobilisation fee  has been released  while 60 per cent cost of the project will be paid upon completion of each batch of 5000 clothes.

Speaking on the  MoU, Executive Secretary of the board, Mr. Olawunmi Jasper, called on other corporations and multi-nationals to emulate Unity Dolls by using direct skilled labour, in order to grow the local economy.

Jasper noted that the only way out of the nation’s economic quagmire is for government to, not only create the ideal environment for artisans in the real sector to thrive, but also for manufacturers to employ indigenous skilled labour.

He pointed out that expatriates in the engineering, construction, home services sector, are carting away all the opportunities at the detriment of Nigerian artisans.
He, however, thanked  Orajiaka for the confidence reposed in the nation’s real sector, particularly for believing in the graduates churned out by the institution, and contracting a project of that magnitude to them.

He assured the company that the graduate apprentices would do an excellent work with the dress making contract comparable to any standard in the world.
Orajiaka agreed with the LASTVEB boss  that the continued patronage of local products skill and service is the way to go in strengthening the nation’s economy and currency. He also assured the institution that the contract will not be a one off and would be continuously renewed, especially as unity dolls is a product in high demand, both locally and internationally.
He expressed joy that the contract will have a positive multiplier effect on the local economy as other locally manufactured products will be purchased for the project, a cycle that will support many families, by putting food on their tables.

Taking Over Nigeria
Meanwhile, the company is making effort to ensure that every part of Nigeria feels its touch in terms of the quality of doll and the message they portray.
According to Orajiaka, we are currently brainstorming on a number of ideas on how to best ensure that Unity Dolls are present in every home in the country two years from now.

“Also Auldon is hoping to strategically set up offices and retail outlets in the 36 states of the country most importantly satisfying our ever increasing demand for the dolls. New educative features that would engage and thrill children are also in conceptualised by our research team.

“In the next five years we are planning to replicate a family fun resort, in the mould of Disney, after which our eyes are set on expanding to other frontiers, both Europe and Africa. Already there has been significant level of demand for Unity dolls, in Europe and Africa, Particularly Africa. What we hope to do in those places is to first of all gain significant presence in select countries in both climes, particularly Africa, especially where demand is highest after which we would then start customizing/ adapting the Unity Dolls into their own culture. We would love to one day be like ToysRus, the world’s leading kids store for all kind of toys.

“Another thing Auldon is considering assembling toys in the country so that it can create more jobs for people. Nigeria does not have the expertise to manufacture world-class toys, so what we plan on doing is get Completely Knocked Down Toys (CKGs) that will be assembled here in the country,” he said.

He added that to this effect the company has  set the ball in motion to partner LASTVE , where  they can teach the students the process of assembling CKGs after which they are employed after graduation.
“Having attained this height with Auldon, especially with your history of starting from a humble beginning, are there CSR initiatives you intend to embark on that will see you give back to the society or the less privileged,” he stated.