A cross session of graduands

Determined to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, the Centre for Values in Leadership along with its partners recently provided entrepreneurship training for 100 youths in Ajegunle community, a popular slum in Lagos State, Peace Obi reports

Youth empowerment is one project successive governments in the country have initiated and aspired to achieve because of the belief that empowerment of every nation’s youth is a gateway to helping people realise their creative and productive energies to achieve sustainable growth, improve their living standards. Thus, it has been discovered to be a potent tool for poverty alleviation, economic growth and national development.
As such, different administrations in the country have often initiated various youth empowerment programmes aimed at equipping the youths with various entrepreneurial skills that they will engage in and become self-reliant and shun all manner of vices in the society. Aside efforts of governments at different tiers in this regard, philanthropists, social groups and non-governmental organisations often support government’s effort with their own vocational and skills acquisition programmes. These programmes are targeted at equipping the youths with various skills that will enable them be self-employed, create wealth and provide employment opportunity to their fellow youths.

CVL takes entrepreneurship training to Ajegunle
One of these non-governmental organisations that complements government’s efforts in youth empowerment is Centre for Values in Leadership, a non-profit organisation founded by Professor Pat Utomi. The Centre along with its partners, Citi Foundation, officials of Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government, Nigeria Youth Assembly and supporting banks – Bank of Industry (BOI), Heritage Bank, recently in Lagos presented business start-up kits to 100 youths in the Ajegunle area of Lagos.

Having the vision to empower young people with leadership skills and values that will enable them make lasting contributions in every sphere of life as its driving force, CVL in December 2015 landed in Ajegunle with its Young Entrepreneurship Training Programme (YETP) to wrestle youth unemployment in the most popular slum in Lagos. The YETP being one of the many corporate social responsibility initiatives by CVL was specifically designed to enhance the capacity of community-based youths in Ajegunle who are between the ages of 18-35 years. People who are running small businesses or have the intention to own and run sustainable enterprise. With the unusual opportunity parading the streets of Ajegunle with 1,000 fliers and 500 application forms, youth of all sizes, tribes and varying educational background rose in their dexterity to vie for the available seats. Armed with their applications, over 300 applicants indicated their interest to participate in the entrepreneurship training meant to accommodate only 100 youths of the densely populated slum in Ajeromi Local government Area of Lagos State.

Kicking off the one-year project on December 8, 2015, the participants were meant to undergo two months entrepreneurship training as well as a two-month business mentorship programme. As part of the basic training for all participants includes managerial skills, corporate governance, record and book keeping and all it takes to start a small business and run a sustainable business enterprise. The training which covered a wide range of entrepreneurial and vocational skills provided participants with knowledge in areas such as fish farming, catering and event management, movie production, fashion and designing, bead making and wire work, hair dressing and make up, oil and gas, among others. Taking the participants on some rudiments of business management, threw to them a rare opportunity of visiting the prestigious Lagos Business School. And to avail them some practical experience on the training received in different trade, a two-month business mentorship programme where participants underwent internship with some appointed business mentors in various business lines was arranged.

To transform populations to demographic dividends
Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the first 100 beneficiaries of YETP after completing entrepreneurship training in various areas of their choices, Professor Pat Utomi revealed the reason for choosing Ajegunle for the training programme to be the desire to transform the huge population of Ajegunle into a huge demographic dividend. Utomi who observed a shift in the paradigm of big-figure-population, formerly considered as a threat to wealth and quality of life to now being recognised by economists as instruments for social and economic development, said that the new approach is achievable only when people are equipped with the right skills. According to him, “today many economists are talking about demographic dividend. Many years ago, populations were considered a threat and people recommended all kinds of family planning to make sure there are fewer people so that wealth and quality of life can go on.”

Stressing how the modern approach to big-figure populations goes with the CVL’s vision and idea for youth empowerment, Utomi said that its target is to transform demographic statistics of Ajegunle into human capital capable of tackling the problem of youth unemployment, engender self reliance, social and economic development. According to him, no society leaves a significant number of its people behind and hopes to prosper or experience real development.

“If you put the right things into the people, that population will become a competitive advantage. It is that motivation that has brought us into this community with the certainty that if we put the right things (knowledge and skills) into the people to transform them from statistics to human capital, we can transform our country and reap the huge demographic dividend. That is why we are here,” Utomi said.

Lack of training bane of business failures
Identifying lack of proper training to be a major factor responsible for business failures, especially among small and medium enterprises, Utomi disclosed that “what is the biggest problem in our country where we have entrepreneurial spirit running very strong is that because people do not receive proper training on how to manage a business, many who could have been very successful will not turn out to be as successful as they should be.”

And with the strong believe that values and leaderships can transport people from places of disadvantage to locations of top play and superior performance, he said CVL would remain committed to the project even after the graduation ceremony. According to him, CVL hopes to sustain the dividends from the training through monitoring and supervision. “We have to continue by putting them in an alumni programme through which we will continue to make other input. We planned that through alumni association, we might even be able to create clusters down the line where we can provide basic infrastructure, technology, and support services,” Utomi assured.
The Managing Director, Bank of Industry (BOI), Mr. Waheed Olagunju, who praised the graduands’ resilience for the successful completion of their training programme urged them to put the knowledge gained into work.

Represented by the Lagos Regional Head, Mr. Obaro Osah, the MD assured the graduands of the bank’s support, especially in building up their businesses. Urging them to employ the managerial skills they learnt in the course of running their businesses, such as corporate governance, record and book keeping, among others. He said adherence to these principles would aid business growth and survival and that it would serve as basis for the bank’s intervention.

“CVL is one of our business development support providers, so, we are fully in support of the efforts to empower Ajegunle youths. So what we are doing today in collaboration with CVL is to see how we can play our little role to address the challenge by providing support for SMEs, entrepreneurs. Providing business and finance supports so that they can employ themselves and one or two persons. The more that is done in any economy, the better for that economy to grow and move forward.

“Support essentially can come as finance, business advisory, mentoring, coaching. All these are the basic elements required for anyone to do run a business. Some of the problems with the SMEs are lack of good documentation and well written business plan. They don’t know how to separate their private expenditure from business expenditure. So, from the business advisory and mentoring, it can help people to have proper business model, proper business tactics and how best to run a business,” Olagunju noted.

Continuous support assured

Commending the CVL’s initiative, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode advised the graduands to make maximum use of the opportunity the training has brought their way. According to him, “this is an opportunity for you to excel in life. Move on and make a difference with this privilege and opportunity presented to you by this initiative,” Ambode charged the graduands.
The governor who was represented by a director in the Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment, Mrs. Olabisi Boco hinted that the Ambode administration has set aside N25 billion employment trust fund for all Lagosians as part of the state’s approach towards tackling youth unemployment, which can be applied for both business start-up and expansion purposes.

A harvest of talents
With the Abayomi Hall located at the heart of Ajegunle filled with mostly AJ City residents, talents were on display. And renowned for being rich in human resource, who are also visibly active in different fields of endeavours such as entertainment, sports, corporate establishments, among others reverberated at the graduation ceremony. It became obvious why the organisers did not have the need to hire either a comedian or a music artiste to keep the audience lively because sieving through the graduands were some hidden talents. And among these graduates was a music/paint artiste, Mr. Otun Temitayo, who entertained the audience with some of his numbers. While a 100-man graduand choir rendered a special number titled “Nigeria will rise up again” that left the audience thrilled and enchanted. Thrilled by the sonorous rendition, and as the echoes of hope for the country filled the air, the audience rose in solidarity.

Sharing his experience with THISDAY, the multi-talented Otun Temitayo who also presented a painted photograph of the CVL founder said it was his token of appreciation to Prof. Utomi for the wealth of knowledge that he gained during the training period.

Temitayo who said he could not wait to apply the newly acquired knowledge to push his business to the next level disclosed that the entrepreneurship training exposed him to some managerial skills, marketing strategies and business tactics that he was sure would change the face of his business.
According to Temitayo, “I am an artist. I do painting and I am also a song writer and singer. This training has opened my eyes to different marketing strategies, how to go about my painting business, market my brand name and make it more popular.

“Very soon, I should be organising a solo business exhibition where I will put out my artworks and where I can also reach out to people because part of the training that I received was how to reach out to people. The training has empowered for more creative work, interaction with people,” Temitayo disclosed.

For Ogechi Amaefule, a house wife whose family finances had hampered her dream of undergoing training in her desired line of trade, saw the CVL’s YETP as a divine intervention. Identifying lack of knowledge a major source of failure in business, she said that the training she received in catering and related field has not only prepared her to run a sustainable business but has equally empowered her to train others. “I undergo training in catering services. In fact, it has added value to my life and I am looking forward to establishing my own business and put the knowledge I have gathered into work.

“With what I have learnt, I am empowered to even train people. I used to be a house wife and I have tried my hands in several businesses and not much success has been recorded but with level of exposure this programme has given me, I am confident that I am finally in a line of business that I will succeed in,” Amaefule said.

Describing the training as an awesome experience, Mr. Hazmat Hassan who told THISDAY that he registered to be trained in oil and gas business with a special interest in kerosene business, said everyday of the training had new knowledge to offer. “From the day one of the training to the end, it has been new knowledge all the way. Even when we went for internship, the company actually gave me a thorough exposure.

“Initially, I thought all I needed was just how to do the kerosene business but when I was undergoing internship, I was made to understand that as long as oil business is concerned every aspect must be touched, that none is not done in an isolation.”

Hassan who was visibly elated declared, “Sincerely I am impressed! As I speak to you now I now know better than I knew about oil business before now. I have seen people who are into this business here in Ajegunle and I want to strongly say with the knowledge I have, I will do excellently well. As it is whatever I do now, is as a result of the knowledge I acquired during this training. And I will put every knowledge this training has afforded me into this business to make it a success”.

Poised to excel and as well keep the legacy the CVL has left in AJ City through its entrepreneurship training, Hassan said, “It is not a competition, while undergoing the training, I kept telling my colleagues that I will be best among them all. As it is, I already have a space. I have written every necessary thing I needed for the business. I am ready, I just need the empowerment to kick off. If this programme continues, I see poverty in this area of Lagos State eradicated.”

The Baale of Ayetoro, Saheed Adesegun in a goodwill message and on behalf of the traditional rulers in the Ajegunle community thanked the organisers for their kind consideration. Nothing that the entrepreneurship training was not the first CSR project Prof. Utomi was bringing to the community, Adesegun said that the entire Ajegunle community would ever remember him for good.
The royal father noted that the programme will go a long way in tackling the problem of youth unemployment and crime in the area. “With a programme like that provides skills and empowerment to the people, it will reduce the level of crime, prostitution and poverty in our community,” Adesegun said.