Consistently for the past four years, The Elevation Church has driven an empowerment platform that breaks down otherwise restricted economic and financial information into applicable bits for senior business executives, small business owners and high net-worth individuals. In this interview with Goddy Egene, the Senior Pastor of the Elevation Church and convener of the Vantage Forum, Godman Akinlabi, explains that when people have access to relevant economic and business information, they can create wealth regardless of the circumstances. Excerpts
What is Vantage Forum?
Vantage Forum is an annual entrepreneurial advancement initiative of The Elevation Church focused on empowering individuals to achieve the highest levels of distinction in their businesses and careers through empowerment platforms such as business seminars, workshops and mentorship programmes. The quality of the discourse makes it an event more suited to senior business executives, owners of medium sized businesses and high net-worth individuals. Driven by the theme: ‘New Frontiers, New Possibilities’, Vantage Forum 2017 holds on the 26th of January and features distinguished high calibre speakers such as the Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, Mr. John Tani Obaro, Managing Director/CEO of SystemSpecs and Mrs. Ndidi Nwuneli, Founder of LEAP Africa, Co-Founder of AACE Food Processing & Distribution, Partner at Sahel.
What is the purpose of Vantage Forum? What inspired its conception?
Vantage Forum started in 2014 when it became clear that there was a knowledge gap between the policy makers, economists and those who were actually in business. We saw the need for a business outlook event that focused on the analysis of the economic and political terrain with a view to giving businesspersons a roadmap to run with for the year. It is hard to win a race when you are running blind.
However, the kind of information one would get at a business event of this nature was typically the exclusive preserve of persons belonging to certain organizations or clubs that would not readily share such insight with the general public. As a result, a good number of SMEs did not have access to the kind of information that would take their businesses to the next level. I strongly believe that knowledge should never be hoarded and with my team of leaders, we took on the challenge to close this knowledge gap, and Vantage Forum was born.
As earlier said, Vantage Forum seeks to shed much-needed light on the road that lies ahead. To achieve this, we deliberately invite leading economists, renowned strategists and seasoned business leaders to speak to the Vantage Forum audience.
The Forum also provides an opportunity for a diversity convergence. Past attendees have been from a broad spectrum of the society, from different market segments and varied religious persuasions. Regardless of the fact that a church organizes it, Vantage Forum is primarily a knowledge resource that can equip Nigeria’s citizenry and contribute to the wealth and development of our nation.
What do you think we need to do right as a nation to get out of recession? Also is there a way churches can stimulate economic growth in Nigeria?
To boost our GDP, we need to increase production. One of the key factors for production is the availability of human resources, which we have in abundance. How then do we get Nigerians to be more productive? Well, it is not news that the average Nigerian blames the government for a lot of the decay and unproductiveness eating into the economy. The government on its own has to think about ways of tapping into the innovative and creative ability of the Nigerian people. Most of our states do not have appreciable Internally Generated Revenue. This has to change.
The church on the other hand must take responsibility for their people and environment. We need to put skills in the hands of the people and empower them through skill acquisition and social intervention. The moment the people have the right skills, we can drive the economy in the right direction. If a person is hungry or sick, it is hard for them to think productively. Therefore, churches should endeavour to make the weight easier by feeding people not just spiritually but also physically and mentally.
We need to deploy ourselves so that we are able to come out of this recession. We have industries that are still very green such as the IT, agriculture and entertainment. Our young people need to be mobilized in these areas with the right tools so that we do not continue to live under the burden of underdevelopment. The moment we put these skills in the hands of the people, they will be able to tap into opportunities locally and even at international levels.
Why should church be concerned with economic platforms such as Vantage Forum?
The phenomenal leader Martin Luther King Jr. put it eloquently, “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social condition that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” The church cannot be an ostrich in the face of obvious suffering. We are the salt of the earth and light of the world and this does not apply to ones spiritual existence alone. We must be positioned to be solution providers. Where there is moral decay, we preach righteousness, where there is injustice, we must speak for justice and where there is economic ignorance, we must provide enlightenment. The church must be concerned about the total man and be willing to roll up her sleeves to solve real problems with practical, implementable solutions.
The past editions of Vantage Forum have been hugely successful with many reporting about how they gained the courage and boldness to launch into new business ventures. We have been very blessed to have very good, well-informed and inspiring speakers- some of which have been Ladi Balogun, MD/CEO FCMB, Abdul Mukhtar, Chief Strategy Officer, Dangote Groups, BismarkR ewane, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, Chairman First Bank and many other erudite speakers. It has always been very beneficial to the attendees and the ripple effects will continue to be felt in years to come.
Are there other related social initiatives The Elevation Church championed?
At The Elevation Church we put service to God and humanity at the fore of our mission and we engage in several initiatives that benefit both members of our congregation and the un-churched community at large. Our interventions include a specialised ministry we call ‘Elevate 200’. Elevate 200 is a special outreach church focused on empowering the less privileged in our communities through financial, medical, welfare and education interventions. Worthy of note are the skill acquisition programs, which drive the mission. We are persuaded that ‘giving fish’ alone will not save the poor; you must teach a man to fish and in that way you can save his community and maybe even his entire generation. The children in these communities are also given top priority and with our partners we are able to award scholarships to several of them and organize back-to-school drives where we give school supplies like back packs, stationery, textbooks, school shoes, socks and vests to children at both primary and secondary school levels.
We have engaged in rehabilitation efforts for dilapidated schools in different communities, conduct regular soup kitchens and free medical outreaches all around Lagos, and reach out regularly to the orphaned, widowed and physically incapacitated. With the crisis in the labour market, we have a career empowerment arm called elev8impact whose sole mission is to help new to mid-level career persons enjoy success on their jobs. These are just a few of the ways we do our part in uplifting and spreading hope in our communities.
Any other initiatives in the pipeline?
We have quite a few projects lined up for this year but worthy of note is the Exponential Conference for Pastors and Church leaders. This is a 3-day conference, which will hold from the Wednesday the 6th to Friday the 8th of February 2017. In addition to resourcing our communities, we are committed to resourcing the body of Christ. Pastors and leaders in present day churches face different challenges while on the road to fulfilling the call of God on their lives. Exponential is put together to equip the body of Christ with the wisdom and insight leaders need to build healthy, thriving ministries. Featuring seasoned ministers like Pastors Sam Adeyemi, Taiwo Odukoya, Gbeminiyi Eboda, Wale Adenuga, Yemi Davids, Bolaji Idowu, and many other experienced leaders, it promises to be very beneficial to all attendees.
On Easter Monday we will hold a cultural outreach, which we call ‘Tastes of Our Tribes’. It is a Family Food Fair that is ideal for the whole family to enjoy quality time together participating in games, trying out cuisines from all corners of Nigeria and other fun activities.
We have several other initiatives that will apply to diverse demographics- singles, married couples, teenagers, entertainment enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and so on. Simply stay connected to us via our website elevationng.org to stay up to date on the various events and outreaches happening in our church.
What is your definition of leadership? How would you advise Nigeria’s leadership on bringing the ship of state to perfect health and prosperity?
My definition of leadership is influencing people to take the right decisions that can help them achieve their goals. Part of the work of leadership is to create a vision and influence people to connect with the vision and actualise it. The Nigerian leadership first and foremost needs to focus on the people. There is no leadership without the people as it is the people that define the quality of their leadership. Our leaders need to take time to introspect, and ask, ‘are the people enjoying a quality of life that is proportionate to the resources available?’ They need to come to that place of understanding that the most valuable asset the nation has lies in her people- not the solid minerals, and not the crude oil. Whatever policies being developed should at the heart of it, have a human face. Even when these policies have been arrived at, how they are communicated is key. Communication cannot be overemphasised.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
I am currently reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero and Teach Yourself to Think by Edward de Bono.
How are you able to balance leading a fast growing ministry with being a present father and husband?
I am married to a truly lovely woman; Bolarinwa and we have two daughters.
I am able to balance all my responsibilities by planning and prioritising. I place a premium on my family, my spiritual growth and my physical health. Next come my ministry and every other activity I am involved in, but my relationship with God and with my family come first. For instance, I endeavor to attend events at my kids’ school, and through the calendar shared at the PTA, I am able to sufficiently plan and include these events in my diary. I am also deliberate about creating time to bond with my wife, and ensure that we go on vacations, attend events as a couple, and just basically build our friendship. It is a balancing act that works on what I consider priority.
When it comes to work, being the lead pastor, it is undeniable that I have a huge responsibility. In church we have a quarterly planning cycle. With the outcome of this, I know what commitments and speaking engagements I have and I am also able to lock these down in my diary. As we speak, I know my family vacation date, down to take off day and return. These dates are non-negotiable. My girls look forward to these times when it is just us and I ensure that I do not alter our agreed plans.
Who inspires you?
Many people inspire me outside of Christ Himself. A lot of inspiration in my early childhood came from my dad. He was an astute politician and businessman. Though a Muslim, he lived a principled-centred life that produced admirable results. He was an achiever and he instilled in us the mindset to make one’s life count.
My pastor, Reverend Sam Adeyemi, also inspires me. I have known him for over 25 years, and I can say he is a true leader. I see his span of influence and leadership and it is simply worth exemplifying. Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek as well as Rick Warren, whose books The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church have greatly influenced and transformed my life, also inspire me. In the world of business, I consider Strive Masiyiwa a huge inspiration. He is an astute businessman who has huge influence especially amongst the millennials. I admire his solid faith and how he identifies as a devout follower of Christ.
When it’s all over, how do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a man that made greatness common. A man who through his life exemplified that you can be who you are and attain greatness, a man who did not compromise his faith, values, family and ministry. I believe that anybody can be great. I believe that greatness is not an exclusive right of a select few.
Finally, is the Vantage Forum free?
Vantage Forum is a seed we sow annually into the Nigerian economy so yes it is free. However we require that you simply register online so that we make adequate arrangements for all the attendees.