Nurturing the Next Generation of Green Innovators, Entrepreneurs in Nigeria

As part of efforts to strengthen research in the field of renewable energy and foster entrepreneurship in the youth population, Sahara Group recently partnered the University of Lagos, UNILAG, in hosting the maiden Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Incubation Certificate, EIBIC,  programme, Esther Oluku reports

In today’s constantly evolving world, the need for innovators has never been more significant, the several environmental challenges and the urgent need for sustainable solutions. Fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among youths is important in addressing these issues.  

The youths – Gen-Zs or Gen- Xs as they’re called, can be equipped to recognize, and tackle a range of these challenges, spanning from climate change to improving access to quality healthcare, addressing inequality and enhancing educational systems.

Sustainable Partnership with UNILAG

Recognising this, Sahara Group – a leading international energy and infrastructure conglomerate with operations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East – embarked on a journey of Making a Difference in partnership with the renowned University of Lagos (UNILAG).

With a business history spanning nearly three decades, Sahara Group has thrived through the driving forces of innovation and extrapreneurship, propelling its growth across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Two years ago, Sahara Group announced the establishment of the Sahara School of Innovation and Extrapreneurship (SSIE) at the University of Lagos, to serve as a platform for promoting innovations and solutions that will facilitate sustainable development and global competitiveness in Africa.  

The alliance, which started with the donation of a learning institute; the Sahara Group School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SGSIE), has over the last 19 months grown into a partnership for the promotion of learning on the subject of green energy for the continent. 

With just five months to the projected completion of the SGSIE, the Group’s Director, Sustainability and Governance, Ms. Ejiro Gray, in a statement then said the institute will speed up learning in green energy and create a platform to “facilitate sustainable development and global competitiveness in Africa”. 

In furtherance of this mandate, Gray had explained that the group is keen on supporting outstanding students through the provision of grants to the best-graduating students in selected disciplines.

 Also, in her response then, the Vice-Chancellor, of the University of Lagos, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, noted that the partnership aligns with the aspirations of the school as it aims to bridge the existing gaps between the town and the gown to breed workplace ready students. 

 As an Institution of academic learning, she said the school will continue to encourage avenues that position it as a reference point for future oriented learning in line with its 60th-anniversary theme: “Eyes on the Future”.

Essentially, at Sahara Group, their commitment to Bringing Energy to Life Responsibly was further underscored through the partnership with the University of Lagos – the overarching goal being the energy conglomerate’s commitment to actively cultivating younger generations to promote a culture of innovation and sustainability. 

“Sahara Group is deeply invested in the younger generation, recognising them as catalysts for change who possess the capacity to shape a more sustainable future for generations to come,” said Bethel Obioma, Head, Corporate Communications at Sahara Group.

Creating Awareness on Innovation,  Entrepreneurship through EIBIC

In alignment with the Sahara School of Innovation and Extrapreneurship being established, the University of Lagos Entrepreneurship and Skills Development Centre (ESDC), organised the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Business Incubation Certification (EIBIC) program, a five-day program targeting over 11,000 first year students from all faculties.

Sahara Group’s sessions fueled the flame on the topic Green Innovation and Energy Entrepreneurship, the Director of Sustainability and Governance, Ejiro Gray and the Group Head Corporate Communications, Bethel Obioma, led a team of  Saharians with a mission to “engage and elicit” students’ interest towards green innovation.  

Throughout the five-day session, the students learned about Sahara Group’s business operations and a diverse array of topics encompassing Green Innovation and Energy Entrepreneurship. The sessions covered an extensive range of subjects, spanning from renewable energy technologies to sustainable business practices.

The Sahara team shared case studies and stories of successful entrepreneurs, including Sahara Group’s Executive Director, Mr. Temitope Shonubi an alumnus of the University of Lagos. The students were also inspired by the facilitators to apply their newfound knowledge to create impactful sustainable solutions that will address local and global environmental concerns. 

It would therefore be safe to say it was the need to stimulate conversations around innovation and entrepreneurship that formed the fulcrum of engagements at the maiden edition of EIBIC.

Essentially, the EIBIC Programme is aimed at instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in students and guiding them to become business owners and employers of labour before and after graduation. 

The Programme runs concurrently with students’ main course of study, and participants are awarded an additional certificate in entrepreneurship upon graduation.

In her remarks, Gray stated that the need for Innovation is imminent and young people must be engaged to drive future developments through knowledge of emerging global trends and concerns.

She said: “In today’s constantly evolving world, the need for innovators has never been more significant as it is now with environmental challenges and the urgent need for sustainable solutions. 

“Fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among the youth is important in addressing these issues. The youth population can be equipped to recognise, and tackle a range of these challenges spanning from climate change to improving access to quality healthcare, addressing inequality and enhancing educational systems.”

In an interview afterwards, participants of the EIBIC stated that beyond their course of study, the training opened up their minds to problem-solving and independent reasoning.

For  five-year engineering student of the Department of Systems Engineering Ammar Ibrahim, the course shifted his focus from seeing his course of study as the end but as as a means to whatever end he desired. 

“In my course, we were taught how to identify problems, find solutions and stretch the genius of our thinking.

I understand now that as I studied Engineering, that doesn’t mean I must practice as an engineer. I can create and collaborate.”

Another participant, Ms. Inuseria Adeola, a student of the department of Political Science, stated that from the EIBIC, she has “gotten more knowledge and Information about how government policies influence businesses and the plans of entrepreneurs of a country. 

“The three goals to be precise to become an entrepreneur are profits, policies and people. So whatever you want to do as an entrepreneur, in setting up your business, make sure you do consider these”. 

Fireside Chat

Afterwards, Sahara Group hosted a fireside chat for attendees and potential innovators and entrepreneurs. This aspect of the session canvassed the need to champion innovation around renewable energy technologies and sustainable business practices with facilitators charging students to apply their newfound knowledge to create impactful sustainable solutions to address local and global environmental concerns.

According to Ademilola Arogundade, Sahara Strategy Analyst, the group is willing to encourage students who develop projects around green energy with grants to help them scale their research.

He said: “The training they get here will enable them to work on their project so that we can have sustainable energy. They can create. Students can come with their sustainable energy solution and stand to potentially win a grant.

“It is important for the young to know the importance of sustainability because really the world is changing. We want the young to know that this where the world is shifting to. They have to start thinking about sustainability and how green things would be. We have to get the human resource to tap into their thinkings so that they can use their minds to create things that would help Nigeria and Africa.”

Also speaking, Omobolanle Adesulu, Sahara Business Performance Analyst, noted that a key lesson for participants is the impact of climate change on the environment and how intentionality is needed to mitigate its adverse effects. 

“It is important to know the impact of industrialisation on the environment such that whatever we are doing, we ought to be deliberate. We encourage students to bring new ideas and to create new ways to do things,” she added. 

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