One of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706-January 17, 1790) stated in one of his numerous quotes that “an investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.” Tapping from this philosophy, Africa’s global bank, United Bank for Africa Plc, has made it a cardinal objective to invest in the ‘knowledge industry’ by making education a critical part of its corporate social responsibility philosophy.
The aim is to bridge the literacy-wide gap on a pan-African scale, stimulate the quest for sound knowledge and arm educational institutions/organizations with support or resources to meet various learning needs as well as equip young people with the critical thinking skills they need to distinguish fact from fiction in today’s world.
Under its Education First Programme for instance, the focus is on rehabilitation of schools, building of hostels, adult literacy programmes, entrepreneurial and job skills training, financial literacy, provision/construction of information, communication technology centres (ICTs), training of teachers, training of students, and awarding scholarships.
In 2015, the bank resuscitated UBA Professorial Chair of Finance at the University of Lagos with an endowment sum of N52.9 million because of its belief that a “well trained and educated manpower is germane to our growth and development as a nation.”
It would be recalled that the bank awarded scholarships to students in the faculty of business administration during the 1969/1970 academic session and in 1972 pioneered efforts to establish the UBA Chair of Finance with an endowment.
Between January and June 2016, the bank made cumulative donation of N91, 846,582 to 17 communities/projects in the environment which it operates.
Some beneficiaries of the donations are National Youth Service Corps, University of Lagos, Performing Arts School of Nigeria, Jesuit Memorial College, Port Harcourt; Babcock University, Lagos Business School, Fountain Heights Secondary School, Lagos, and African University of Science and Technology (AUST)
To drive the education programme, the Foundation believes that strong partnerships can more efficiently and effectively come up with the goods, hence its collaboration with sponsor institutions which share the same ideals to improve the country’s, nay, Africa’s education sector.
Consequently, the Foundation has collaborated with Narita Learning Centre and an acclaimed child expert /psychologist, Derek Jackson, to provide the latest expert advice to school administrators, teachers and parents on parenting and child-raising skills; partnered with McCrae & Co. an educational consultation firm to provide a ‘Study Technology’ workshop to assist public school teachers to acquire new learning techniques and methodologies, and partnered the Lagos State Educational Award for Educational Excellence to provide awards to students and schools deserving of recognition for exceptional academic performance.
Early in the year, the bank launched its maiden edition of Campus Ambassador Programme (CAP) which is meant to “identify young emerging leaders among students of tertiary institutions and give them a unique and highly rewarding learning experience” and “give students a platform to demonstrate leadership as well as build and instill the brand ethos into the consciousness of the youths.”
It inducted the first 15 brand ambassador students who were selected from a pool of 200 students across tertiary institutions.
Their brief? As a bank with strong affiliation to youths, the ambassadors are expected to “propagate UBA’s goodwill messages, ethos, values and what it stands for across the universities.
The 15 ambassadors, who are A-list students in their various institutions, are also expected to develop different initiatives that will be sponsored by the bank and execute various objectives of the bank over the period.
And what’s more, the cohort who serves as bridge between the bank, the students and the school authorities, will, after graduation, form a preferred pool for recruitment consideration.
‘Read Africa’ Project
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994) wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy once said: “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” UBAF’s ‘Read Africa’ initiative was borne out of the need to enlarge children’s world of books and resuscitate the dwindling reading culture among African youths.
Streaming on the Foundation’s website are bold quotable quotes like: “A mind is a wonderful thing to grow”, “We are building a culture of literature in Africa,” and “The power of the future is in today’s books.”
Conceived and introduced in 2011, ‘Read Africa’ involves the provision of recommended English literature textbooks for junior and senior secondary schools students across Africa continent.
“Our children no longer read; their passion for reading informative and educative books is fast eroding and this is part of the ills we want to correct in the continent’s educational sector.
“These children are also distracted and challenged by the presence of other social media —facebook, twitter, yahoo and others. There are other factors militating against Nigerian educational system as well as African countries as a whole,” UBAF explains as the reasons for initiating Read Africa.
It adds: “The strategy of the campaign is to procure classic literature books and pay visits to schools with the management and staff of the Foundation and the parent company. This is also to serve as role models of the society.
“The idea is to leave a good impression and motivate the children during our visits to schools, especially with our top management officers that the children look up to, as role models.
“So, we bring them, these role models that they admire and by so doing, they can easily blend and aspire to be like them through hard work and reading to get more knowledge and be like them. We feel that the impact will be positive.”
The project has been successfully implemented in selected schools across the continent and anchored by senior executives of the bank and the Foundation’s staff who visit various schools in Africa to mentor the students and distribute select literatures to the students at no cost to them.
Lately, the acting chief executive officer of UBAF, Ms. Bola Atta visited the C. William Brumskine elementary school in Monrovia, Liberia to introduce The Fishermen, a book written by Nigeria’s Prof. Chigozie Obioma to pupils.
“We at UBA Foundation are eager to better the lives of people across the continent. I am here to tell you a bit about the importance of reading and how it can change your lives dramatically. Reading will encourage you to dream; it will broaden your knowledge, your vocabulary. You can read yourselves into very successful careers in the future,” she told the children.
She said the Foundation was eager to give back to society and to contribute to creating dynamic educational platforms for future generations on the continent. “The pursuit of knowledge should be a lifelong activity that starts at a very young age. You should read all types of books so that you can explore and shape your own narrative,” she added.
Prior to that, the Foundation gave out Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus to students to inculcate the habit of reading in them.
Wa Thiong’o commended the pan-African bank’s ‘Read Africa’ initiative saying: “Africa must secure its economic, political, psychological and cultural base. We must be strongly rooted our base.
“Reading feeds and nourishes our imagination. The more we read, the more we nourish our imagination and the ability to be creative.”
That UBA is a bank with strong affiliation to youths is also epitomised by the Foundation’s (National) Essay Competition for students of senior secondary schools in Nigeria and other African countries.
Also conceived in 2011, the competition, which is a follow-up to ‘Read Africa’, seeks to promote creative and analytical thinking in senior secondary students in Nigeria.
The programme, tailored for the development of education in all communities of the bank’s operation, has brought succor to parents and their children as it has helped a number of school children realise their educational expectation. Since inception, the competition has produced dozens of winners some of who have either completed studies or are studying in tertiary institutions in Africa.
Interestingly, UBA has not only initiated a helping hand educational programmes, it has also been consistent with them. While many corporate organisations abandon their CSR due to the prevailing economic situation, the bank has remained resolute because “we are an institution that is committed to promoting socio-economic development of Africa, especially in the countries, where UBA operates.”