Innovation as pathway to unlocking Africa’s potential takes centre stage at UBA Conversations 2023

*L-R: The executive director, Junior Achievement Nigeria, Foluso Gbadamosi; restaurateur and current holder, Guinness World Record for marathon cooking, Hilda Baci; Group Chairman, United Bank for Africa(UBA) Plc, Mr. Tony Elumelu; CEO, UBA Africa, Abiola Bawuah; GMD-CEO, UBA Plc, Mr. Oliver Alawuba; creative director/founder, Banke Kuku Collections, Banke Kuku-Lawson, and group president, Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) Plc, Owen Omogiafo at the UBA Conversations 2023 held in Lagos on Wednesday, May 24 in commemoration of Africa Day.

Ime Akpan

The 2023 edition of UBA Africa Conversations was a unique one as the bank assembled an all-female panel to deliberate virtually on ‘Innovating the continent for growth’ which served as the theme for the event.

The discussants were the executive director, Junior Achievement Nigeria, Foluso Gbadamosi; Akwa Ibom State-born restaurateur and current holder of the Guinness World Record for marathon cooking, Hilda Bassey popularly called Baci, Ghanaian-born first female CEO of UBA, Abiola Bawuah, creative director/founder, Banke Kuku Collections and President/GCEO, Transcorp Plc, Owen Omogiafo.

Speaking on the concept of innovation, the panelists were in unison that stagnation could be detrimental to growth and that achieving organisational and economic growth either as an individual or a collection through innovation is key to Africa’s development in today’s changing and highly competitive world.

They said innovation is often adopted to overcome the challenges brought about by change and urged African youths, especially, to look beyond for there are untapped opportunities they could key to and make the difference.

In her contribution, Baci said innovation takes time and it involves serious thinking in order to come up with something unique.  

“You have to think like an innovator. If something does not last you have to constantly keep on thinking; if you want to survive in your business, you have to constantly keep thinking,” she said.

Baci who broke world record recently by cooking 143 dishes in 100 hours also advised young African entrepreneurs not to lose sight of reading, especially business related ones even if they have financial constraints.

“As a young entrepreneur, even if you do not have money to take a business course, you can read. If you want to survive in the business world, it is important to arm yourself with information and learn, as this will keep you going especially in a world that is constantly changing.

“If you want to survive in the business world, it’s important that you’re constantly thinking of ways to make life easier for the people that you’re providing a service to, or you’re selling a product to,” she added.

In her contribution, Bawuah thanked UBA for creating the opportunity for a female CEO. She said her appointment as the first amazon chief executive officer as an innovation.

She said everywhere she goes, people ask her if she is a Nigerian and how she became the CEO of UBA.

“I often tell them that I’m a Ghanaian and they wonder how come? What has happened in my own case is an innovation, telling the girl child that you can change the narrative. The ceiling has been broken; it is no longer an excuse, we need to seize opportunities, keep moving and be determined,” she said.

She further said UBA is the lead innovator by being the first financial institution to have a board of directors peopled with more females than males.

“When we talk of innovation in Africa, we can bring it back home to UBA. As it stands, we have more female board members than any bank, thanks to the Chairman of the board, Mr. Tony Elumelu, who believes that women can occupy top roles in organisations and excel.

“This is very remarkable, and I know that other organisations have started trying to emulate this. So, by this move, we are leading the positive change in Africa, and this is very laudable,” she added.

For her part, Omogiafo said there is competition but what sets one apart is thinking outside the box.

She said Africa is unique and there is the need to be innovative in order to be competitive.

“Where else can you get the kind of returns you get in Africa? We have huge opportunities, deep cultural roots, hard-working people, and all that is needed is to tap into the vast opportunities that we have on this continent.”

She maintained that Africa is an untapped Eden and advised young people to be diligent, focused and always ready to learn new skills that would empower them economically.

“In the continent, we indeed still have a lot of untapped opportunities. When you come to banking, they tell you about the unbanked. We’ve seen fintech companies springing up today. Why are they springing up? It is because there is an opportunity. I want to tell the young Africans that Africa is a place to be but you should understand something that nobody is going to give it to you on a platter of gold. You must have a vision, work hard, discipline yourself, and learn,” she said.

She also spoke about various innovative projects of Transcorp group in hospitality, energy and power, and the disruptive tendencies of those investments.

She said the concept of improvement in business is that one identifies gaps in the market, keeps on innovating and reinventing in line with the needs of the people.

For the power sector, specifically, she said the company understood that power has become the lifeblood and is going to be a game changer for Africa development, hence the decision to invest in it.

“We have got to the distribution stage so that the effect will trickle down. We want to improve lives, transform Africa,” Omogiafo declared.

In the hospitality industry, she said Transcorp “has unlocked a new domestic tourism.”

Gbadamosi, popularly called Chief Encouragement Officer, sees herself as a positive force for change.

She encouraged the youths to leverage technology to advance their knowledge on vital skills.

She advocate for the use of technology to drive literacy and business sustainability across Africa.

“There is so much available, via technology. Use it, learn it. There is nothing that is current today that will be so tomorrow. Young people should use their money to learn. Content creation is there untapped; leverage on the benefits of technology,” she advised.

She also challenged the youths to be innovative in thinking because they constitute a majority of Nigeria’s population, for instance.

“We have 70 per cent of Youth population in Nigeria. There is no innovation without 70 per cent. I mean, they are the whole population.  For me, innovation is being very, very intentional about bringing positive change to that 70 per cent so that they can then bring forth what the continent needs,” she said.

Peeping into the future, she said the advent of artificial intelligence means lot of disruptive changes in the tech world.

In her contribution, Lawson-Kuku, said innovation is a continuous process in all aspect of one’s business.

She said evolving new strategies for marketing helped her succeed in the fashion business that was affected during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

She further said success in business requires patience, persistence, and discipline.

“In midst of the pandemic, we had to get online, get a website and to started selling online and it just has to keep moving with life. So you have to be innovative with your design.

‘Also, behind the scenes in terms of production you have to be innovative in terms of how you produce, make sure that your production line really matches your environment,” she added.

In conclusion, Baci advised young entrepreneurs to train their minds.

“You have to train your mind so that it does not work against you. Read about the field you find yourself,” she said.

Bawuah: “My message to the girl child is don’t give excuses. Seize opportunities, be patient and learn continually.”

Earlier in his welcome speech, the GMD of UBA, Mr. Oliver Alawuba said the bank was in the forefront of leading conversations that will result in positive change on the continent, while helping to unlock the vast opportunities waiting to be tapped from Africa.

“This is the time where the beauty, the talent, the culture, the diversity, the warmth of Africa is celebrated. As Africa’s global bank, UBA is committed to helping Africa to become the continent of the future. We take our Pan African-ness seriously, because we believe Africa needs to be celebrated,” he said.

He remarked that the theme for the 2023 edition is apt “because of the challenges and the opportunities that Africa as a continent is faced with.”

He said challenges and opportunities are sitting side by side on the continent.

“We believe there is a thin line between the challenges and opportunities and we are committed to unlock the opportunities to fill up the challenges.

“For us at UBA, we believe to unlock the opportunities; we must empower African women to be critical stakeholders in the development agenda for Africa,” he said.

Alawuba added that there was the need to collaborate and initiate the development Africa and “the time to develop it is now.


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