Interviews

  • Interviews

    An Interview with Senegal’s President, Macky Sall

    Senegal’s President Macky Sall  in a exclusive interview with Patrick Atuanya Editor of BusinessDay and Lehle Balde, Senior Associate BusinessDay, discusses  the AfCFTA, financial inclusion, youth empowerment,  Senegal- Nigeria relations, the economic relationship many French colonies have with France, the newly discovered oil and gas reserves and much more. Excerpts;

    The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55-member States of the African Union. In terms of numbers of participating countries, AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). What has Senegal’s role been in this monumental trade agreement?

     Senegal has held its place during the processes leading to the advent of this historic act, thus confirming our commitment to the achievement of African integration. The Continental Free Trade Area will give, as I recalled at the Niamey Summit, a new impetus to intra-African trade in terms of business opportunities and investment for the private sector and job creation for African youth. Already, during the Dakar Regional Forum on the AfCFTA-West and Central Africa, the Government of Senegal, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN/ECA), the Commission of the African Union and the European Union, worked to create a space for regional and multi-stakeholder dialogue on all the issues related to the implementation of the zone in the French-speaking States of ECOWAS and CEEAC. I must commend the leadership of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in leading the African Union’s important reform agenda to ensure that it responds better to its missions. Similarly, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger successfully led negotiations for the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which gives new impetus to the objective of African integration through investment trade and which was launched at the beginning of July this year. Today, it is time to move forward with the implementation of this Agreement and its additional protocols, and Senegal will not be left behind in this regard.

    You were re-elected in 2019. Congratulations! We are now 3 months into your second term. In what state would you say Senegal is currently and what can the Senegalese people expect in the next 5 years?

    My re-election in the first round with more than 58% of the votes cast, on 24 February 2019, bears the stamp of a record rich in achievements throughout the country, that the Senegalese people have positively sanctioned. It is also an expression of hope, a call to consolidate Senegal’s transformation and to amplify the good performances achieved between 2012 and 2019. For seven years, we have worked to restore our country’s socio-economic balances, territorial equity and social justice; thus, reflecting my ambition of a Senegal of all, a Senegal for all.  Today, Senegal is in a better state than it was in 2012, thanks to the implementation of the Emerging Senegal Plan, a unique public policy framework. Naturally, beyond the strengthening of governance achievements, the reforms and strategic choices implemented aim to broaden and strengthen Senegal’s productive capacities and universal access for populations to water, sanitation, electrification, collective mobility, health, sports, culture and education.

    Moreover, in its Phase II, the Emerging Senegal Plan is being implemented through 5 major initiatives that will enable us to better prepare Senegal for the future, all of which are responses to the challenges of our time and the challenges of human modernity. I am referring to the employment of young Senegalese through the promotion and development of entrepreneurship, the social and solidarity economy for the empowerment of Senegalese women, the strengthening of human capital with a view to the trade skills and competences of the future, the reforestation of the territory to face climate change and improve the living conditions of Senegalese people, industrialization with greater involvement of the national and international private sector in terms of productive investment.

    Since 2012, you have managed to attract billions of dollars in investment, including from China, for your Emerging Senegal Plan and overseen average annual growth of about 6 percent? In your view, what is the key to effective governance?

    It is the choice of transparency and my determination to promote a new culture, that of sober and virtuous governance driven by the fight against corruption and all the scourges that could compromise the business environment.

    It is also an illustration of Senegal’s great tradition of cooperation, marked by the security of transactions and the stability of relations. My vision of an emerging Senegal is supported and shared by the partners who support us in achieving our ambition. It is implemented through projects that contain all the guarantees in terms of diligent execution, economic profitability, and social utility. The first generation of reforms of the ESP has supported the growth of more than 6 per cent of the Senegalese economy for more than three consecutive years. The effectiveness of our governance, the stability of our democratic system and the massive investment in infrastructures are real “magnets” for foreign direct investment, which is now very diversified, with a breakthrough by the the People’s Republic of China, which has chosen to make Senegal a reference partner, given its comparative advantages and its geographical position.

    What has been the biggest challenges in developing your emerging Senegal vision and executing the Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP)?

    The first challenge was consensus. The ESP addressed that challenge by taking into account all the strategic documents whose objective was to propose a logical framework for building Senegal’s development and drew a rich and useful synthesis. Then the other challenge is the pursuit of good governance; governance that is both sober and virtuous, which puts the interests of our country first. At the same time, we also needed to build confidence among Senegalese people about our ability and determination to reform Senegal with them, to enable it to regain productivity and competitiveness, and to restore confidence among technical, financial and private sector partners. We have rationalized public spending by increasing its efficiency. Thus, beyond economic imperatives, my vision of an emerging Senegal is supported by programs with a strong social impact, such as the Emergency Community Development Programme (PUDC), the national family security scholarship program, which has enabled 400,000 households to benefit from a quarterly allocation of CFAF 25,000 (approximately USD 50), universal health coverage (CMU) and the emergency program for the modernization of Senegalese access borders (PUMA). This territorial approach to public policies remains, in my opinion, for Senegal and Africa, a development model for creating the conditions for shared economic prosperity, collective development and social justice in both rural and urban areas. Today, this is an approach that Senegalese have made their own and from which they expect a lot, given their impatient demands.

    With the discovery of oil and gas reserves in Senegal, how prepared is Senegal for this potentially game-changing new revenue-generating economy that could also be disruptive for the Senegalese people? Do you have any concerns?

     The Government of Senegal, under my leadership, has been proactive and diligent in this regard. Today, Senegal has the advantage of having taken, well before the discoveries were announced, the useful and relevant measures to make the oil sector a reference model in terms of governance and transparency by joining, on my decision, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. In Senegal, natural resources belong to the people and not to the State. I had it enshrined in the Senegalese Constitution following the referendum in March 2016. I have also created a Strategic Orientation Committee on Oil and Gas Issues (COS-Petrogaz) composed of representatives of all the institutions of the Republic, actors in the sector and which will welcome members of the opposition and civil society. I proposed a law which was passed to allow national companies to benefit from the exploitation phase. The oil code has been revised to adapt it to the new Senegalese context with new provisions that better protect the country’s interests. The resources derived from oil and gas will be used to finance Senegal’s socio-economic development and a significant part of those resources will be reserved for future generations, within the framework of an income distribution law. This is the integrity and governance framework for the sector. I have given the Government of Senegal all the instructions required to build a well-functioning oil economy and a viable ecosystem that will be based on the National Oil and Gas Institute that I have created. Best practices are being tested and the first results promise good prospects for leading us to emergence before 2035. I am also very pleased with the cooperation between Senegal and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. With these discoveries, on both sides of our border, we have been able, based on good neighbor relations and the shared destiny of our two peoples, to build an intelligent partnership for the exploitation of these resources. Everyone knows that in Africa, border and resource exploitation issues are essential sources of conflict. Our two countries have joined forces, in partnership with BP, to ensure that the resources straddling this area are an additional link, in addition to the multifaceted and centuries-old relations that unite us, since Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, and Guinea have been jointly exploiting the Senegal River basin for several years through the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River. These examples of partnerships in Africa are to be welcomed.

    Senegal is widely considered to have always had a stable democracy in a region plagued by military coups, civil wars, and ethnic conflicts. It’s been considered an “exception” in West Africa. Can you speak to how this has been achieved? What can other African neighbors adopt from this unique Senegalese democracy?

     Senegal is an old democracy. We have been voting since 1848 under colonial rule, particularly in the municipalities of Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis whose citizens were considered French nationals. The integral multiparty system is a living reality in Senegal since 1974, with its virtues and excesses. We are one and the same people. Senegal has experienced two peaceful democratic changes thanks to the maturity of the people, in a calm and transparent manner. Democratic expression is plural; there is no threat to individual freedoms and institutions function democratically. Our experience is based on the acceptance of the rules of the democratic game, electoral competition and the quality of our electoral system, which can certainly be improved, but has proven its worth.  In addition, Senegal is a country of dialogue and I have established dialogue and consultation as a mode of governance to prevent conflicts and to keep together the democratic promise alive.

    Senegal features a broad and diverse financial landscape, in which people tend to use a combination of different financial institutions, both formal and informal, digital and non-digital. What is your plan to bridge the financial inclusion gap in Senegal?

     Financial inclusion is a political imperative as part of my vision of a Senegal of all and a Senegal for all. It is at the heart of our economic system and from this point of view, there can be no Senegalese excluded from the traditional financing system. Senegal’s development integrates all components of society and more particularly rural populations. And I have chosen to focus on the social and solidarity economy by creating decentralized financing mechanisms that have made it possible to completely change the national economy. Today, in Senegal, we are talking about solidarity economy and innovative financing to support economic activity through the Delegation for the Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth. Through the combination of the development of digital technologies and access to finance for young people and women, Senegal is winning the battle for its development through entrepreneurship, which is recognized as essential to the dynamics of growth and job creation.

    How can Senegal and Nigeria work together and expand the trade, economic relations and investment in roads, transports, agriculture’s, energy and high-tech education within the member states?

     The Dakar-Abuja axis forms a central pivot around which major articulations of the community integration process radiate. Strengthening our cooperation in all areas and integrating our major infrastructure, education, health, energy, and other projects is an absolute necessity, especially in the perspective of the African common market. The competitiveness of our sub-region in the wider Africa region requires a convergence of our priorities and economic choices.

    Senegal

    The Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo and The President Macky Sall of Senegal

     France has been holding a great percentage of the national reserves of fourteen African countries since 1961: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Many find this to be a cause for concern. What are your thoughts on this?

     We have a long tradition of partnership with France and, in view of these historical ties, some people have the impression that France is taking over the Senegalese economy. This is not the case. France is a privileged partner. There is no French exclusivity in Senegal. Our country is open to all partnerships if they are mutually beneficial. China, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Brazil and the United States of America are all partners with whom we maintain friendly cooperation with quite a few concrete achievements. And this cooperation has not affected our relationship with France.

     ECOWAS Heads of State have agreed to adopt the “ECO” as the new common currency from 2020. Some critics say that it is still the “CFA” under a different name! Would you enlighten our readers on what will be the real advantages of this new currency?                                    

    In the context of globalization, African economies are expected to undergo extremely important changes. In the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) region, the coexistence of several currencies could constitute an obstacle to the development of intra-country trade. The CFA (Communauté Financière d’Afrique) currency has a singular history, as a link between France and its former colonies in West and Central Africa. The regional integration process can easily be accommodated in a common currency in accordance with the convergence criteria. It is not about creating a currency just because it must be created. The CFA, its fixed parity and convertibility are parameters to be considered in order to move to a common currency in a wider area, as we are already doing within WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union) with bold policies to meet the convergence criteria and deadlines, which I consider essential.

     Finally, what is your vision and hope for the Senegalese youth who constitute the majority of the population?

    As part of the political initiative called Emerging Senegal Plan / Youth Priority 2035, I have chosen to invest in the future through education and training, employment and entrepreneurship, health and sport as mechanisms for social inclusion, creativity, culture, and citizenship. This means that the Senegalese youth is an absolute priority in the implementation of public policies. As such, education, vocational training and employment are the markers of my youth policy. Between 2012 and 2018, the Public Administration and the private sector created more than 491,000 jobs, not counting the jobs created in the agricultural and informal sectors.

    I am aware of the opportunities that self-employment offers both in the fight against unemployment and underemployment. I have therefore created, in December 2017, the General Delegation for Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth (Der/fj) with a budget of 30 billion CFA francs. The mission of the DER is to help women and young people aged 20 to 40 to find financing throughout the country, to enable them to access decent and sustainable employment.

    In addition, as part of the employability of young people, I plan to implement, in the next two years, a CFA franc 80 billion program to promote their professional integration by strengthening the availability of training infrastructures through the upgrading and construction of technical and vocational high schools, the establishment of clusters, vocational training and the construction of business training centers.

    In this same dynamic, I do not forget the young Senegalese engaged in non-formal learning and will support them with a 20 billion CFA francs program. It is about giving them scholarships to help them be trained in their chosen field. My ambition is to ensure, in the medium term, the training of 100,000 young Senegalese to provide our companies with quality human resources that are qualified enough to support them in their investment and job creation programs. From the perspective of the oil and gas exploitation, young Senegalese people will be at the heart of the development of our local content. In addition, an intergenerational fund has been set up to address concerns related to the needs of young people.

    (This interview was done in part by Ms Lehle Balde for BusinessDay Media,read the french version here)

  • Interviews

    Une interview avec le president du Senegal Macky Sall

    La Zone de libre-échange continentale africaine (ZLEAC) couvrira un marché de 1,2 milliard de personnes et un produit intérieur brut (PIB) de 2,5 billions de dollars, dans les 55 États membres de l’Union africaine. En termes de nombre de pays participants, l’AfCFTA sera la plus grande zone de libre-échange du monde depuis la création de l’Organisation mondiale du commerce. Quel a été le rôle du Sénégal dans cet accord commercial monumental?

    Le Sénégal a été à sa place et a bien tenu son rang, pour l’avènement de cet acte historique, confirmant ainsi, notre engagement à la réalisation de l’intégration africaine. La Zone de Libre Echange Continentale donnera, comme je l’ai rappelé lors du sommet de Niamey, un nouvel élan au commerce intra-africain en termes d’opportunités d’affaires et d’investissements pour le secteur privé  et de création d’emplois pour la jeunesse africaine. Déjà, lors du Forum régional de Dakar sur la ZLECAf-Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre, le Gouvernement du Sénégal, en relation avec la Commission économique pour l’Afrique (CEA), la Commission de l’Union Afrique et l’Union Européenne, a travaillé à la création d’un espace de dialogue régional et multi-acteurs autour de l’ensemble des enjeux liés à la mise en œuvre de la zone dans les Etats francophones de la CEDEAO et la CEEAC. Je dois saluer le leadership du Président Paul Kagamé du Rwanda dans la conduite de l’important dossier de réforme de l’Union Africaine pour qu’elle réponde mieux à ses missions. De même, le Président Mahamadou Issoufou du Niger a su mener avec succès, les négociations pour la création de la Zone de libre Echange Continentale Africaine qui donne un nouvel élan à l’objectif d’intégration africaine par le commerce de l’investissement et dont le lancement a eu lieu au début du mois de juillet de cette année. Aujourd’hui il convient d’aller de l’avant dans la mise en œuvre de cet Accord et ses protocoles additionnels et dans ce cadre, le Sénégal ne sera pas en reste.

    Vous avez été réélu en mars 2019. Toutes nos félicitations ! Trois mois  se sont écoulés depuis votre réélection. A votre avis, dans quel état se trouve actuellement le Sénégal et à quoi le peuple sénégalais peut-il s’attendre dans les cinq prochaines années?

    Ma réélection dès le premier tour avec plus de 58 % des suffrages exprimés, le 24 février 2019 porte l’empreinte d’un bilan riche de réalisations à l’échelle du territoire national que les Sénégalais ont positivement sanctionné. Elle est également l’expression d’un espoir,  d’un appel à consolider la transformation du Sénégal et à amplifier les bonnes performances réalisées entre 2012 et 2019. Sept ans durant, nous avons travaillé à redresser notre pays, à restaurer les équilibres socio-économiques, l’équité territoriale et la justice sociale ; traduisant par là mon ambition d’un Sénégal de tous, un Sénégal pour tous.  Aujourd’hui, le Sénégal est dans un meilleur état qu’en 2012, à la faveur de la mise en œuvre du Plan Sénégal Emergent, référentiel unique des politiques publiques. Naturellement, au delà du renforcement des acquis sur le plan de la gouvernance,  les réformes et les choix stratégiques mis en œuvre ont pour finalité d’élargir et de renforcer les capacités productives du Sénégal, les accès universels pour les populations en matière d’eau, d’assainissement,  d’électrification, de mobilité collective, de santé, d’éducation de sport et de culture. Par ailleurs, dans sa phase II, le Plan Sénégal Emergent est décliné à travers 5 grandes initiatives qui nous permettront de mieux  préparer le Sénégal face à l’avenir et qui sont toutes, autant de réponses aux défis de notre époque et aux enjeux d’une modernité humaine. Je veux parler de l’emploi des jeunes Sénégalais à travers la promotion et le développement de l’entreprenariat, de l’économie sociale et solidaire pour l’autonomisation des femmes Sénégalaises, du renforcement du capital humain en perspective des métiers du futur,  de la reforestation du territoire pour faire face au changement climatique et améliorer le cadre de vie des Sénégalais, de l’industrialisation avec une plus grande implication du secteur privé national et international en termes d’investissement productifs.

    Mademoiselle Lehle Balde avec le president du Senegal Macky Sall

     

    Depuis 2012, vous avez réussi à attirer des milliards de dollars d’investissements, y compris en provenance de la Chine, pour votre Plan Sénégal Emergent avec une croissance annuelle moyenne d’environ 6 % ? Selon vous, quelle est la clé d’une gouvernance efficace ?

    C’est le choix de la transparence et ma détermination à promouvoir une culture nouvelle, celle de la  gouvernance sobre et vertueuse portée par la lutte contre la corruption et tous les fléaux qui pourraient compromettre l’environnement des affaires. C’est aussi l’illustration de la grande tradition de coopération du Sénégal, marquée par la sécurité des transactions et la stabilité des relations. Ma vision d’un Sénégal émergent est soutenue et partagée par les partenaires  qui nous accompagnent dans la réalisation de  notre ambition. Elle est déclinée à travers des projets qui renferment toutes les garanties en termes d’exécution diligente, de rentabilité économique et d’utilité sociale. Les réformes de première génération du PSE ont permis de soutenir depuis plus de trois ans, une croissance de plus de 6%. L’efficacité de notre gouvernance, la stabilité de notre système démocratique et l’investissement massif dans le domaine des infrastructures sont de véritables « aimants » pour l’investissement direct étranger, aujourd’hui très diversifié, avec une belle percée de la République Populaire de Chine, qui a choisi de faire du Sénégal, un partenaire de référence, eu égard à ses avantages comparatifs et à sa position géographique.

    Quels ont été les plus grands défis à relever pour développer votre vision d’un Sénégal émergent et mettre en œuvre le Plan Sénégal émergent ?

    Le premier défi a été celui du consensus. Le PSE l’a relevé en prenant en compte tous les documents stratégiques dont l’objectif était de proposer un cadre logique pour construire le développement du Sénégal et il en a  tiré une synthèse riche et utile. Ensuite la bonne gouvernance, une gouvernance à la fois sobre et vertueuse, qui met en avant les intérêts de notre pays. Il fallait aussi, dans le même mouvement, mettre en confiance les Sénégalais sur notre capacité et ma détermination à réformer le Sénégal avec eux, pour lui permettre de renouer avec la productivité et la compétitivité, et de restaurer la confiance les Partenaires techniques et financiers et du secteur privé. Nous avons rationalisé les dépenses publiques en augmentant leur efficacité. Ainsi, au-delà des impératifs économiques, ma vision du Sénégal émergent est portée par des programmes à fort impact social à l’image Programme d’urgence de développement communautaire (PUDC), du programme national de Bourses de sécurité familiale qui a permis à 400.000 ménages de bénéficier d’une allocation trimestrielle de 25.000 FCFA,  de la Couverture maladie universelle (CMU), du programme d’urgence de modernisation des axes frontaliers (PUMA). Cette approche territoriale des politiques publique reste, à mon sens, pour le Sénégal et l’Afrique,  un modèle de développement pour créer les conditions d’une prospérité économique partagée, d’un épanouissement collectif, et d’une justice sociale aussi bien en milieu rural qu’en milieu urbain. C’est aujourd’hui, une démarche que les sénégalais se sont appropriés et de laquelle ils attendent beaucoup, au regard des demandes impatientes.

    Avec la découverte de réserves de pétrole et de gaz au Sénégal, dans quelle mesure le Sénégal est-il préparé à cette nouvelle donne économique qui a le potentiel de générer des revenus pour le pays mais également occasionner des bouleversements de portée sociétale? Avez-vous des inquiétudes?

    Le Gouvernement du Sénégal, sous mon impulsion a fait preuve d’anticipation et de diligence en la matière. Aujourd’hui le Sénégal a l’avantage d’avoir pris,  bien avant l’annonce des découvertes, les dispositions utiles et pertinentes pour faire du secteur pétrolier, un modèle de référence en matière de gouvernance et de transparence en adhérant sur ma décision, à l’Initiative pour la Transparence dans les Industries Extractives. Au Sénégal, les ressources naturelles appartiennent au peuple et non à l’Etat. Je l’ai fait inscrire dans la Constitution sénégalaise à l’issue du référendum de mars 2016. J’ai également créé un Comité d’orientation stratégique chargé des questions de pétrole et de gaz (COS-Petrogaz) composé de représentants de toutes les institutions de la République, des acteurs du secteur et qui va accueillir des membres de l’opposition et de la société civile. J’ai fait voter une loi sur le contenu local pour permettre aux entreprises nationales de tirer profit de la phase d’exploitation. Le code pétrolier a été revu pour être adapté au nouveau contexte du Sénégal avec de nouvelles dispositions protégeant davantage les intérêts du pays. Les ressources tirées du pétrole et du gaz serviront à financer le développement socio-économique du Sénégal et une part importante de celles-ci sera réservée aux générations futures, dans le cadre d’une loi sur la répartition des revenus. Voilà le cadre d’intégrité et de gouvernance du secteur. J’ai donné au gouvernement du Sénégal toutes les instructions requises pour construire une économie pétrolière performante et un écosystème viable qui prendra appui sur l’Institut National du Pétrole et du gaz que j’ai créé. Les meilleures pratiques sont en train d’être expérimentées et les premiers résultats augurent de belles perspectives pour nous conduire, avant 2035 vers l’émergence. Par ailleurs, je me réjouis grandement de la coopération entre le Sénégal et la République Islamique de Mauritanie. Avec ces découvertes, de part et d’autre de notre frontière, nous avons su, sur la base des relations de bon voisinage et du destin partagé de nos deux peuples, bâtir un partenariat intelligent pour l’exploitation de ces ressources. Tout le monde sait qu’en Afrique, les enjeux liés aux frontières et à l’exploitation des ressources sont des sources essentielles de conflits. Nos deux pays se sont associés, en partenariat avec BP,  pour que les ressources à cheval sur cette zone soient un trait d’union de plus, qui s’ajoute aux relations multiformes et multiséculaires qui nous unissent, puisque le Sénégal, la Mauritanie, le Mali et la Guinée exploitent en commun, depuis plusieurs années le bassin du fleuve Sénégal, à travers l’Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Sénégal. Il convient de saluer ces exemples de partenariats en Afrique.

    Le Sénégal est largement considéré comme une démocratie stable depuis longtemps dans une région en proie à des coups d’État militaires, des guerres civiles et des conflits ethniques. Le Sénégal est considéré comme une “exception” en Afrique de l’Ouest. Pouvez-vous nous dire comment cela a été réalisé ? Qu’est-ce que les autres voisins africains peuvent apprendre de l’expérience démocratique Sénégalaise?

    Le Sénégal est une vieille démocratie. Nous  votons depuis 1848 sous la période coloniale, notamment au sein des Communes de Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque et Saint-Louis. Le multipartisme intégral  est une réalité vivante au Sénégal, avec ses vertus, ses excès et ses outrances. Nous sommes un seul et même peuple. Le Sénégal a connu deux alternances démocratiques  pacifiques grâce à la maturité du peuple, dans le calme et la transparence. L’expression démocratique est plurielle ; il n’y a aucune menace sur les libertés individuelles et les Institutions fonctionnent de manière démocratique. Notre expérience s’appuie sur l’acceptation des règles du jeu démocratique,  de la compétition électorale et de la qualité de notre système électoral, perfectible certes, mais éprouvé.  En plus, le Sénégal est un pays de dialogue et j’ai érigé le dialogue et la concertation en mode de gouvernance afin de prévenir les conflits et tenir tous ensemble, la promesse démocratique.

    Senegal features a broad and diverse financial landscape, in which people tend to use a combination of different financial institutions, both formal and informal, digital and non-digital. What is your plan to bridge the financial inclusion gap in Senegal?

     Financial inclusion is a political imperative as part of my vision of a Senegal of all and a Senegal for all. It is at the heart of our economic system and from this point of view, there can be no Senegalese excluded from the traditional financing system. Senegal’s development integrates all components of society and more particularly rural populations. And I have chosen to focus on the social and solidarity economy by creating decentralized financing mechanisms that have made it possible to completely change the national economy. Today, in Senegal, we are talking about solidarity economy and innovative financing to support economic activity through the Delegation for the Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth. Through the combination of the development of digital technologies and access to finance for young people and women, Senegal is winning the battle for its development through entrepreneurship, which is recognized as essential to the dynamics of growth and job creation.

     

    Le Sénégal est caractérisé par un paysage financier large et diversifié, dans lequel les gens ont tendance à utiliser une combinaison de différentes institutions financières, tant formelles qu’informelles, numériques et non numériques. Quel est votre plan pour combler le fossé de l’inclusion financière au Sénégal?

    L’inclusion financière est un impératif politique dans le cadre de ma vision d’un Sénégal de tous et d’un Sénégal pour tous. Elle est cœur de notre système économique et de ce point de vue, il ne saurait y avoir de Sénégalaises ou de Sénégalais exclus du système de financements classiques. Le développement du Sénégal intègre toutes les composantes de la société et plus particulièrement les populations rurales. Et j’ai fait le choix de miser sur l’économie sociale et solidaire  en créant des mécanismes décentralisés de financement qui ont permis de changer complètement l’économie nationale. Aujourd’hui, on parle au Sénégal d’économie solidaire et de financements innovants pour soutenir l’activité économique à travers la Délégation à l’Entreprenariat Rapide des Femmes et des Jeunes. Grâce la combinaison entre le développement des technologies numériques et l’accès aux financements au profit des jeunes et des femmes, le Sénégal est en train de gagner la bataille de son développement à travers l’entreprenariat qui est reconnu comme étant essentiel à la dynamique de croissance et de création d’emplois.

    Comment le Sénégal et le Nigeria peuvent-ils travailler ensemble et développer le commerce, les relations économiques et les investissements dans les routes, les transports, l’agriculture, l’énergie et l’enseignement de haute technologie dans notre sous-région?

    L’axe Dakar-Abuja fait partie des articulations majeures du processus d’intégration communautaire. Le renforcement de notre coopération dans tous les domaines et l’intégration de nos grands chantiers d’infrastructures, d’éducation, de santé, d’énergie, entre autres, constituent une nécessité absolue surtout dans la perspective du marché commun africain. La compétitivité de notre sous-région dans le grand ensemble Afrique passe par une convergence de nos priorités et de nos choix économiques.

    La France détient un grand pourcentage des réserves nationales de quatorze pays africains depuis 1961 : Bénin, Burkina Faso, Guinée-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Sénégal, Togo, Cameroun, République centrafricaine, Tchad, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinée équatoriale et Gabon. Nombreux sont ceux qui s’en inquiètent. Qu’en pensez-vous?

    Nous avons une longue tradition de partenariat avec la France. Et au regard de ces relations  historiques, certains ont l’impression qu’elle fait main basse sur l’économie sénégalaise. Ce n’est pas le cas. La France est un partenaire privilégié. Il n’existe pas d’exclusivité française au Sénégal. Notre pays est ouvert à tous les partenariats, pourvu qu’ils soient mutuellement bénéfiques. La Chine, la Turquie, l’Inde, la Malaisie, le Brésil, les Etats Unis d’Amérique sont autant de partenaires avec lesquels nous entretenons une coopération conviviale à la base de certaines de nos réalisations ; sans que cela ne porte préjudice à nos relations avec la France.

     Les chefs d’Etat de la CEDEAO ont convenu d’adopter l'”ECO” comme nouvelle monnaie commune à partir de 2020. Certains critiques disent que c’est encore le “CFA” sous un autre nom ! Pouvez-vous dire quels sont les avantages réels de cette nouvelle monnaie pour notre sous-région?

    Dans le cadre de la mondialisation les économies africaines sont appelées à connaitre des mutations extrêmement importantes. Dans l’espace de la CEDEAO, la cohabitation de plusieurs monnaies pourrait constituer un frein au développement du commerce intra-pays. Le CFA a une histoire à la fois singulière et particulière, comme trait d’union entre la France et ses ex-colonies d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre. Le processus d’intégration régionale peut bien s’accommoder d’une monnaie commune dans le respect des critères de convergence. Il ne s’agit pas de créer une monnaie juste parce qu’il faut le faire. Le CFA, sa parité fixe et sa convertibilité sont des paramètres à prendre en compte pour passer à une monnaie commune dans un espace plus élargi, comme nous le faisons déjà au sein de l’UEMOA avec des politiques hardies pour respecter les critères de convergence et les délais, ce qui me paraît essentiel.

    Enfin, quelle est votre vision et votre espoir pour a jeunesse sénégalaise qui constitue la majeure partie de la population ?

    Dans le cadre de l’initiative politique dénommée PSE Priorité Jeunesse 2035, j’ai fait le choix d’investir dans l’avenir à travers l’éducation et la formation, l’emploi et l’entreprenariat, la santé et le sport comme facteurs d’inclusion sociale, la créativité, la culture et la citoyenneté. C’est vous dire que la jeunesse sénégalaise constitue une priorité absolue dans le cadre de la mise en œuvre des politiques publiques. A ce titre, l’éducation, la formation professionnelle et l’emploi sont les marqueurs de ma politique en direction de la jeunesse. Entre 2012 et 2018, l’Administration publique et le secteur privé ont su créer plus de 491.000 emplois, hors secteur agricole et hors secteur informel.

    Conscient des opportunités qu’offre l’auto-entrepreneuriat à la fois dans la lutte contre le chômage et le sous-emploi, j’ai créé en décembre 2017, la Délégation générale à l’entrepreneuriat rapide des femmes et des jeunes (Der/fj) doté d’un budget de 30 milliards F CFA. La DER a pour mission d’aider les femmes et les jeunes de 20 à 40 ans à trouver des financements sur l’ensemble du territoire national, pour leur permettre d’accéder à un emploi décent et durable.

    Par ailleurs, dans le cadre de l’employabilité des jeunes, je compte mettre en œuvre, dans les deux prochaines années, un programme de 80 milliards FCFA pour favoriser leur insertion professionnelle à travers le renforcement de l’offre d’infrastructures de formation à travers la mise à niveau et la construction de lycées techniques et professionnels, la mise en place de cluster, de formation professionnelle et la construction de centres de formation aux métiers.

    Dans cette même dynamique, je n’oublie pas les jeunes sénégalais engagés dans l’apprentissage non formel avec un programme de 20 milliards. Il s’agit de leur octroyer des bourses pour les aider dans leur formation. Mon ambition est d’assurer, à moyen terme, la formation de 100.000 jeunes sénégalais pour doter nos entreprises de ressources humaines de qualité, aptes à les accompagner dans leurs programmes d’investissement et de création d’emplois.

    Et dans la perspective de l’exploitation du pétrole et du gaz, les jeunes sénégalais seront au cœur du développement du contenu local. Sans compter la mise en place d’un fonds intergénérationnel pour prendre en charge les préoccupations liées aux besoins des jeunes.

    (This interview was done in part by Ms Lehle Balde for BusinessDay Media,read the English here)

     

  • Interviews
    mary dinah

    An Interview with Hospitality Entrepreneur, Mary Dinah

    Mary Dinah founded M.A.D Hospitality, a hospitality consulting firm with particular focus on the management of boutique hotels and service excellence training. The company has since grown and diversified into corporate hotel bookings with international clients that include Fortune 500 companies and more recently the luxury private residences where Naomi Campbell and Roberto Cavalli stayed while visiting Lagos. In this interview with Lehle Balde overlooking the Lagos Lagoon reminiscent of Seattle waterline, the Harvard graduate and founder of Job Link Foundation talked about her new venture as the CEO of Seattle Residences, Luxury Apartments in Victoria Island, Lagos.  Excerpts:
    How did you get started in the hospitality business?
    I have been in hospitality for 18 years, and that has been many years in hospitality for me. I’m quite lucky that I started young. I started at the age of 17 with the Hilton in London. I was the Conference and Banqueting Operator, helping with large meetings and conferences. Hilton is the largest conference and banqueting hotel in Europe, their conferences sits about 3,000 people, we were having really big banquets and awards.
    It’s a big stage to start on. I studied computer science at the University of Nottingham, and immediately after that I did a Masters in Hotel Management. In between the two, I worked with Four Seasons in London, on an internship for four months, after I finished the masters, I joined the Marriot Hotel Group, which offered a fast track to general management and most of my career has been with Marriot.
    I worked in the front office, food, and beverage and I was a chef for some time. In any hotel, you will immerse yourself with foods and beverages; you can’t do without it, from the menus, menu engineering, work with the chefs, during events. I was a breakfast chef, pastry chef, and then I worked with housekeeping. To be able to be a general manager of a hotel, you have to work everywhere. After that, I focused more on sales and marketing and moved to Marriot head office team for sales in central London.
    Shortly after that, I went to Harvard to study entrepreneurship, which pushed me to set up a management company called MAD, which is the hospitality business I have now run for about 10 years. At MAD Hospitality, we do a global distribution system, which is more focused on the technology type of hospitality. MAD Hospitality partners with some of the big names in the industry: we partnered Saver to be their representative in sub-Saharan Africa, so the clients would never see us, but when they book our hotel in Nigeria we are behind it, and then we get fees from it.
    We did a lot with BOA, and also the local banks like First Bank and a couple of other companies, and then we manage hotels, like the Panel Apartment in Abuja, Lagoon Quest in Lagos, Golf and Spa in Abuja, Harold Park Golf Club in Abuja.
    I am now the CEO of Seattle Residence. The first time I came here to visit I just thought it was stunning and beautiful and perfectly in line in terms of what we do at MAD. I thought it was perfect because I’ve worked with executive apartments before, which is what this is: luxury, extended stay, serviced apartments. There are normal apartments, but you can rent them on a nightly rate or a yearly rate, like three months, six months, it’s funny that they say short-stay because it’s actually long-stay for hotels. It’s important to know what the differences are between nightly guest and people that stay for longer in serviced apartments; the housekeeping is different, the attention to detail is different, the service and the whole feel is more homely, it is genuinely a home away from home. To the extent that we don’t even say “home away from home”, we say “your Lagos home”. It’s where you call home in the city.
    It’s usually for people that travel a lot either local or international, people who want the opportunity to come and go as they please and know that everything is sorted for them, and even at their request, we can even clean their apartment daily while they are away and keep it exactly how they want it.

    How do you see Seattle Residences contributing to Nigeria’s tourism? How are you able to impact the tourism industry?

    In terms of what we bring to tourism, one of the reasons I moved back to Nigeria is because I wanted to make an impact on the hospitality and tourism industry in Nigeria. I had all this experience quite young, I moved back about seven years ago, but I’m still very much in London, we are working with our hotel groups here, it’s my country, Nigeria, and I want to make a key the difference, a key contribution to the industry.

    The industry is still very young, very much in its infant stage. In 2010, we only had about four internationally branded hotels in Nigeria. I moved back to Nigeria, I joined the 4 Points as their head of marketing for all the Starward Hotel in Nigeria, so that’s 4 Points Lagos, Sheraton Ikeja, Sheraton Abuja, Le Meridien Port Harcourt, Le Meridien Akwa-Ibom, which is a golf resort, so I was shuffling through the five, and reporting to our head office for Africa, which is in Brussels.
    The marketing hub for Europe, Africa, the Middle East, which is the London Park Lane, so I was shuffling between the two, and it was a perfect job for me because I could perfectly connect everything that I was learning and what the company was doing in Europe with what they were doing here, and I was employed to bridge the gap and make sure that marketing concepts and promotion are exactly the same as what they do everywhere else in the world, that was what I did on that role.
    I took a break from managing my own company to take on that role, now after three years, I went back to manage my hospitality company and we are managing various hotels. I think it was a necessary role for me because I learned a lot, and it put me in good stead to do everything that I’m doing now.
    Going back to what we want to bring to the industry, we want to show a world class property, we do a lot of service excellence training, for me, the service quality in Lagos, Nigeria is not as it should be.
    I think that Nigerians are very hospitable, some of the most hospitable people in the world, and it comes naturally, we are very community-based, very family oriented, even in my language in Yoruba, when people are eating, they say in Yoruba “e wa jeun” (come and eat), they say “you meet me well, come and join,” and when you say no, they say bring a fork.
    They are very hospitable, you have your family around, it is all-normal and that’s how the culture is. It is not that way in other cultures, neighbours don’t just smile at each other just because they are neighbours; they just walk past.
    Some cultures are very conservative and they all keep to themselves, mind their business, and even siblings don’t necessary live together, even parents, when they are older, are moved into homes, as opposed to our culture where you move them to your home. I think we are very hospitable, but we somehow haven’t learned fully how to make it work, how to commercialise that hospitality, and so that is what I want to bring into the Nigerian culture, to show that we are hospitable, we are happy, smiley, friendly and warm, we are very social, we like to host, we like to welcome people it’s who we are and I want to make sure that we showcase who we are.
    The trainings that I do is to bring it out of them, it is not to teach them anything new because it comes naturally to them, it’s to encourage them to keep that attitude when they work in the hospitality industry, to work with it, and be able to welcome people the way they would in their own homes.

    One of the issues people complain about a lot in the hospitality industry is Service. What brings the difference in how you train your staff?

    There is a very big difference. Almost all of the excellence training service that I’ve heard about in Nigeria is classroom based, and I do mine differently. It’s always on the job because service is a verb, it’s a doing word. When you give service, it’s an action, an act or a facial expression or a smile. It’s something that you do, it’s not cognitive and it’s not academic as something might be in other industries.

    In hospitality, it’s very much action, so I don’t see the point in people sitting down and telling them this is how you should greet a guest, I would rather go to the front office and sit with them and say just continue, act like I’m not here and when they greet the guest and the guest goes, I say OK that was good, but you know the guest was holding a baby, did you ask if she needs a cot or it’s a businessman and he was holding a suit, did you ask him if he needs an ironing service, does he need a car to work.
    The anticipatory service, the things that you look out for to think beyond what they’ve asked you to try and help them put together the things they’ve not even expressed, by the time they express it, it’s already a complain, or at least they are prompting you to do something. They would rather that you plan for them and ask them what they would want, based on cues that they’ve already given, the things that they need. That goes into going the extra mile for the guest, going into anticipating their needs goes into making their stay more memorable, more comfortable.
    Hospitality goes as far back as biblical days; I’m a Christian and the bible talks about being warm to strangers in your community. For me, in terms of growing up in the church, every time they talk about hospitality in the Bible, there are so many stories about people welcoming others.

    What is your favourite story about hospitality in the Bible?

    There is a story about a man that welcomed a person into his home, and so doing welcomes an angel, and that angel then turns his life around. And the concept of it is, you never know who you welcome into your door or city, but there are many stories about being kind to strangers.
    I’ve thought about this for many years and I realised that travel comes with its own stress, no matter how luxurious the hotel, no matter how warm your smile, for me I’m not so interested in Economy, first-class, business-class or private jet. I can sit anywhere because everyone is still going through a travel process and it’s not the most pleasant of things, even if you sit in first-class, it’s all nice and all but there is the cabin pressure.
    I did a module in a course in school on travel catering and what it takes to get them food on a plane, the air has to be sucked out so the food can stay fresh, that’s why when they bring it, it’s all packed in the foil. It takes a lot to get it on the plane and it has to wait for possible overnight for the flight, for you to open it and it’s still fresh. It’s never perfect, it’s never restaurant quality, and it’s getting better with technology.
    Everything about travel, from the airport to the car pick-up, comes with its own stress and it’s very growling. It is important that we go the extra mile for everyone you see that checks-in especially if they come from abroad, they are going through a lot already even if they flew first-class or enter a limousine and they open the car door, it’s a whole journey and they might have been on the road for 12 hours before you see them, you don’t know what they’ve been through, who they left at home.
    The hotel that I started with at the Marriot, we had people who lived in New York and worked in London, every Monday they were in London and every Friday they flew out. It’s a lot deeper than people think, and how people write letters and say this whole trip for me was problematic and difficult, I just got a divorced, or I just moved home, I just had a baby, or I just got this job, reading those letters, and they mention how good the hotel service was or mention other people’s name or even your name and when your name is mentioned, you get employee of the month.
    Those early days in hospitality, I realised this is so much more than just my passion for hospitality and it has a lot to do with real impact in people’s lives and people’s lives are much better because of me.  When you individualize it, you realize that your job is so much more than you. I would liken it to the work that nurses do, it’s far more than just that, the experience with people, sleeping in hospitals, being admitted or just visiting for the day, it’s such a crucial time in their life and they will always look back to the caregivers, so we are caregivers as well.
    I see hospitality within hotels as that service, people argue sometimes that it’s different because it’s expensive, and it’s 5-star. It’s so much more than just giving luxury, the champagne, the tea, the $1000 suite and things like that, but when you go beneath the surface we are caregivers, whether it’s in the hospital, or in a home, or a luxury hotel, it’s the same thing, we see the same people, just at different times of their lives and the care that we give them is just as crucial as anyone else.
    So, that type of mentality and concept is embedded in the training that I give to the staff and I think that that’s what makes the service here different, and I think that because I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about the team and our service, and everything from the security.
    The rest of the directors and I spend a lot of time training the security staff members, standing with them outside not in the classroom. We always have a classroom training for maybe 2 hours to discuss, where we share some videos, presentations, the rest of the one-week training is hands-on training and I think that’s what makes the big difference.
    Also, the type of properties that we manage: I’m very lucky to have fantastic owners, they really understand hospitality, they shared the vision that they wanted to create, it was spot-on the type of company and hospitality service that I wanted to put together and provide, so it’s a perfect team from the start.
    So, when I explain we need to employ a certain number of people, they say go ahead, or we need to invest this much in training, they say go ahead. Their attention to detail and their understanding of it is far deeper than all the previous owners, I’ve worked with, from the quality of the hand towels to the scent of the candles and all of the equipment that we put in our wellness centres, everything has to be world-class. All of the equipment at the gym, our interior design option is the best, we appreciate indigenous, so we always look for the best indigenous companies. If for any reason we can’t find it, then we go abroad. They want local luxury. It’s a Nigerian hotel and we want Nigerians to have it at the best, but at the same time, we don’t discriminate.
    We have a lady from Senegal as our restaurant manager, the front office manager is from the Philippines, and our lifestyle manager is from India. I think I am GM or CEO of the top hotels in Nigeria that is Nigerian; all of the other GMs are foreign. Sheraton came to Nigeria in 1985 and they’ve never had a Nigerian GM, so it is great to say that I am the first lady to not only become the GM & CEO of the management company but also heading the whole operations; it shows that Nigerians can do it, you just need to get the right Nigerians and support them to do it.

    How would you say the government is supporting Nigeria’s tourism business? What’s your take on the government efforts to improve tourism in Nigeria?

    At the moment, we are in-between governments, we have our new Governor-elect, and I’ve met with him several times. He, in particular, wants to focus on tourism, which is refreshing. I was an ambassador of tourism for about two years and we were able to do some projects on beach renovations.

    I also did a lot of consulting in terms of the service industry, hotels, customer service, and hospitality. With Sanwo-Olu coming in, I think he is going to put a lot of focus on it and prioritise it to the extent of what the budget will allow. He is trying to make some moves in tourism, and I’m sure that we’ll work together. He is interested with projects that come with their own funding, and for me, that’s as much as you can expect from the government.
    In that regard, they’ve been very supportive, however but the budget is not always adequate.  If you have a proposal and you take it to the Ministry of Tourism, if you have your own funding, they would almost always help you execute it and give a letter that they are endorsing it. Unfortunately, you can’t really ask for more than that.
    I think the problem we have a lot of times in Nigeria is that people expect the government to be a bank, so their focus is to meet government for money, but my own focus is to create money from private sector, banks or international lenders and then go to the government to partner.
    So, what they can contribute can to do a large-scale training in security for instance: in terms of venue (because they have a lot of training centres) in that sense, they are always very supportive. Funding not so much, because they don’t really have it and there are so many issues with corruption and things like that, so I even prefer that they just support, and put their logo on your project, it goes a long way.
    I think that in the new administration, Sanwo-Olu is going to be even more supportive and more open-minded because he has had a lot of exposure, and for tourism, and that is what you need. You need an experienced leader to say this isn’t the way things should be.
    It is basic, maybe I will speak to him about this, for example, Lagos’ nightlife. We have a very buzzing nightlife. London has a great nightlife, but Lagos is different, the weather is warm and we need more security at night. There is no reason why we can’t have one policeman every 100 metres between Adeola Odeku and Akin Adesola.
    There was a time streets were not lit and it was dark, the street lighting was not consistent, and if it’s not lit up, it’s a security hazard. But now, 24 hours a day, there is light everywhere; you will never find Adeola Odeku without light even at 4am. So, the next thing we need now is security all around, and if we have that, we can convince all the tourists that they can go clubbing and come back at 5am. I know it’s not something they can do in Surulere, Ajegunle, etc. but at least in these areas where you have all the nightclubs.

    Naomi Campbell, Edward Eningful, Robert Cavalli and Andre Leon Tally all stayed at the Seattle Residences in May. What was it like?

    It was really exciting to have them stay at Seattle Residences. It was amazing to house all of the big fashion people. They were all very happy with their experience here at Seattle and Lagos in general. Naomi Campbell made a very creative video essentially marketing Nigeria from the fashion shows, the beaches, Seattle Residences and the Lagos vibe. It is important for people to see the various sides of Lagos. Lagos is a dynamic city with luxurious experiences and we want people to see this side of Lagos too.

    Apart from hospitality, you have a foundation called JobLink, what does the Foundation do?
    JobLink is one of Nigeria’s fastest growing human resource development companies with its headquarters at 8 Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The company has a network of over 200,000 jobseekers from all states in Nigeria and over 500 top companies as clients. Job-Link continues to focus on its main objective of reducing the unemployment rate in Nigeria by connecting candidates to jobs in diverse industries. To date, over 10,000 job seekers have been connected with employers.
    In addition to recruitment services, Job-Link specializes in human capital development. Our employability training are designed to ensure all candidates have the soft skills required to excel at interviews and keep the jobs we connect them with. Certificates of attendance are given at the end of the training, which candidates can add to their resumes and profiles to boost their chances of attracting employers. More than 2,000 people have been trained at our 150-seater training centre in Ikoyi with very encouraging success stories.

    What advice do you have for young women navigating their professional lives?

    My advice to young women is simply ‘Go for it’. The sky is the limit. Women in this culture are too concerned about their reputation and what other people think. A lot of people hold themselves back because of what they think people will say, the fear of being judged for being too assertive and out there. My advice is to stay focused on your objectives. Men in Nigeria are the ones closing all the deals and that is how they get ahead. Women need to believe in their abilities and go after what they want unapologetically.

     

    (This Interview was  done by Lehlé Baldé for Businessday Media)

  • Interviews

    ‘We want to aggregate the biggest pool of private capital Nigeria has ever seen’

    Titi Odunfa is the founder/CEO of Sankore Investments, a boutique wealth management firm that provides advisory, brokerage, fund management and other investment services to high net worth individuals and corporations. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Editor, Patrick Atuanya and Senior Associate, Lehle Balde, Odunfa describes her journey from Goldman Sachs to starting a hedge fund and now providing investment strategy and guidance to clients. Excerpts

    Q Thank you for having us today, can you tell us about your firm and why you decided to set up a firm that caters to high net worth individuals?

    Sankore Investment is a full-service wealth management platform and I started it because I have been interested in investing since I was at least thirteen. I remember being curious about what investing was about, and I started investing personally when I went to the United States for college and was able to open my first brokerage account and started trading.

    It was a very interesting time, it was actually during the internet bubble around the late 1990s and it was a very interesting time to learn about investing although I lost what little money I had. That actually even got me more curious about understanding the fundamentals of investing.

    I initially worked in Consulting but moved to Goldman Sachs strategy after my business school program. It was at Goldman Sachs I really feel I developed the understanding of the beauty of investment and the underpinning of what drives return and that was an amazing experience for me.

    After a few years with Goldman Sachs, I just realised I needed to run my own investment firm and manage money directly for people. It was also an exciting time in Nigeria, this was around 2007 and 2008 and there was a lot going on in the country especially around the stock market. At Goldman that time I was already covering a wide range of asset classes and was very interested in emerging markets.

    So I thought of starting a hedge fund. I saw that Africa was doing fantastic with so much global interest and investing in the continent and decided to come back to Nigeria, where I am from and start a hedge fund.

    Looking back I believe it was a really bold step I took at that time because I was around 28 to 29 years old and it was not that I had a lot of investing experience at that point but I really just felt like I would be able to do it.

    When I came back I realised I needed to get some Nigerian work experience and it was pretty much the beginning of the downturn as the timing was not percent. At that time, however, I worked for Zenith Capital for a bit and was able to eventually start Sankore in 2010. I was truly oblivious of how difficult it was going to be, I was so driven to actualize my vision and I went straight for it and was still determined to start the hedge fund.

    However, it was very difficult to raise money and I realised that there was actually quite a big pool of capital that really wasn’t properly managed and it was mostly individual funds and so that for me became an interesting place because I actually stumbled on it by accident, as I said, I was running a company that was set up to run hedge fund and I remember having a client who invested possibly 67 percent of their net worth in our hedge fund.

    I didn’t know at that time it was that large an amount because globally the people investing hedge funds are supposed to be sophisticated clients and very high net worth individuals who know what a hedge fund is and the risks involved.

     But it made me realise that the level of sophistication even HNI clients in Nigeria are slightly different- I wouldn’t say it is worse-but way they understand investment is completely different because Nigeria has its own uniqueness.

    So I just showed me that there was an opportunity to set up a firm to provide investment strategy and guidance to clients whilst helping them invest at the same time.

    Q : How has the transition from a developed market in the United States to a less developed one here in Nigeria been, especially in 2009 where Nigeria’s financial services sector was not as developed as it is today?

    It was initially a difficult one, and that was why I decided to work in Nigeria first; I did that to be absolutely sure. Even now in my company, it is very rare for me to hire people with only foreign experience because one needs to know how Nigeria works.

    One of the big things is when you work in investments in Nigeria you have to know everything end-to-end – especially operational backbone of everything.

    In the developed market you do not know all of that and that was actually the big thing for me; coming here, having to understand what a Registrar does, a Custodian does, and so on. Trading abroad is a very different and seamless experience but working in Nigeria requires one knowing much more about the entire cycle of investments and you have to be like the “jack of all trade”. For me that was the transition; having to understand all of the bits and not just focusing on what the market was doing.

    For instance, you could invest in a security that makes a lot of sense and just you not having your operational system set up could cause you to lose money. That is one of the reasons we are also passionate about technology here.

    We have done a lot in the technology space and even now we are working on a networking platform that is targeted towards people who want to get the same wealth management advice and processes but want it simplified.

    We actually just launched a platform called Wealth.ng and our goal here is to give people more of a simple experience with regards to investing.

    Like you said, it’s been quite a transition, one in which we are trying to get the operational backend clean in other to give our client an experience that is simple.

    Q What has working in Nigeria and trying to learn the Nigerian factor taught you about the domestic financial ecosystem?

    Like I said earlier, working here in investment is actually different from doing so outside the country.

    Again our work with clients actually varies; even though we are a wealth management firm, we focus on a range of things. We do fund management, we do Trust, we also have a Registrar so our clients fall into different categories, but at the end of the day, our key priority is the Wealth Management need of different individuals but we engage with our clients on many different levels.

    Take for example for the former Diamond Bank we actually provided their privileged banking unit with white label investment products. As you know, Universal Banking means that most banks no longer have their own investment subsidiaries and it means that they still have a need to provide some of these services and we have been able to step in to provide white labelled services to them at the backend.

    One of the things we have definitely learned is that a lot of Nigerian Financial institutions have very broad offerings but sometimes they may be missingdepth in particular areas and they are aware of this and it is why they are willing to work with firms that can provide them with further depth.

    So we actually found in Nigeria that very few banks have a proper private bank based on global standards and it is something a lot of banks are aware of, but they make so much money from the rest of their business and private banking being much more of a long term kind of business is actually something they haven’t focused on.

    As you know there are three banks with a group structure and they of course focus on it and do an amazing job at it, but a lot of the other banks that do not focus on this primarily are the ones that we look to help provide a white labelled approach which by the way is in line with global practice.

     Globally a lot of wealth management companies and private banks use third-party products. It is only in Nigeria everyone wants to do everything themselves-part of the Nigerian factor.

    However, collaboration can actually allow one to provide many more services to clients and keep them happier. These are part of what we try to preach to financial institutions: collaboration and partnerships to provide more to individual customers.

    These have been some of the things we have experienced working with Nigerian financial services institutions.

    Q From your interaction with clients, what are their greatest concerns in today’s Nigeria and how are you helping them ease some of the worries?

    As you know, Nigeria doesn’t have a lot of intergenerational wealth. Our wealth tends not to pass beyond one or two generations whereas, in countries like the United States, about 80 percent of private wealth is inherited. What that means is that our clients in Nigeria are usually the first creators of wealth and generally if you are the first creator of wealth you are more than likely to be an entrepreneur.

    Entrepreneurs definitely at this point are majorly worried about economic growth. We are creeping on 2 percent growth rate which is not great for businesses. The major worries have been around economic activities and government policies because Nigeria is very dependent on that as well. Then you see a big focus on that from our clients who are mostly entrepreneurs and can be directly affected by all of those variables.

    And of course one of the big policy areas they focus on is the exchange rate, which makes sense if you are trying to build wealth. For a lot of High Net worth Individuals (HNIs), their spending is global; they spend in pounds, dollars and are earning naira which makes it very important to be aware of the foreign exchange policy.

    For us what we try to do to help them navigate is just proper planning and provision of information and data and we usually hold monthly investment planning and strategy calls where we give our clients a sense of direction of the macro-economy and policies with regards to how it impacts their wealth and should affect their investment decisions.

    We also build investment strategy models that are optimised for their global spending. We recommend them to have a huge chunk of their investment in dollar-denominated instruments, and so on.

    We are also encouraging them to look at high yielding instruments in alternatives like real estate and agriculture. It cannot all be T-bills and bonds because otherwise, you are not compensating for potential depreciation risk.

    Those are some of the strategies we advise our clients on.

    Q You talked about the economy and it brings me to financial inclusion, you represent the wealthiest 1 percent of Nigerians. What do you think the 1 percent of Nigerians should do to bridge that gap?

    I am glad you asked that question because it is an area of passion for us. One of the things I tell people is that investing is the key to unlocking wealth both for individuals and nations.

    For us, we have a big mission not to make the rich wealthier, but to drive and grow Nigeria’s wealth through the deploying of investment assets.

    We do believe that Nigerians, unfortunately, focus too much on what the government should do rather than what we can do ourselves with our investment money. Because of that we strongly believe that HNIs have a very strong responsibility to the country through investment.

    We are so much dependent on FDI and we shouldn’t be. Why should, for example, the stock market drop by 20 percent because foreign portfolio investors take their money out? Why dont we have enough people here investing in the stock market?

    Of course, there are many reasons for that but part of it is just because of the lack of proper guidance and investment portfolio allocation and so we really do think that there is a strong responsibility on the part of HNIs to solve Nigeria’s problem.

    Many of the HNI’s may be interested in legacy building and philanthropy but then most of them want to build wealth for themselves first, so our objective is how to marry both ends and get Nigeria’s HNI to invest in sectors that are beneficial for the economy and their portfolios simultaneously. We often find that some of the best investment ideas do both.

    One of the issues we have seen over the last several years of working with HNI’s in Nigeria is that the average Nigerian HNI’s portfolio is underperforming inflation.

    If that is the case they are not even feeling that confident in their own wealth building, they are not going to be thinking about building the nation. And the big reason is that too much of the portfolio of most HNIs sit in low yielding real estate assets.

    There are a lot of high yielding real estate assets that can be beneficial towards economic growth but unfortunately, the majority of HNIs put their money in 3-bedroom flats in luxury areas and the likes and that is actually not beneficial because rental yields are low at 3-5 percent.

    So if you have 50 to 80 percent of your portfolio in real estate and it is low yield real estate, then your total portfolio return even if the rest is in high yielding fixed income, is not going to exceed 6-8 percent, and that means you are not building true wealth for yourself.

    There are actually subsectors of real estate, like commercial real estates that are low-income kind of real estate and yield as high as 20-25 percent. We are looking at substituting housing opportunities for our clients that can yield as high as 18-200 percent. Guess what! That is the type of investment that HNIs really should be putting their money into.

    If an HNI invests in student housing, that means the majority of students that live in terrible conditions now can afford to stay in better hostels and value would have been created for both parties.

    For us, we spend a lot of time trying to think of how to find the sweet spot between where HNIs make more money than they current have-which would incentivise them to keep investing- and there is a benefit to the country.

    So for us, that is why we spend a lot of time looking at real estate, agriculture, and venture capital and so on. We consider a lot of alternative investment opportunity to show our client because we really do think there is a strong need to aggregate capital in order to solve our nation’s problems.

    Q What are the ranges of assets you offer your clients, and how do you manage risk and liquidity?

    It comes back to the core of my discipline which is Investment Strategy to ensure clients have an optimised portfolio. It is just one of the most important things in investing.

    You have to understand the client’s risk and return profile in order to suggest them an ideal portfolio allocation and still one of the first things we encourage clients to do is make sure they have a very good portfolio allocation to fixed income and we call that “sleep well money” which allows you to then take risk in other asset classes.

    Like I said the majority of Nigerian HNIs have most of their asset and net worth in illiquid real estate.

    I have had clients tell me “I am worth two billion but if you ask me to produce ten million now, I cannot.” This is something we hear from a lot of our clients.

    Many HNIs in Nigeria have liquidity issues as they hold too much of real estate-the wrong real estate. We love real estate and even have a subsidiary that looks into real estate opportunities but we want clients to look at holding more of the higher yielding real estate and commercial real estates than residential.

    Again one of the things we do is make sure clients have a healthy allocation to fixed income.  Again the discipline of investment strategy involves you running what we call “optimizers”.

    Optimizers involve the historical data of risk and return of different asset classes to help figure out what size each asset class should be in your portfolio. Portfolio allocation is a discipline and should not be based on words of friends and family, it should instead be based on professional advice.

    This year, for example, we really like agriculture but it involves some risk which we are working with different organisations to ensure we create products that are as risk mitigated as possible.

    So we are partnering with the likes of AFEX which is a commodity Exchange, we are partnering with NIRSAL which helps spread the risk from lending to agriculture.

    Again it is down to size. If I think this asset class is going to return 25-30 percent to you, risk and return are again very tightly coupled. If you are getting 14 percent in T-bills, a product with a return of 25 percent would be slightly riskier but if you size it appropriately, that risk over the long term should be minimized.

    Q How competitive are your fees, can we get an overview of your performance compared to peers and Asset under Management (AuM)?

    We manage about N25 billion currently for clients. We have much more in Assets under Custody. Our AuM is split almost evenly split between naira and dollars.

    With regards to our peers, we actually do not currently run any mutual funds. That is a strategic decision because the majority of HNIs do not like Mutual Funds.

    We found that most of our clients are entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are generally very confident on their ability to build wealth and as such do not like structure that obfuscates what you are doing-they like to know what they are investing in. We invest for clients on a case-by-case basis in the specific products that we recommend. So we definitely have more of a portfolio approach.

    Very few firms publish their portfolio numbers so it is hard to compare, but I do feel because we do use very rigorous methods, I would be willing to bet we are very close to the top.

    With regards to fees, we try our best to be very competitive. Again we see the calibre of firms that clients move money from to us and we try our best to make sure we are benchmarked to those- and it is really all of the top guys, so our fees are generally in line with the industry.

    We also try to be a bit more competitive by leveraging our lean structure which is optimised by technology. So we think that because of the use of technology we can definitely afford to keep things as lean as possible.

    Q How much do I need to have to be a client of Sankore?

    Sankore’s big mission is to aggregate the biggest pool of private capital Nigeria has ever seen in order for us to solve our country’s problems ourselves.

    In order to do that, first, we have to be open for everyone. So what we are to trying to do is create multiple offering that meets different people at their points of need. So we have Sankore, the core platform which is targeted at the HNIs. The platform is a bespoke kind of service, and the average person has a minimum of N100 million to be a client.

    Then we also have a mass affluent program which is Wealth.ng to offer the services we give to a small group of people to the broader group. The minimum to get started there is N10,000.

    What we have been doing is to build a platform where people would be able to access to T-bills, Stocks and some of the Agric assets we have been talking about. Eventually we are also going to list some of the real estate offerings that we have as well.  We want anyone to be able to come on and invest because at the end of the day we have to get people to have an investment mentality-that is the only way you build wealth.

    Again the wealth of Nigeria is the aggregate of the wealth of its citizens; we actually think it’s a gain to get Nigerians interested not just in savings but also in investment because that is what really grows your pie.

    Look at the fact that agriculture requires billions in financing in order for us to feed ourselves. That is actually a simple problem to solve theoretically with investments; why, for example, can all of us not decide to fund our farmers?  The default rate of farmers is actually way less than the default rate of consumers and people are investing in consumer finance businesses, so why not Agric?

    Then again some of the platforms are gaining popularity now; the likes of Farmcrowdy. It is a great movement which I greatly encourage- us financing and investing in the real sector. For us that is our angle on fintech, we really think we should be solving Nigeria’s problem and we have to go to the most basic industries that are able to hire the most people. It is the only way to build the wealth of Nigeria.

    If we know that the government is trying to support rice farming, they are doing a bit of what they can with regards to trying to mitigate the risk of loss and are doing their best.

    We have to try our best in providing financing to those sectors. The key thing is with any investment there is certain risk of loss but you cannot make any return if you don’t take risks and that is one issue we have as Nigerians- it is not our fault but we are very short term oriented. So even on our wealth and education platform, we see people asking how much they can make in 30 days, a week and so on.

    One of the things we are trying to do is promote financials literacy about investment being a long-term thing. We talk about the fact that you really should not be investing in stocks if you are looking to make money by tomorrow.

    We always tell people that their minimum horizon for stocks should be three years. It should, in fact, be five, but in Nigeria, we advise people to start with three before you go into stocks.

    Q What advice do you have for young women looking to get into finance and build an amazing career there?

    I am actually speaking to a small group of women tomorrow about wealth for women particularly. The reason that is important is the income gap; the fact that women make a little bit less than men. What we do not talk about is infact the wealth gap which is much worse.

    The impact of this wealth gap is very negative on women and their children. Women with lower wealth are more likely to be in abusive relationships.

    Property rights in Nigeria don’t really cater to women; there are instances where women who lose their husbands cannot inherit the properties. There are just so many reasons why women have to take control of their wealth and it is an area I am passionate about and would be exploring some more over the next few years.

    I think it is important for us as women to be very clear that we are different from men. That is a very controversial thing to say because for a long time women have tried to do the exact same thing as men and be treated the exact same way.

    The only problem is we have different realities and we can never ignore biology; I have a three-year-old daughter I have to take three to four months off work.

    The key is in understanding the wealth gap is causes because the majority of women want to have a family and kids and they will never put their work above their children-which they never should.

    So if that is the case, women should think about that even in their career choices.

     A lot of women, unfortunately, focus on careers that do not build wealth. The key thing is that it is better or women to pick careers in areas of high expertise, more than flexible jobs because the position of high expertise is much more difficult to dispose of.

     So in my company for example, if you are a software developer you need to take three to four months of leave, I would still be waiting for you to come back because I don’t want to retrain a software developer. But if it is another role for which talent can be easily replaced, it would be a different narrative then.

    Women globally do better than men at school. Expertise acquisition is not the problem of women, why are we then clustering into positions of low expertise? If you look across the world, most of the positions of low expertise are dominated by women.

    Women have to stop that and start looking at those roles that they erroneously believe they are not good enough for.

    Remember I said we should all be aware of what makes women different from men; did you know women are better investors than men, but most women do not know that.

    In fact, many of the top funds in Nigeria are run by women, but guess what we only know their men bosses. We are living in patriarchy and women are not even aware of our own strengths. We are too fixated on our weaknesses but we have to focus on our own strengths.

    Wealth.ng was built by a team of software developers with 50 percent women. I would actually say it is one of the most advanced investment platform in the country and it makes me glad to see women doing great.

    We need women to gravitate towards high expertise careers that penalise less when we take time off.

    The second thing is we have to invest. You cannot build wealth if you do not invest. Women need to be aware that we are naturally good investors and if that is the case we shouldn’t be worried about getting it. We are naturally good but invest less and it is actually the fact that women are risk-averse that makes us better investors.

     The way money works, if you lose 50 percent of your portfolio, it takes 100 percent to come back. So being risk averse actually works really well for investors and investment is one of the high expertise professions that allow women to take time off without severe penalties.  So these are the areas that women should really be dominating.

    Women should pick careers that are not dispensable and should stop being afraid of things they consider to be male-dominated; they are only so because we allow it to be.

     

    ( This interview was done in part by  Lehlé Baldé  for BusinessDay Media)

  • Interviews
    Uzoma Dozie

    An Interview with former Diamond Bank CEO,Uzoma Dozie

    Uzoma Dozie is known as a banker, tech-savvy investor and a gender and financial inclusion advocate. With the recently concluded Diamond and Access Bank merger, many are wondering what’s next for the former Diamond Bank CEO.  In this interview with Lehlé Baldé, he talks about what’s next for his career.

    Excerpts 

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Your father was fondly known as PGD recently turned 80. Happy belated birthday to him. Can you tell us about some of the biggest business lessons you have learned from your father?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : He has a few great phrases and one of them was when he started Diamond Bank. He would say, “This is not a SPRINT, this is a long RACE, so whatever we do, we are trying to make sure it’s sustainable into the future.” It wasn’t about quick profits, it was about building something that would last, so whatever we did, we knew it had to be sustainable.

    The second is about contentment and not being too greedy: regardless of whatever the situation is, you should be confident and comfortable. Being comfortable and being content is a good platform for you to take the next step.

    There was a time we worked together in the same office, I was in financial control and he was the CEO of the company. One day I rushed up into his office and I was complaining about something; and he said to me, “sit down, Uzoma, everything you’ve told me now, I already know, if only you can help me and tell me what the problems are and offer a solution.” That was a learning point for me. Being solution-oriented is something that he really passed on to me, that’s how Diamond Bank started, looking for a solution.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Many were taken aback with the announcement of Diamond Bank and Access Bank merger. Now that the merger process has finally been completed, what are your thoughts on the process and will you be taking up any role in the newly consolidated bank?

    (Uzoma Dozie) :People would be surprised because I would say we were the leading retail bank driving financial inclusion, and new innovation and technology to create a customer experience, and so, people will ask if you are making this statement, then why are you now merging with another bank, is the bank distressed? Is there a problem? I’d like to take people back. Our objective was always to go beyond banking. We are trying to create a platform for our customers to access the market, and when you think of it, with the Diamond Bank and Access Bank merger, we are trying to create access (no pun intended), for our 17 million customers. With this merger, we are giving our customers access to the market in both a local and global sense.  Access Bank has done well in creating and setting-up a footprint in areas following the trade route, so imagine your customer accessing a much wider trade route that extends beyond Nigeria, for export, and also the import of raw materials whether it’s in London, in Asia or Dubai.

    We are following our ‘beyond banking’ ethos and thinking about financial inclusion and how to bridge the gap. It creates a one-stop shop for everyone, as we are still following that same status of going beyond banking, providing access for our customers and prioritizing financial inclusion. Access Bank has existing relationships with Airtel and Diamond Bank has an existing relationship with MTN. These companies are spread across Africa and for us, the dream is being able to connect people not just from city to city but from village to village across the continent.

    Connecting someone from a village in Nigeria to a village in Zambia, for example. Regarding my role, once the merger was successfully completed, I stepped down from my role as CEO.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) :  You mentioned INNOVATION, you are obviously very passionate about TECH. You have a track record for leveraging tech to drive processes and people. Where would you say your passion for tech came from?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Tech is an enabler. Personally, tech helps me connect with people. When I was CEO of Diamond Bank, having the ability to talk to anybody in the organization empowered me; so instead of relying on people, I can actually connect directly and vice versa (people also can connect directly to me), and technology enables that open-door policy which is required for creativity and innovation.

    Why is technology important, especially in Nigeria? There is no other way to include people without technology. Without technology, there is no inclusion; no inclusion for health, social or financial benefit. Before Diamond Bank turned 25, it took us 20 years to acquire 4 million customers in 300 locations, and in the following 5 years, we tripled that number just by using technology.  Nobody came in person into Diamond Bank anymore, and they opened their account online by themselves. We took banking to the marketplace, created new opportunities, and that’s the beauty of technology. People talk about technology taking jobs, but on the contrary, we created new jobs, new opportunities, a new type of banker and we would never have been able to do so without technology. Financial inclusion is about scaling; scaling could even be cost-effective, and the only way to do that is a DIGITAL DRIVEN MOBILE strategy.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Diamond bank was a driver in the Financial Inclusion space when you were CEO, what were the biggest challenges you faced in implementing financial inclusion as a core focus?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : The biggest blockage was people because you have to convince people to change and see where the future is. The mindset we adopted was that we were going to take from our existing capital and invest in financial inclusion because we needed to invest in the future, which is the excluded populations. We came up with a Beta proposition which targeted excluded populations and linked opening accounts an financial literacy for them. We opened about five hundred thousand accounts and we discovered that being financially excluded doesn’t mean you are poor, it just means that institutions have not provided an enabling ecosystem for them to be comfortable, to trust, to be convenient.

    The second is REGULATION, the regulatory system has actually come a long way from the mindset of 5 years ago and we realized that without social inclusion, there is no economic prosperity because you are going to have bottlenecks. We need a new breed of people who will shift the paradigm from leadership to see that we have to take this risk, and the risk isn’t as precarious as it seems if you consider that the banking industry, as we know it, is long gone and it’s highly concentrated in terms of exposure. Less than 500 businesses count for over 80% of the exposure, which is highly concentrated.  We need to diversify and build that capacity of the ecosystem. That’s where I see a lot of bottlenecks because the people that actually adopt technology and change how they do things are actually at the bottom of the pyramid. This is why technology is going to be an enabler in driving financial inclusion because there is no alternative, so when I look at what we did with the Beta proposition, we were just replacing one financial institution with another. One that provided certainty, one that provided more trust and the ability to save and transform lives.

    (Lehlé Baldé) : There’s a growing number of  Fintechs, how do you think  Fintechs will change banking in the next 10 years?

    (Uzoma Dozie) :It’s already changing it, that why we adopted a ‘beyond banking’ philosophy: it is not just about providing banking services, it’s about doing more for the customers. If we were just providing banking services to customers, that means we only know a fraction of his daily life, a fraction of what the customer does, and that’s why we implemented a mobile-first strategy. We designed our mobile app as one that is easy to use. Our competition was always going to be CASH, how fast can you make a payment or achieve an outcome with your mobile phone versus CASH. Your competition is always going to be cash. Part of it is also education, financial literacy and record keeping. If all records are there for you, when you want to borrow money from me, I don’t have to ask a lot of questions, I can actually see it, and create a profile for you.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Another thing Diamond bank was known for is that it’s a gender equal workplace, a bank where women occupied many top positions. How important is it to empower women in the workplace?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Nigeria is 50% women, Nigeria is also 50% Muslim and Christian, so if you don’t have a deliberate strategy to include everyone, if you are only providing solutions with male-led bankers, it means that you miss out half the population; so it has to be deliberate. We live in a society where men are supposed to wash cars and women wash the dishes, and we have to change that mindset. It’s about inclusion, it’s about ensuring we capture as much data to provide the right solutions for people. If women feel like they have an environment in which they can choose and decide whether they want to pursue a career only or pursue a career and a family, then there is longevity for them in that organization and it also leads to greater participation from women in the workplace.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Your show  ‘TechTalks’  interviews some of Nigeria’s top tech entrepreneurs. In your opinion, what does the future hold for tech in Nigeria?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : We have a lot of Fintech companies in Nigeria, my concern is always, once it gets to a critical scale, I hope that they would have put in what it takes to go through that phase, that is where they now become like an Access Bank, for example, whereby you have all the managerial issues, regulatory issues and how you put that structure in place to manage it. The Fintechs are making a lot of impact, people like Paystack, Flutterwave, are doing a lot of things that are actually making other players sit up and take note – both financial and non-financial organizations. The other concern is investment.  Fintechs are filling important market gaps and collaboration as well as open systems are going to be key in the sustainability of these Fintechs. The CBN has come up with a great KYC (Know Your Customer) system, where KYC level one does not need anything to just open a bank account, and truly that’s how we opened 10 million accounts. Now if you want to reduce BVN (Biometric Registration) at that KYC level, they are just going to destroy the whole system and it’s not about just the regulatory bodies coming together and saying they want to achieve XYZ% this year, so how do you work together to do that? Bringing it from Tax laws that would now reverse any good work that any bank has done, especially when you have over 17 million unbanked small businesses, that’s where the engine of growth is in Nigeria. The opportunity to employ just one more person, if 17 million businesses do so, that accounts for 17 million employed people. The focus should be on SMEs.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : How will you use your wealth of experience as the former CEO of Africa’s fastest growing retail bank and the platform that you stand on, to impact lives going forward? What’s next for you, what do you have in the works?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Inclusion is very key, and I think there is a lot of profit, both financial and non-financial, in investing in that space and building solutions in the financial inclusion space.  Diamond Bank started by identifying a segment of the population that nobody wanted to bank because they thought it was too expensive due to their lack of literacy in technology.  There is no economic prosperity without social inclusion. My plan is to create a platform that helps the disenfranchised segment and there are quite a few financially and socially excluded groups in Nigeria. People are socially excluded because they are not financially literate and also because they don’t trust financial institutions.  The plan is to build a platform that goes beyond banking and incorporates solutions to some of the bottlenecks. A financial platform, a payment system, one that is focused on small businesses, focused on women because research shows if you look at the adopters of technology, women and youth make up a high portion of that segment. I want to go beyond a transaction, connecting to an outcome. People want to be happy, people want to feel safe. We need to start getting comfortable with things that are futuristic; future intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, robotics, AI; those are the things that will help us include millions of people in a cost-effective manner. truly, you can’t do it any other way, you can’t use people.  I want to play a role in building that platform, and I love competition. When we first started the retail game, we spoke to a CEO who said there was no business in retail banking here, but today, there is no bank in Nigeria that does not have a sale/retail strategy, because of that where the opportunity is. A corporate client can access money how they like, and they can even lend banks money.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : What does Uzoma Dozie do in his spare time?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Now that I have spare time, what I try to do is play golf, I play tennis, read and I do a lot of photography. I have taken a lot of pictures I need to process, so I’m going to do that and take more pictures.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : What do you photograph?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : People, places, things, situations and I want to now dive into moving pictures. I also think that is what the future is too. People don’t read anymore, so if you want to connect to people, you need to do it virtually and it cannot be too long, as people no longer have the time. Anything more than 5 minutes is a waste of time. So, if you can do a brief movie indication in 1 or 2 minutes and teach people without actually interfering with their lives, you create a visual connection with them.

    Using visual to tell a story makes a great impact, and that’s what we did at Diamond Bank; that’s where the leadership comes from.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) :As a tech enthusiast, what are some of the apps on your phone that you use every day?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Other than writing, I take a lot of pictures, If you go through my pictures, you will see what my day was like, and you can visualize it as well. I have my pictures in sections, I have my money folder, I have a social folder, then I have my office folder, then there is information in everything I find interesting), there is a whole folder for golf, and for media and photography as well.

     

    (Lehlé Baldé) : Are you an iOS or Android user?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : Six years back, I was completely 120% an iOS person,  even if I saw a faster innovation coming from Google, it was innovation that wasn’t practical every day, so it was nice to have Apple that focused on what you need to have; very simple. Then I began to feel trapped, old system, not able to access the new innovations millennials try, and our business moved as we tried to do more things on mobile – we wanted to make sure we knew what our customers were using, like then Blackberry, then google, then iOS, we now have to start focusing on the apps, the system that people were comfortable using, because it was cost effective, which was Google, so I bought a Google phone. I moved out of the iOS ecosystem so I will actually be able to build an open platform. And if it’s not an open platform, I’m not interested. So now I use the iPhone for my personal lifestyle, photography and creative because that’s what they are good at. So for me, it’s iOS for my lifestyle and google for my business.

    (Lehlé Baldé) : You seem to have a signature style, you wear all black. Can we expect to see any pop of color this summer?

    (Uzoma Dozie) : I just can’t go wrong with black, there might be black with a hint of something, but essentially, my colour palette reveals my love of black; black is beautiful. Many colour pops that do creep into my signature style might reflect the essence of Nigeria.

     

    (This Interview was  done by Lehlé Baldé for Businessday Media)

  • Interviews

    An Interview with Media Mogul, Linda Ikeji

    Linda Ifeoma Ikeji is a woman that needs no introduction. By 2006, she was well on her way to conquering the online publishing space with her ground shaking blog, LindaIkejisblog.com. While blogging may be a normal concept in 2019, back in 2006 blogging was not considered a ‘suitable’ career choice most Africans. This infamous blog has transformed the way Africans, specifically, Nigerians consume entertainment news and has forever imprinted the Nigerian media ecosystem.

    Lehlé Baldé caught up with her at her gorgeous home in Banana Island, Ikoyi Lagos where she opened up about how it all started,  her success, being a working mother, new business ventures and everything in between.

    Linda Ikeji with Lehlé Baldé

    When you started blogging in 2006, you did so when blogging was still unfamiliar territory for many in Nigeria, what inspired you to start? 

    Growing up I wanted to be a journalist, I applied for Mass communication In University but was placed in English. I have always had a passion for journalism and being the one to break the news. My role models at the time were AbikeDabiri, Frank Oliseh, FunmiIyanda. I realized then that my passion was to write and to be a news bearer. When I discovered blogging, I saw that it was the next best thing to journalism because it gives you a platform to put out something others can read and it was born from that. Before then, I was a columnist for magazines, writing strictly on fashion, modeling, and beauty because I had a background in modeling. When I started blogging, what was common at the time was personal blogs, where people talked about themselves and what was happening with their lives, there wasn’t really any solid gossip blog.

    I started my blog as a personal blog and that’s why I named it Linda Ikeji. The blogging community was a small community and we all used to go to each other’s blogs to comment with our names. I also discovered Paris Hilton which was the biggest blog in the US at the time and I started reading his blog and got obsessed with it and then I told myself, why can’t I do something similar? So, I put gossip on my blog and the reaction to that news was more than I expected, people were far more interested in it more than the other things I had put on it. I normally would get 300 views on my stories but with the gossip news I got over 3000 views! I received 10 times more comments, my reach immediately went beyond my community of bloggers and I discovered this was what people want to read and hear! 

    I went on to mix up the news with my personal gist and entertainment news and that increased the engagement with my blog. I realized this is really what I should be doing. One way I could get the news was to get the gossip tabloids and magazines in Nigeria like Encomium and City People. I would buy them, find interesting stories and put it on my blog and of course credit them.

    When you started did you understand the commercial value of the Linda Ikeji blog? 

    Absolutely not. It took me four years before I realized it was possible to make money from it. My passion for blogging kept me going. I had a business named ‘Black book communications’, which was my source of livelihood. I didn’t think that blogging would make me money. Blogging was born out of passion, it was what I always wanted to do growing up. What kept me going were the comments I read and the people who were eagerly waiting to read new gossip news on my blog. It kept growing gradually from 20k to 30k visits and it was very exciting, It kept me going.  Then the next thing was when I was asked to send rate cards for adverts!

    When did you realize the blog was successful, what was your light bulb moment? 

    It was in 2012. I started making money in late 2010 which was a one-off. Early in 2011 was when I started making more money and advertisers started seeing my blog as a channel to advertise and the rest is history. I started having a few million in my account and that was the first time I ever had that much money in my account. I was hesitant about spending just in case the income stopped. I was apprehensive because it was all so new. A year after that, it tripled and in 2012, I was like “WHAT?!” Then I realized it was all going to get better going forward.

    After Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, LindaIkeji.com is the most visited site in Nigeria. How does that make you feel? 

    I never thought it would happen that way. It makes me feel good that after all these years, people are still interested in my blog. There has been a shift to Instagram and bloggers who started during my time have moved to Instagram too, but I’m still very fortunate to still have my dedicated followers and readers for over a decade. People say my readers have reduced, they only think so. The numbers are still as strong and I am overwhelmed with that. People have been loyal to my blog.

    You have diversified the Linda Ikeji brand to TV and more recently Digital Marketing… are your career moves strategically filling a market gap or are your business moves ad-hoc? 

    I think my ideas always come from my vision and where I see a need or where I think I will be successful. For years, a lot of Digital Marketing agencies contacted me when they wanted to run campaigns, etc. Some brands come directly to me and ask me to put content on not only my blog but other blogs as well, as kind of a PR/marketing agency.  We would always have to refer them to other agencies to do that because that was not our focus. Our focus was on blogging and creating amazing content.  Recently, someone approached my business to market their product on our platform. We gave him a budget and then he asked if we could give the budget for other blogs. We couldn’t do that because we had a lot on our hands. We recommended a PR person but he wanted a Digital Agency instead. He went to do the job and he told me how much he paid. He then told me he thinks it would make sense for me to open my own agency, he told me all I needed to do was employ the experts and leverage on the name I have built. He became my first client and now Linda Ikeji digital Marketing agency has quite a number of clients.

    I think my ideas always come from my vision and where I see a need or where I think I will be successful

    You took many people by storm with your Linda Ikeji TV launch last year. Who is the average watcher of Linda Ikeji TV? Who are your subscribers? 

    Surprisingly I thought we would have more customers living in the diaspora in comparison to people living in Nigeria, but that is not the case. The predominance of our subscriber base comes from Nigeria, then the US, the UK, Canada and Ghana. Our consistent subscribers are in their 30s and 40s. The younger ones are not as consistent in subscribing as the older ones but we are creating more youth-friendly content to for the millennials out there!

    What has been the most viewed content on Linda Ikeji TV? 

    Oyinbo wives of Lagos is the most viewed show. It is followed by Tonto Dike, then Gidi Girls then Toyin Abraham. I started thinking of a reality show I would like to watch. The Oyinbo wives came to me because my sister  Laura knows quite a number of them and is friends with some. I talked about putting them together and making a reality show about their lives.  They are quite dramatic in real life, and they are as real as what you see on the reality show. We will be auditioning for more reality shows soon, they are the most watched on our platforms. We are currently coming up with more shows and more controversial reality shows

    What made you decide to introduce the American style reality shows to Nigeria?

    That’s what people like watching, I wanted to do the Nigerian version of what has been tested and tried in other markets. I wanted to try something no one has done here. Something totally different. There are Iroko TV, Africa Magic and other platforms people can watch. I thought having reality shows would be different.

    What other kinds of content do you have in the works? 

    We are going to be doing documentaries on events like the Aluu 4, the Ogboni 6, events that have shaped the history and forecast of Nigeria. As well as docu-series on important historical events, incidents, people and things about Nigeria people don’t know exist.

    What is your process going from ideation to execution? Many people are full of ideas but those ideas never actualize..

    Once I think of something, I get experts on that topic, ask opinions and get details. After several strategy sessions, we build a team dedicated to executing. For example, we have a number of people who have traveled to the eastern part of the country to cover some stories on cultural events there for our docu-series. They use what they have to get good content and then come back to build it into what can be aired.

    Question on Self-made celebrities: What advise do you have for entrepreneurs on staying consistent? 

    One of the most difficult thing when pursuing success is patience. Something many don’t have is the belief that something can be great. They get frustrated with things like failure, lack of support, lack of funds, trials upon trials and then give up. Five years in, they give up. Most people can’t handle the challenges of entrepreneurship and later tell themselves: “this is not for me”. One of the things I tell people is, you have to be patient because eventually, it will work it. It might take 5 years, it might take 10 years, it might take 15 years, it will happen.  Not so many people have the patience to get to that point. It took me 4 years to start making money; it took me 14 years to break out of the hustle. Patience is a virtue. You have to be consistent, you have to be hard working, you have to believe. If you are hardworking and don’t believe in what you are doing and in God, you are wasting your time. Tell yourself “I am not doing this in vain,  there is absolutely no way God will not Bless me at the end of the day, I just have to be patient, I just have to continue doing what I am doing because I am heading somewhere and I will get there even if I can’t see the end yet”.

    It’s so sweet to watch you with your son Jaden. How have you balanced parenting and a very busy work schedule?  

    I have a good support system; I have my family with me. Having a child is a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to be a Mom. Since I had my son, Jaden, I have moved my office to my house and work has been equally effective. Fortunately, my business has been online so I don’t have to be there physically. I moved my meetings to my house or we talk on the phone. He is six months now but once he is 9 months old, we would go to the office every day. He is a big source of inspiration for me.

    Your aura exudes strength, where does your inner strength come from? 

    I think it’s the kind of woman I am and my experiences growing up. I just wanted to be successful and not depend on anyone. I didn’t want to chase any man. I wanted to leave my footprint. I wanted people to know I existed, I wasn’t to matter, I wanted my work to matter, I wanted to have an impact and I can only do that through my work and not necessarily through my kind of husband or family.  It is through my work that people will remember me. It was important for me to find something I love and be good at it. I do a lot of motivational speaking and literature writing to encourage other people. I let them know it wasn’t easy for me but here I am. I don’t see myself as successful; I believe there is more success. Someone told me about writing a biography and I refused. I am not there yet. For me, the sky is only the starting point. I mentor young female entrepreneurs and help them with their businesses anyway that I can. We will have another meeting soon. I am passionate about women. I want more women to be financially independent.  I want them breaking the tables and have more opportunities for growth. I asked a man recently why 80% of his staff are men. He said men are the head of the family so they need the money more than the women; they need to provide for their wives and kids. I told him that in 2019, there are more women who now provide for the family. We are no more in the 60s and 70s where women are only concerned about being someone’s wife. This generation is breaking boundaries and following their dreams, they have bills to pay and families to take care of also. 

    At the start of your career, what things do you wish you would you have known? 

    I don’t pay attention to the negativity. It has helped me become what I am today. Your opinion doesn’t matter as long as it’s negative. I don’t care what you think; I don’t care how you think it. I believe I am being guided by God and the decisions I make whether wrong or right has brought me to where I am and I am good at where I am now. When I started blogging, they would call me derogative names, define my work, almost want me to feel inferior to them until I got the house I live in then the narrative changed. I don’t allow negativity into my life, I don’t allow negativity into my work, and no one should speak it into my life. I am glad I did not pay attention to nay-sayers because I would have stopped. I proudly call myself a blogger.

    How do you see the growth of entrepreneurs in tech? 

    It’s growing. With what is happening now, I keep telling people there is no excuse being broke; there is no excuse not to be successful. Technology and social media have made things easy for us. Now, you have access to customers and clients and it depends on how you sell your products and services. Now you need to think. Earlier, you needed an extra effort in telling people what you are selling but now, there are platforms where people are and you can tell them about what you are selling. Are you putting out the right things or selling the right things? Technology has now made the world smaller. I can get things from different parts of the world faster than how it used to be. Entrepreneurs need to start thinking smarter, doing things right and finding the right channel to sell our products and services.

    On managing relationships with clients, what’s your advice? 

    As a creative, I got a business manager to deal with it. If a customer has a bad experience with your brand, they will not come back. One of the best forms of advertising is word of mouth. Word of mouth is very powerful. Be wise about how to treat your clients. The customers are always right. The business has something to lose, not the client. For example, an agency comes to do business with me promising to pay me after a month and they don’t pay as promised, we continue to the second month and the third month, it would seem right for me to call them out on my blog. Here is what will happen on the flip side, other agencies would avoid me because they don’t want to be a victim of that behavior. They might not even know who the initial client is but I could miss potential clients because of that.

    What are your top tips for success?

    Hard Work: I know that is the most common thing people say, but that’s the most important of it all. You have to work hard at whatever it is you want to do.

    Patience:  That’s something a lot of us lack, we give up on our way to success, because many don’t believe in the process. You have to believe that ultimately, eventually (always remember the word “eventually”) all things will work out. A lot of people just don’t, halfway through the journey, mid-way through the journey, even when they are close to the destination they give-up, so patience is a virtue, patience is very important.

    Faith: You have to have faith in the process, in what you do, in God, in yourself, and believe it’s going to work out eventually. It’s just like the saying, ‘work without faith is just a waste of time’. You have to believe that your journey is going to end positively. You have to have faith because it is that faith keeps you going.

    Surround yourself with positive people. Stay away from people who have nothing to say but destroy your dreams, people who don’t believe in themselves will never believe in you and in their mind, if they feel they can’t do it, you also cannot.  It’s important to stay away from people who don’t believe in you. You should run from people who have nothing good to say about anything. Surround yourself with successful people, so you can learn from them.

    Find a role model. Find someone who has done so well in an industry that you are interested in, read about them, find out the things they did to get to where they are. If it’s in the media, or acting, or whatever industry it is that you have a passion for, find somebody in that industry who has done tremendously well. If you can find them to mentor you, fine, if you can’t find them directly, find out as much as you can about their journey and how they got to where they are so you can learn from them.

    Read a lot if you can, I’ve read about all the richest people in the world and how they got to where they are, self-made people. Not people that inherited what they have, but people who struggled, people that went from nothing to something. For instance, my ultimate role model is Tyler Perry, I know people would expect me to say Oprah, but it’s Tyler Perry because he went from been homeless to having a private jet and an island in 10 years. Learning about his journey makes me believe impossible is nothing, we have to believe that there is absolutely nothing you cannot do.

    What can we expect from you in 2019?

    Well, the blog has been there for 12 years, it’s thriving and doing well, so currently my focus is on Linda Ikeji TV. For the digital agency, it’s just new, I have my employees who are doing very great work there but my primary focus is the Linda Ikeji TV, the online platform that I launched last year. In 2019, expect to see amazing content and phenomenal pieces of work. This is the kind of content that you haven’t seen on TV before. From unique documentaries, reality shows and very soon, blockbuster movies on the platform. There is so much I have working for 2019 TV content.

     

    When it’s all said and done, what will be the Linda Ikeji legacy?

    When it’s all said and done, people will know I was here, that’s basically it.  I want people to know Linda Ikeji existed and she made an impact on society, the community and the world. And I hope that people will hear my story which is why I share it a lot. There is still so much that I’m going to say, there is still so much that has happened in my life that I’m going to share, and I hope people learn from. I think that the things that happened to me, happened for a reason because I’m not afraid to share and let people into my life and I hope that with my life and my story and experiences, people can learn from it and do better or do as great or as much as I have or even better.

    I want to leave my footprint in the sands of time.

    (This interview was done by Lehlé Baldé  in her  capacity as Editor of  Businessday’s The CEO Magazine)

  • Interviews
    lack of investment in human capital

    An interview with Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

    Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in this interview with  Lehlé Baldé speaks on the Commonwealth’s commitment to foster trade, economic co-operation, investment in human capital amongst African countries of the Commonwealth.

    Excerpts

    In October of last year, you concluded a successful meeting in Brussels with your counterparts at the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, Patrick Gomes. The leaders agreed to accelerate joint action on matters of mutual interest to boost trade and economic cooperation. Can you talk to some of the ways business owners on the African continent will start to feel the effects of this?

    The Commonwealth and the ACP have worked jointly together over more than 10 years to support governments to get the policy environment for trade right. We have worked to ensure African businesses are front and centre of concerns of policymakers as they formulate, negotiation and implement trade policy. We are now at an inflection point in our cooperation, and with all the changes in the Continent we are now working together to see how best we can support private sector development in Africa in the future.

    You believe and advocate for free and open trade, as well as the importance of multilateral trading systems. In your view, what are the benefits to the Africa continental free trade agreement?

    Africa is continuing to show its openness to trade both at the continental and regional level- initiatives such as the CFTA as well as the fact that the regional communities continue to push for deepening of trade shows that Africa remains open. Integration is a journey and what is heartening is that as challenges arise, the continent is looking for solutions to solve them.The Commonwealth continues to speak up against protectionism – 2018 CHOGM Communique.The Commonwealth is also combating protectionism through practical initiatives, such as the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, where provides a platform for members to share experiences and best practices in physical (infrastructure), digital (digital economy), regulatory (ease of doing business), Business to business and supply side (agriculture) connectivity. These look at some of the pressing priorities for Africa- whether it be the need for digital infrastructure to take advantage of digitisation to best lessons on how to create value addition in agriculture.

    The CFTA represents a watershed moment because in this time when protectionism is on the rise it signals to the world that Africa is, and continues to be, open. But beyond the symbolic importance it also marks an important landmark on the continent’s development journey as intra-Continental trade is absolutely important to the Continent’s development ambitions. In October, Commonwealth Trade Ministers will meet and they can be expected to continue to push for trade openness.

    You have said that a lack of investment in human capital leads to productivity losses in future which constrain the growth and economic transformation of a country. How do we keep governments of developing countries accountable to invest in human capital as the key to unlocking economic potential?

    Investment in human capital promotes growth and helps ensure the benefits of economic growth are distributed more equitably. The quality and quantity of education, in particular, has powerful effects on the distribution of income and on economic growth (World Bank, 2007). Each year of schooling boosts long-run growth by 0.58 percentage points. GDP per capita tends to be higher in countries with higher levels of human capital development.
    Between 10% and 30% of observed differences in GDP per capita across countries can be attributed to cross-country differences in human capital.

    There is a strong correlation between high scores on the World Bank’s human capital index (HCI, 2018) and higher real GDP per capita (see Figure 3.3 in World Bank World Development Report 2019)[1] – the top 3 highest scoring countries on the HCI (Singapore, Korea, Japan) are also among the countries with the highest per capita GDP. In turn, countries with the lowest scores on the HCI also generally have low GDP per capita (e.g. Liberia, Niger, Mali, Mozambique). The positive effects of human capital on growth tend to be strongest in countries where there are better economic opportunities and stronger institutions.

    There is evidence of a positive correlation between human capital and the overall level of adoption of advanced technologies (World Bank, 2019). This suggests human capital will continue to be a key factor driving growth in the digital economy. A lack of investment in human capital will lead to productivity losses in the future, constraining growth and economic transformation. The World Bank World Development Report 2019 forecasts that countries with the lowest human capital investments today will have work forces that are only one-third to half as productive as they would be if they received high-quality education and health services.

    Your colleagues from the Commonwealth, were on the ground in Nigeria to observe the February presidential election. What are your thoughts on the recently concluded Nigerian 2019 elections?

    Across Commonwealth Africa, particularly in Nigeria, we are seeing increased participation in political processes by young people, women, and ordinary citizens. We are also seeing strengthened independent institutions and legal frameworks, including constitutional reforms. One of the conclusions of the 2018 Mo Ibrahim Index on African Governance was that African governance remains on a moderate upward trajectory in spite of variations across countries. Commonwealth countries continue to do well in that index: the top seven, and in fact the top two are from our membership.