From Lagos, Brandie Stevens-Igbe leads a programme that literally creates futures, as part of a bold bank that works to “take people out of poverty”.
In the middle of a global pandemic, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values – the network for the world’s leading values-based banks – talked with Brandie, and five other pioneers from across the globe, about their vision for a brighter future.
Why now? Brandie and initiatives like the programme she manages are redefining the role of banking in society. Values-based banks are changing the meaning of money, putting it in the service of people and the environment. Today, on Banking on Values Day 2020 (24th November), we are celebrating these extraordinary initiatives, the inspiring individuals who run them and the progressive banks that finance them. Discover here how, and why this matters so much.
Brandie, how important is education particularly during difficult times, like the current pandemic?
The power of education can never, ever be underestimated. It is, for example, a steppingstone to create small businesses, and research across different countries shows that these businesses are the engine to recover from any financial difficulty, like this pandemic.
I have also seen this during the time I have run the LAPO Skills Acquisition Scheme, since 2016. The starting point was the context of a lot of young people on the streets and a high rate of teenage pregnancy. A lot of these people did not particularly like academia, but they did want to learn a skill, like tailoring, plumbing or carpentry.
So, we decided to look further into this. First, we commissioned specific research. We found that there is a high demand for vocational training centres in Nigeria.
This is a great way of taking young people off the streets and training them for the future they want. We contacted the Nigerian Board of Technical studies and the Nigerian Director of Employment and we set up the LAPO Skills Acquisition Scheme.
Have you seen lives improve since the programme was introduced?
Yes, of course. Initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals encourage women to be included in the development of society. For that, you need to educate them and offer them skills. We are making that possible.
Likewise, for example, we help an individual to become a certified tailor creating more opportunities now and in the future. Of course, they live in communities, so you are not just supporting a person’s development, but a whole community, because other people will come and learn from them.
Moreover, a lot of students whose mothers are LAPO Microfinance Bank clients have benefited from this scheme for free.
How is this programme linked with the philosophy of a values-based bank like LAPO?
LAPO’s mission is to improve lives. The way we have to do that is by providing value. Of course, customers also help us keep our organisation running, but we give them value back.
The scholarships we provide and the Skills Acquisition Scheme are key initiatives to give back. Our scholarships have enabled people to go to secondary school and university.
People who learned a skill through the programme often also receive loan offers to support their projects. In this regard, we take care not to generate high indebtedness and that’s why, during the training, participants are also taught about financial literacy.
What is the difference between conventional banks and values-based banks like the one you work in?
Values-based banks, including microfinance institutions like LAPO, believe in investing in the real economy. The more we invest in the people, the higher social impact we are making… and that is what we are about.
Moreover, in microfinance, we don’t ask people to provide collateral in order to receive a loan, as a conventional bank might. Our approach is intended to take people out of poverty, by helping them to set up their own business.
What does being behind this project mean to you personally?
I was born and brought up in the United Kingdom, and my parents are Nigerian. My education is related to Sustainability and I came to Nigeria, where I have lived for the last seven years, to work. I am grateful for this opportunity as Head of Sustainability at LAPO.
Regarding what it means to me, I just get joy seeing people participating in the programme, from the moment of their selection to their graduation. I feel so happy to see the impact we are making… I don’t have words to explain that.
There are jobs that you do because you have to: you need to work. But in this case, I really enjoy doing it. You see some people who are very poor. They have no hope; some cannot even eat twice a day. Sometimes their children are sick, and they cannot treat them. But LAPO actively engages with them. It also has an intervention programme that helps clients to learn more about sanitation, prevention of diseases such as cholera and so on. I am very grateful and humbled to act as a tool in service of these social goals.
What future do you envision for your community?
Nigerians are hardworking people, as they are in many other places, and the Internet is opening minds and opportunities in Africa. Through social media, people get inspired by other people leading their businesses.
I would like to see a future where more people get into training, learn more skills and can succeed independently.
I would also like to see the government of Nigeria help even more because much more can be done in the direction of education and training. A lot of people want do something with their lives, they just need an opportunity.
Did you know that…
You can choose between being a customer of a conventional bank or a values-based bank.
Values-based banks deliver quality banking services, just like many other banks. But, unlike most banks, they deliberately focus on finance for entrepreneurs and positive projects in the real economy that benefit people and the environment.
It’s time to do something for your future!
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