Transformation is a word that has been used loosely by a majority of people. To many, it is synonymous to improvement of status quo. However, transformation means revolution; the process which involves the subtle disintegration of the old to facilitate the emergence of the new. This article examines First Bank’s Century II Business Transformation Project and the lessons from this profound model for the transformation of Agriculture in Nigeria.
Established in 1894, First Bank (Nigeria) Plc is Nigeria’s foremost financial services group. Despite being in the league of the ‘old generation’ banks, First Bank constantly re-invents itself, its people and processes. The metamorphosis of the institution through the years to one with technology-driven platforms where innovative products and services are creatively delivered to end users makes the resilient and proactive bank one of the most dynamic organisations to work in corporate Nigeria and a worthy model to study and emulate.
The “Century II Project”
In 1996, First Bank launched the “Century II Project”. It was a deliberate initiative of the bank to collaboratively brainstorm, incubate and birth a transformation blueprint to usher the bank’s processes, operations, etc into her 2nd century. In 2001, after its re-appraisal, the project was re-launched as “The Century II Project: The New Frontiers”. Overall, the project, which lasted for about 15years helped the bank to conceive unambiguous objective of realigning her learning and development strategy for the 21st century with her corporate strategy.
Outcome of the “Century II Project”
This forward-thinking project was a highly successful one, no doubt; and is evident in the successes recorded by the bank. The development of new curricula for ‘FirstAcademy’ to invigorate manpower development, with the rebranding trajectory of the bank to strategically maintain her position – Truly the First – is a direct product of the Century II Project. Other top achievements include:
- 2010: First organisation to be granted notable international standardization certifications;
- 2011: “Most innovative Bank in Africa” by the African Banker;
- 2013: First banking institution in Nigeria to achieve the new international certification on Business Continuity Management, ISO22301 (Societal Security: Business Continuity Management System);
- 2014: Rated for the third consecutive time as “Nigeria’s number one banking brand” of “Top 500 Banking Brands Ranking,” by The Banker Magazine, Financial Times Group and Brand Finance in the United Kingdom.
Lessons for the Transformation of Agriculture in Nigeria
Without delving much into technical details, there are four distinct but inter-dependent lessons that can be drawn from First Bank’s transformation model. These are:
- Knowledge Documentation: ……Learning from the old
Agriculture is one of the oldest professions known to mankind. Through the centuries till now, practising farmers have discovered and developed many ways of producing, processing and preserving food for human consumption. In their own right, they can be celebrated as innovators. Currently, the sector is one besieged with aging, rural smallholder farmers with little or no education. Unfortunately, many of their children have been poorly educated because many village schools are dilapidated. Proper documentation and passing-on of farming techniques, methods, practices, etc from the older generation to the younger generation is one that should be taken with utmost priority. Otherwise, there will be a new generation of deficient or ignorant farmers and agriculture professionals across the value chain that originally were not part of the traditional process, and are still clueless, but want to make significant contribution to the emergence of the new. Knowledge documentation therefore is key to the transformation of the agriculture sector.
- Knowledge Sharing: ……Establishing Agric-Hub Nigeria
To transform the agriculture sector, there has to be a conscientious collaboration and buy-in of stakeholders within the sector to think-through and forge a common future. Equally important are the sharing of resources among members of Agric-Hub Nigeria; introduction to new and innovative technologies; exposure to modern and proven ways of the different agriculture practices and enterprises; opportunities to network with local and international agriculture and agro-allied organisations; the incubation of ideas; development or exchange of apps, software etc. Knowledge sharing validates the creation of Agric-Hub Nigeria, which can be both virtual and in-situ. There are existing models of Agric-Hubs in other African countries.
- Knowledge Transfer: ……Setting-up Agriculture Business Schools
The wealth of a nation is locked in its people and not only in the natural resources. So, building infrastructure to develop the people will unlock the great wealth any nation has. In relation to this and due to the peculiarity of agricultural enterprises, the establishment of strategic Agribusiness schools to specifically teach on agriculture entrepreneurship, to include solid framework for succession planning in accordance with corporate governance and best practices is long overdue. Likewise, thriving agriculture enterprises in Africa, Asia, Israel, and around the world can be studied as business case studies. These Agribusiness schools can complement the ineffective curriculum of the Faculties of Agriculture and serve as platforms for continuing professional development of agriculture professionals. Read ‘Transforming Agriculture in Nigeria: Unearthing the Missing Link’.
- Knowledge Deployment: ……Releasing fortified Agriculture professionals
After the thorough preparation and fortification of these emerging, aspiring entrepreneurs and young mid-level Agriculture professionals, next is the placement of these vibrant professionals as interns or full-time employees in key subsectors of the agriculture sector, including agricultural-based companies along the value chain. These are the transformation agents who will inject fresh ideas, sound and robust technical knowhow to age-long practices, thereby gradually laying foundation to facilitate the emergence of the new.
The transformation of agriculture in Nigeria is clearly not one to be handled with kids-gloves as our collective future depends on it. Reliance on knowledge as the main driver of this much needed transformation process cannot be over-emphasised. Therefore, attracting intelligent and willing individuals among us, as well as honing and developing their skills and capabilities will go a long way in transforming the sector.
There is bound to be conflict of interest, and some institutional, political bottlenecks etc to surmount. These challenges are quite normal because as human beings, we are so comfortable with status quo that we naturally resist the slightest change. Beyond government however, this transformation initiative is a process that can be or should be driven by the stakeholders within the private-sector.
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PS: This article is dedicated to the founder and CEO of Incubator Africa – Mrs Alero Ayida-Otobo. She is a worthy role model, an Apostle in the market place and a Transformation Strategist who constantly sees the big picture; and is passionately concerned about erecting formidable foundation in Education and other spheres of society for the next generation to build upon.