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Wema Bank: Pushing The Frontiers Of SME Development Through Training

Wema Bank Plc, the pioneer of Africa’s first fully digital bank, ALAT, has once again risen to the occasion to support and provide an enabling environment for the success and sustained operations of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country. Last week, the bank held a week-long SME Business School in Port Harcourt to train 156 SMEs in the South-South region on business management strategies and best practices, among others. It was the fourth edition of the bank’s SME Business School series, which aims to scale up the capacity of SMEs in the country.

Wema Bank established the “Wema Bank SME Business School” to bridge the skill and knowledge gaps that are so prevalent and obvious in the sector, as a result of research and the realisation of the role of SMEs in job creation, income generation for households, poverty reduction, and national development in general.

The Wema Bank SME Business School was launched in Lagos in 2020. The second edition took place virtually, while the third edition happened in Abuja. The fourth edition, which was recently held in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country, has further helped to equip SMEs in various parts of the country with the requisite business management knowledge and skills to effectively run their enterprises and respond to the ever-evolving challenges of today’s business world.

Empirical evidence shows that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of modern economies across the world, including in the developed economies of Europe, South East Asia, and North America. This is why many ambitious and growth-oriented economies in the developing world are striving to place SMEs on a pedestal where they can significantly contribute to their economic development.

Indeed, small and medium enterprises are the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 27% of Nigeria’s trade balance comes from small businesses, which also employ 60 million Nigerians and contribute 48% of the GDP. As a result, it goes without saying that SMEs in Nigeria are significant employers of labor. Without them, the unemployment level in the country would have been much higher than its present rate of 20 percent.

Unfortunately, the operating environment of SMEs in Nigeria, like in many developing countries, is not conducive to business sustainability and success. The challenges that SMEs face range from lack of access to capital and lack of market for their products to high-cost environments and the inadequate management skills of their operators, among others.

According to the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria’s (SMEDAN) 2017 National Survey, Nigeria has 41.5 million SMEs. Over the years, however, many of these small businesses have closed shop due to the inclement business environment.

Recently, the Association of Micro-Entrepreneurs Nigeria (AMEN) cried out that more than 68 percent of the country’s small businesses have collapsed due to the current energy crisis facing the country. It added that the remaining 32 percent are on what it described as “life support,” urging the government to come to their aid.

Providing the basis for the intervention in the SME sector by Wema Bank to ramp up capacity for operators, the Divisional Head, Retail Business, Dotun Ifebogun, founded the Wema SME Business School in a bid to close the critical knowledge gap in the SME space in Nigeria, and each edition of the program takes place in a different part of the country to ensure that SMEs all around the country participate and benefit.

He disclosed that the bank has collaborated with top-notch consultants from renowned organizations within and outside Nigeria, including Deloitte, Facebook (Meta), and Nexford University, to serve as facilitators on the program and ensure that the participants get an immersive and invaluable learning experience.

Mr. Ifebogun further noted that the initiative would be a meaningful addition for SMEs seeking to scale and strengthen their market positions.

“As an SME-friendly bank, we understand that starting and running a business in Nigeria is no small feat, and there are lots of challenges that SMEs face.”

“We started the Wema SME Business School to equip SMEs with relevant and practical knowledge that will guide them in the effective running of their businesses and to surmount any challenges that they encounter.”

He described the recently concluded 4th edition of the Wema SME Business School in Port Harcourt as a huge success that would impart contemporary business management skills and knowledge to growing businesses in the country’s South-South region. “We intend to make them champions and successful enterprises, thus supporting the country’s economic growth,” he said.

“Through this, we can tackle problems such as poor access to finance, poor market access, technological disruptions, and macroeconomic uncertainty,” he said. “All in all, we will equip them with fresh ideas and insights that will help them take their businesses to a higher level.”

As a mark of appreciation to Wema Bank for the insightful and enriching sessions at the Port Harcourt training, some SME owners who participated in the training have commended the bank for boosting and enhancing their business management skills, which is needed to positively turn their businesses around.

A total of 156 participants attended the 4th edition of the Wema Bank SME Business School. A participant, Uche Onochie, commended Wema Bank for the knowledge-laden program, which she said had broadened her perspective on SME management. “Wema Bank is trying for me; they have made me what I am today. They are the reason why my business is where it is today,” she said.

Another participant and SME owner, Udoh Mfon Peter, expressed gratitude to the bank for the highly impactful program. He added that it was one of the most beneficial things that happened to him. “It was a real MBA, a live MBA program,” he said.

For Dr. Mercy Abu, the program was packed full of the requisite ingredients for business success. “I thought I knew a lot before this program, but I can tell you I have more knowledge after this,” she said.

The Wema Bank SME Business School Series 4 was held at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Ken Saro Wiwa Road, Port Harcourt.

The Wema Bank SME Business School, now in its fourth training module, is an annual business education and entrepreneurial intelligence program designed to empower SME owners with top-notch innovative and winning business ideas so that they can run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. Through the Business School, the bank has been supporting SMEs by bridging their knowledge gaps and equipping them to respond to challenges in an ever-demanding business environment.

The idea of the Wema SME Business School started after several studies commissioned both within and outside the country established a nexus between training and business success.

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