Although women’s rights have seen a significant positive change in the last decade, it remains a critical topic of conversation across various sectors in different parts of the world. According to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres, “Progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive. No country has achieved gender equality, and the COVID-19 crisis threatens to erode the limited gains that have been made.”
Women’s global economic development role provides significant progress and impact, charting new opportunities for women to continue to change the status quo. Even though we continue to record very many successes by women, there is still a lot more that can be achieved, especially in representing more women in the workforce.
According to the United Nations (2020), only 50% of working-age women are in the labour market for more than twenty years. This means that more women need access to resources and opportunities to break stereotypes resting in labour market positions. As a Bank, one of the ways we commit to addressing this is how we strategically continue to support some of the UN Sustainable development goals that empower women, especially in this new-normal era.
I echo the words of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres “The Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to recover better from the pandemic offer a chance to transform the lives of women and girls, today and tomorrow…”. We see this as an invitation to work collaboratively with the United Nation as corporate organisations and individuals to achieve growth and sustainable progress for women.
In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, our forward-thinking approach to initiatives and programs continues to deliver sustainable value for women, especially in a country like Nigeria, where women account for 49.34% of the total population. We see that the fewer income-generating opportunities for the larger population may leave women in an even more financially vulnerable position, hence our motivation to set up various initiatives such as the Women in Technology Incubator program, which launched in Nigeria 2019, following successful launches in New York, Kenya and the UAE.
This program aims to support female entrepreneurship with the call for increased gender representation and diversity in tech and for more opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial and leadership expertise. Also referred to as Women in Tech, the incubator supports early-to-mid stage professionals in technology and business sectors to have the requisite domain knowledge, experience, and perseverance to deliver results. Other markets equally running the program include Pakistan, Bahrain, Zambia, and Ghana.
Our goal is to enhance women’s role through business incubation and generate business outputs that improve existing business and women entrepreneurs’ capacity. Additionally, this program promotes and creates awareness about women business incubation globally and strengthens cooperation and network building between the various incubators. This ripple effect will cause an increase in the investment that different incubators receive, therefore integrating and developing more women who are part of this program. It has also created awareness about incubation challenges specific to Nigerian women and outlined various activities required to improve women-led enterprises’ technological infrastructure and structural support for Women Incubation. To date in Nigeria, we have invested over $250,000 in this program and are committed to doing more to sustain the program for posterity.
We understand that investing in Nigerian youth through education and creating productive and remunerative employment is the only way to support this growing demographic. Additionally, SCB sees the need to do its part in empowering the estimated 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world. Hence, the introduction of our Global Goal programme to Nigeria in 2011.
Goal tackles female empowerment by imparting adolescent girls in rural communities with life skills through sports training in partnership with leading global non-profit organisations. We have strategically designed this programme for girls between 12 and 18 who live in under-served communities by enrolling them in sessions typically offered weekly for ten months. The girls are being taught critical facts about health, communication, rights, and managing their finances. All this is done to understand how to share the knowledge with their friends, family, and communities.
To ensure that more girls are taught these essential skills, girls who complete the Goal programme and display exceptional leadership qualities are invited to become Goal Champions, making them eligible to receive training to deliver the Goal curriculum to their peers. Since its inception in 2006, the Goal programme has reached more than 525,000 girls and young women worldwide.
Without gender equality, efforts to empower women will only go so far. For example, our global Futuremakers initiative is set-to up tackle this and promote financial inclusion across our markets. We aim to raise US$50 million between 2019 and 2023, needed to empower the next generation to learn, earn and grow. This augments our desire to continuously #ChooseToChallenge as a Bank.
Our method is simple; to contribute to Sustainable Economic Growth by investing in strategic leadership training programmes under the youth’s employability project. Globally, we recently partnered with Young Business International (YBI) to support young entrepreneurs hit by the economic impact of Covid-19. The project is part of our Futuremakers by Standard Chartered global initiative to tackle inequality.
Bringing it home to Nigeria, our implementation partner, FATE Foundation, will provide holistic support through various initiatives, including Digital Transformation Workshop, Resilience-building Series, and Remote Consulting & Advisor services to be delivered virtually by our employees to 2,000 entrepreneurs across Nigeria. We will specifically target entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-35, who the crisis has hardest hit.
Between 2019 and 2020, we had also invested over USD50,000 in work-ready employability project training and equipping nearly 200 Nigerian youths with skills and resources to aid their career development journeys. Empowering the future is a gift that keeps on giving, and for us, we intend to continue to do this for a very long time.
For every woman or girl-child not empowered economically, our work is not done. We will continue to grow our current programmes and initiatives, partner with similar organisations, and start new ones in areas we have not yet covered. We strive for equal representation as we #ChooseToChallenge this year and always.
Lamin Manjang is the Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited