Ijeoma Aso is the Managing Director (MD) UBA Foundation (UBAF), the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc. She spoke with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA at the just concluded flag off ceremony of the 2012 edition of ‘Read Africa’ project organised by the Foundation in Lagos. She spoke on the project and its impact on the continent.
On ‘Read Africa’ projects
‘Read Africa’ is an initiative of UBA Foundation geared at rekindling the dwindling reading culture amongst African youths. Our children no longer read; their passion for reading informative and educative books is fast eroding and this is part of the ills we want to correct in the continent’s educational sector.
These children are also distracted and challenged by the presence of other social media — Facebook, twitter, yahoo and others. There are other factors militating against Nigerian educational system as well as African countries as a whole.
Having identified the need to redeem the trend, especially in response to the declining culture of reading in post primary institutions across the continent, UBAF came up with the ‘Read Africa’ project, designed to resuscitate the reading culture amongst our youths.
Conceived and introduced in 2011, by the Foundation, the project involves the provision of recommended English literatures for junior and senior secondary schools students across Africa continent.
On plans towards achieving its objectives
The strategy of the campaign is to procure classic literature books and pay visits to schools with the management and staff of the Foundation and the parent company. This is also to serve as role models of the society.
The idea is to leave a good impression and motivate the children during our visits to schools, especially with our top management officers that the children look up to, as role models. For instance, you can imagine what the presence of UBA’s Group General Director (GMD) to some of these schools will do in their lives.
So, we bring them, these role models that they admire and by so doing, they can easily blend and aspire to be like them through hard work and reading to get more knowledge and be like them. We feel that the impact will be positive.
We have given out some books like Weep Not Child, authored by Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Baptist Academy to inculcate the idea of reading in them. Other schools will soon be benefiting from this gesture, because we have secured some books to distribute to other schools.
Also, having given out these books, we are continuing with mentoring and reading sessions in all the schools we are going to.
On the success of the ‘Read Africa’ so far
The first edition of ‘Read Africa’ was well received in Nigeria and across the 19 countries, where UBA has operations. As I said earlier, the project was successfully implemented in selected schools across the continent and was anchored by senior executives of the bank and UBAF’s staff who visited various schools in Africa to mentor the students and distribute select literatures to the students at no cost to them.
The GMD/CEO UBA Plc Mr. Phillips Oduoza flagged off the project at King’s College, whilst other executives of the bank across Africa took turns to participate. We also had some of the non-executive directors of UBA participate in the programme.
Also, the senior secondary school children received Purple Hibiscus, a book authored by Chimamanda Adichie, while the junior secondary school students were given Out of his mind, another book written by Bayo Adebowale.
During the reading sessions, pupils were given talks on the importance of reading. We needed to demonstrate to the children that these executives, of the bank were once like them and went through secondary schools as well.
We made them to understand that the fact that they are successful today attest to the fact that they took reading seriously. The executives were very excited to do this because it entailed personal giving back to the society that produced them. The children were equally touched and encouraged.
In few cases, we took people to their alma matas and it was very emotional because it brought back fond memories. Imagine you are 15 and the GMD of one of Africa ‘s largest banks came to give you a talk about reading and shared with you some of his experiences as a 15 year old.
This would definitely linger in your memory for a very long time. This year, we are going further to get some notable Nigerian role models to accompany our executives when we visit the schools. The idea is to further open this initiative that has been so well received.
On the impact of Ngugi’s visit to Nigerian students and continent
Ngugi’s visit portrayed our commitment to the project and Pan African vision. We want to show that Africa has classic literatures, which have stood the test of time, hence the selection of Weep not Child. Last year, each country’s subsidiary gave out different books but this year, we decided to give out one book across the continent. We chose the Weep not Child and we are giving out the English and French versions.
On the Foundation’s source of funding
As one Africa’s largest financial services institution, we realised that there is a need for a social contract between the bank, the community and its people. To this end, UBA became the first bank in Nigeria to institute a Foundation — UBAF as its CSR arm of the bank. UBA Foundation is committed to the socio-economic betterment of our communities. The bank funds it.
What other areas do UBA Foundation focus its attention?
UBAF focuses on education, economic empowerment and environment, which we call the 3Es. Other projects handled by the Foundation that do not come under the 3Es are handled under special projects.
These projects must align with our focus areas because we can’t do everything unfortunately. However, we have done a lot for Nigerian universities, we have built hostels, renovated classrooms, built Information Communication and Technology (ICT) centers, bought school buses, sponsored major academic programmes and have given out scholarships to some undergraduates to mention a few.
On the Foundation’s intervention in other African countries and impact on the regions
The Foundation replicates most of its core activities throughout. The ‘Read Africa’ project is executed group-wide alongside the prostate cancer awareness campaign. We are an institution that is committed to promoting socio-economic development of Africa, especially in the countries, where UBA operates.
On economic empowerment
UBA Foundation supports through SMEs, training workshops put together by organizations that have good economic empowerment programmes and lend financial support.