The link between entrepreneurship and favourable economic outcomes is well documented in the Nigerian business terrain. This nexus largely guarantees a collaborative environment for the advantageous association among relevant actors in the business ecosystem of an economy. It also goes without stating that the SME sector is the growth engine of any economy, contributing to its development, job creation and export amongst others.
According to the World Bank, MSMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. Formal SMEs contribute up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. The latest SMEDAN/NBS MSME Survey indicates Nigeria’s SMEs contribute nearly 50% of the country’s GDP and account for over 80% of employment in the country. No doubt, the informal sector is pivotal to Nigeria’s growth including reducing poverty levels. However, the sector continues to be weighed down with challenges which ultimately impact the nation’s growth.
It is no doubt that Igbo entrepreneurs play vital roles in the growth of the Nigerian SME sector, and by extension, the larger eco-system. Igbo Entrepreneurial activities have been observed to be a backbone for the Nigerian economy and have facilitated improved standard of living of the people at both rural and urban settings. In the general equation of SME ratings in Nigeria, Igbo entrepreneurs are visionary, enthusiastic and result-driven.
In the real fact, it is never gainsaying that people at the rural and urban areas in Nigeria depend heavily on the Igbo entrepreneurs’ initiatives, inventions and efficient outcomes. Therefore, it is not surprising that Igbo entrepreneurs have continued to dominate the SME terrains in Nigeria and even across the national boundary, such as in South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Gambia, China and others.
Commenting about the exponential growth witnessed within the SME sector of the Nigerian ecosystem on account of the entrepreneurship mind-set of the Igbos, the Sales Director of Nigerian Breweries, Uche Unigwe has reinforced the economic reality that Nigeria is benefitting immensely from the business acumen of the Igbos. In his capacity as the Sales Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc., Uche Unigwe oversees a product portfolio which consists of over 20 alcoholic and non-alcoholic products. His management and stewardship of the sales operations of these products has ensured that all the products maintain leadership positions in their respective categories and expand the bottom-line growth for Nigeria Breweries Plc.
Borrowing a leaf from what Life Continental Beer is doing in terms of strengthening the SME initiatives of the Igbos, Uche maintained that “Life Beer recognizes progress and has tapped into that progressive nature of the Igbos. They are industrious people who are never in doubt of their heritage and progressive instinct. So, Life Beer has been supporting the Igbo people through various channels; one of which is the Progress Booster that allows Life Beer to support people from the East with funds to drive their business enterprises yearly. A lot of people have benefited from this initiative”.
From interactions with most SMEs especially the one-man business owners, the common challenge has been a dearth of financial support from government and financial institutions. In this regard, Uche stated that “Life Beer has given a significant amount of financial support to the Igbos. We have extended an average of N300, 000 to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs as support for their business ventures. This brand also believes that for the Easterners, one thing is being wealthy, it is entirely another thing to be progressive. Being progressive is all about what you do with your wealth and successful engagement. One can be a successful business person today; but what is better is what you do with it in the long run, which is actually a function of progress”.
Of the three major ethnic groups, the Igbos have continued to distinguish themselves with a unique trait which can holistically serve as a solution tool for the dynamic economic situation of developing nations of the world. Therefore, bolstering entrepreneurial effort and sustainability among the Igbos has popularly become a sine qua non for expanding economic performance in Nigeria and indeed Africa. In budding economies, entrepreneurial adventures have not flourished relative to their developed counterparts, with debilitating consequences for increasing entrepreneurial development and fostering job creation.
Recently, Life Continental Beer berthed a truly Igbocentric campaign ideation that resonates with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Easterners. The ‘Turu Ugo Lota’ TVC Campaign which was launched in Enugu, is a celebration of the industrious and resilient spirit associated with the Easterners and is hinged on the Igbo adage “Turu Ugo Lota”, an adage that strongly reinforces the clarion call to ‘Bring Home the Glory’.
According to Uche, “the impact that TuruUgolota has on its target audience has been massive. Within the East and wherever the Igbo man resides today, Turu Ugo lota has become a slogan. Lately, it has become the trending lingo among Igbo people. When they congregate in the bars or occasions, they no longer say ‘Give me Life Beer’ anymore; they say give me ‘Progress’. This is because Life Beer is now synonymous to progress. The impact of a campaign can best be measured by the communal connection among people. This campaign has now become a way of life and philosophical relevance amongst the Igbo people. In the hearts and minds of every Igbo person, they are aware that there is value in going out there to hustle, conquer and come back home to celebrate; they now take it a step further by deploying their resources to improve the lives of their immediate community and kinsmen”.
Apart from throwing its weight behind SME efforts in the eastern parts of Nigeria, Life Continental Beer has also spent huge sums in terms of providing local sponsorships of community events and festivals. Uche also provides more information about other avenues where Life Continental Beer is widening its financial net to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of Igbos. “We have also given financial support to Igbo music artists and given them the needed leverage to succeed in life. We have put a machinery in place to monitor and provide advisory support for the Igbo Businesspersons under the purview of our empowerment drives. We realize that beyond the issue of financing a business idea, lack of training and poor capacity building to sustain wealth is a noticeable gap in the Nigerian SME climate. Most people go into businesses without adequate knowledge or entrepreneurial skills on how to run businesses”.
As more businesses continue to break even through the sustained efforts of Life Continental Beer, and by extension, Nigerian Breweries Plc, the Igbo traditional set-up has acknowledged the contribution of the beer brand in driving progress among Igbos. In this regard, Uche said that “the title of “Mmanya Oganiru of Igboland” is a recognition of the effort and support that Life Continental Beer has shown to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo. The Title “Mmanya Oganiru” simply means the “Beer for Progress”. For us, the title is a validation of our brand purpose which is “Progress” and an indication that all our efforts and commitment towards the progress of the Igbo community and Nigeria in general has not gone unnoticed by the people”.
In today’s marketing space where democratization of brands holds sway, one wonders why Life Continental Beer is positioning itself as a beer brand of the South-east. Uche maintained that “when you look across the world, one trend you will observe is the increasing evolution of self-awareness and rediscovery. So, the different ethnic nationalities across the world are beginning to rediscover themselves. They have found out that it is within that socio-cultural set-up that they truly find a real sense of community. Life Continental Beer, which began in the eastern part of Nigeria, wanted to establish and stamp its own identity that it is unapologetically “Eastern”.
Uche buttressed that “this is also born out of the realization that the people of the Eastern part of Nigeria have contributed immensely to its successful journey today. However, the brand is also extending its hand of friendship across the regions to meet fellow Nigerians where ever they are. It is also a known fact that the Igbos are in every nook and cranny of the country, Life Beer will always be the brand of choice. Life Beer is being entrenched in the Igbo land as an identity but at the same time most appealing to friends and families of the Igbos from other ethnic nationalities”.
In recent times, the Igbo entrepreneurial activities have engendered commendable effort towards improving standard of living and reduction of unemployment from the rural to urban settings. Through judicious utilization of the scarce economic resources by the Igbos, Nigeria has recorded a fairly stable economic climate. Igbo entrepreneurial activities and business success have contributed immensely to the growth and development of the Nigerian economy. As the successful expedition of Life Continental Beer has proven in the Eastern parts of Nigeria, when organizations identify with the unique qualities and strengths of a particular tribe, there is bound to be progress and economic prosperity.