Top Voice: Lolade Awogbade



IBR Group International are delighted to formally announce the very first interview for the Top Voices in Sustainability 2020 series. As part of the new interview series, we shall be speaking with some of the world's leading sustainability professionals for a hot take on recent progress and traction in the rewarding world of sustainable finance. Today, we will be speaking to Lolade Awogbade, a sustainability specialist at the Development Bank of Nigeria.

A graduate of Kings College London with an MSc in Human Resources and Organisational Analysis, Lolade is now an experienced sustainability, citizenship and project management professional with extensive experience in Environmental and Social risk management, sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). She speaks candidly to us about the progress Nigeria is making towards a fully inclusive banking sector and of the passion she has for sustainable development.

The Interview

Q: How have you been keeping during the coronavirus lockdown?

Lolade: I've managed to create a routine that involves exercise, self-care, working from home at my regular job, and catching up on a lot of activities I've ignored for quite a long time. It's the most downtime I've had since I started working over a decade ago. I've realised that even when I'm on formal leave, I never quite manage to switch off. So, this has been good to slow things down a bit. I've also discovered I'm quite an adept cook!

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your career trajectory and what brought you to your current role?

Lolade: I started my career as a management consultant in Nigeria working with Accenture focusing on human capital and organisational analysis. After 6 years, I decided it was time to move on to something different and joined Chams Plc an indigenous biometric firm as Head of Performance Management & Strategy. One of the pivotal projects during my time there was the BVN project where I oversaw training for all the engineers that set up BVN devices in all Nigerian banks. After the project was successfully executed, I moved on to Union Bank where my journey in sustainability officially started and I haven't looked back from this area of expertise since! My time as the Head of Sustainability at Union Bank made me realise a lot about what I really wanted out of a career. It was 4 years of a lot of firsts for myself and the Bank and I left a legacy I am extremely proud of. I am currently the Head of Sustainability at the Development Bank of Nigeria, a role I started a few months ago and one in which I hope to grow my expertise in sustainability to even further heights.

Q: As a development finance institution, what concrete steps are the Development Bank of Nigeria taking to ensure sustainable solutions are implemented to financing concerns specific to Nigeria's development?

Lolade: As a Development finance institution with a mandate to create access to finance to MSMEs, we have actively disbursed loans to our PFIs for on lending to end-borrowers (MSMEs); loans have been disbursed to over 95,000 MSMEs through 25 PFIs. We created a credit guarantee subsidiary company, Impact Credit Guarantee Ltd (ICGL), as part of our effort towards de-risking loans towards the MSMEs. We have also increased the knowledge and skills bases of the financial sector space and the MSMEs through our publications, summits, advisory services and capacity building. DBN has also been an advocate for the MSMEs with regards to policy formation of the government as well as the apex regulatory authorities.

About the Top Voices in Sustainability Series

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How does the interview series operate? Essentially, each and every quarter, we will publish an interview with one of the world's most influential professionals and place the interview on our website and weekly newsletter. The theme of the interview series is "sustainability in the energy sector".

"We have also increased the knowledge and skills bases of the financial sector space and the MSMEs through our publications, summits, advisory services and capacity building" - Lolade Awogbade

Q: Do you believe that Nigeria are moving at the correct pace in order to fully integrate Environment Social & Governance criteria into its banking sector?

Lolade: Nigeria and the financial sector have developed a very robust E&S structure which all key stakeholders adopt as part of internal processes. In addition, the NSBPs have identified key sectors and the monitoring and evaluation of E&S practises in these sectors is of paramount importance. In addition to the development in the sector, there is an increase in the development of professionals with specialist E&S skills being grown due to demand. Furthermore, we see equal progress being made in other sectors -manufacturing, infrastructure development etc when it comes to E&S. Key players in these sectors are more aware of the impact of their activities and are beginning to take a more defined approach in measuring and monitoring the environment and social impacts of their operations and activities within the communities in which they operate.

Q: What are your thoughts on the emergence of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) and do you believe they are operating as intended, if not, what needs to be improved?

Lolade: The NSBPs developed over 5 years ago now, should be lauded for the impact they have had especially on the way commercial banks conduct their activities and operations today. Without the existence of the NSBPs, areas such as women's empowerment, financial inclusion, E&S, environmental impact would still be largely ignored by many financial institutions. However today, because of efforts made across a multitude of areas, we see development and awareness across several areas. In addition, there has been increased advocacy for the SDGs as quite a few of the 17 targets also address NSBP areas. 

Of course, the more momentum that is gained in trying to achieve key NSBP areas, the more practitioners and corporate entities mature in terms of progress made. As such, over the next 2-3 years it would be a good idea to review the current template and update it to reflect more local realities for Nigeria. For example, another area that can benefit from a bit more critical thinking and renewed metrics could be poverty reduction, job creation, of MSMEs empowered?

Q: Has COVID-19 changed the landscape for financial inclusion in Nigeria, and how much progress has Nigeria made towards financial inclusion since the inauguration of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

Lolade: Financial inclusion has been on a constant upward in Nigeria for a few years now. A lot of effort has been put in by the Central Bank of Nigeria to get the numbers up; with strategies being created and reviewed every few years. As you may be aware, as a nation we have national financial inclusion targets- "to achieve 80% inclusion rate by 2020" and the CBN alongside the Bankers Committee has created numerous ways of ensuring they meet this target. This target has been reviewed since inception in 2012 and work continues to achieve the newly set targets. 

Taking a slightly deeper dive into efforts that have been deployed to achieve these targets we saw in 2018 the set up of the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) to enable agent networks to penetrate deeper into more rural areas providing financial services to the underserved/unbanked.

There have also been significant efforts in creating general awareness through education and programs for out-of-school adults focused on savings. These initiatives have managed to positively affect millions of Nigerians to date and the efforts in these areas continue today. Current critical thinking to increase the numbers of financial included individuals also include specific products created for women currently excluded largely due to culture/traditional norms and the exploration of fintech as a possible platform.

Q: What do you think the next 5 years will hold in store for the sustainable banking industry in Nigeria?

Lolade: I think over the next five years we will see even more maturity in this sector and not just in the banking sector, but an increased awareness across several other sectors. Why do I say this? Its simple. We increasingly see the effects of climate change, its no longer a myth - planting cycles are affected, the effects of poor manufacturing techniques as well are being felt health wise within our communities. We must be more responsible simple. The push to create more jobs becomes even more important and a way to achieving this is through MSME empowerment. The levels of waste are becoming hazardous to healthy living and so we must consume and dispose of our waste in more sustainable ways. As mentioned before, these developments will lead to an increased need for professionals who are able to think creatively and create solutions to ensure these areas are effectively managed. 

To date, the Nigerian Banking system has done well when it comes to creating sustainability awareness and I see this space growing even further and become formalised with certificated and professional accreditation being the next major move.

Thank You

Thank you to everyone who made this interview possible. For more interviews in this series, follow us on Twitter @ibrgroupintl or connect with us on LinkedIn.