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Fireside chat on sustainable excellence for social impact

By Lehle Balde
14 June 2022   |   2:36 am
Grooming Centre recently launched a photobook, Stories of Impact: Real Women, Real Lives, Real Impact, at the Grooming Centre Hall at Ejigbo, Lagos.


Grooming Centre recently launched a photobook, Stories of Impact: Real Women, Real Lives, Real Impact, at the Grooming Centre Hall at Ejigbo, Lagos.

On the occasion, a fireside chat was led by Lehle Balde, International Monetary Fund fellow and expert on Economic Inclusion, who discussed the topic: Sustainable Excellence for Social Impact with Grooming Centre CEO, Dr. Godwin Nwabunka and member, Governing Council and Executive Director, Sesor Empowerment Foundation, Ier Jonathan-Ichaver.

Today on the Fireside Chat, we’ll be speaking about “Sustainable Excellence for Social Impact”, and essentially figuring out the Grooming Centre experience. I’d like to start by going back to 2006 when the Grooming Centre was founded, what was the driving force for the Grooming Centre; when the Grooming provided social services that create impact. We’ve been talking about the fact that 700,000 women have been impacted, so take us back Dr. Godwin, to 2006 when the Grooming Centre was founded, what was the driving force behind it and what is it about the Grooming Centre?

Godwin Nwabunka: We talk about issues of rights, development even from when a child is being conceived, making sure the mother gets the right antenatal care, and then on to the development stage, making sure that the child spends those first years of childhood development well when infant mortality is high. If a child survives the first year, it means the child has gone through a larger part and then when you make it to five, it means you survived the under-five mortality. And then, of course, even the ones that are having the baby, not dying by childbirth is also an issue.

So, we have looked at all these issues and we said, then why are we having gross mortality? For instance, children who are supposed to be in school, why are they not in school? Why should a child sit and not even bother about school? The child now cares for family contribution at home; there are a lot of ‘whys’. And then it comes down to poverty. And when it comes to poverty, of course, you are looking at the mother and the child. We said, for you to deal with those rights, you must balance up those issues and from the basic practicals of a Nigerian family; all of us are expectant of a better result, of course. And so, if a parent should allow a child to be in school to copy nonsense, something is wrong, right? So, like they say, ‘na condition make crayfish bend’. When children grow up, instead of him to be schooling, they will be farming. So, we say, for parents to be able to live those rights, we must call out the economic and social aspects of development.

To do that, we empower families, then children can be in school. We figure that by giving the mother a small credit, she steps up to support the education of her child and so the child is groomed; the child is retained; her child is useful in life.

Lehle Balde: As we are speaking about social impact, how do you measure social impact? What does social impact mean to the Grooming Centre? In what ways are you measuring the impact that we’ve discussed here today? So, I’ll pose that question to you, Ier. How do you define social impact and in what ways do you measure social impact at the Grooming Centre?

Ier Ichaver: I think social impact (of course), funny enough, the phrase developed from UN (our former employer). They have done a great job of just telling us what social impact is about, SDGs really – Sustainable Development Goals. Before then, we have all been leading all the Millennium Development Goals. Remember the MDGs? But right now, we have the SDGs, and we’ll really talk about different aspects of work. One of the first ones is dealing with poverty, and we’ve talked about women and children being the victims, and that is one thing that Grooming is made of: and we’ve done a lot of work, just like looking at the example. Dr. Godwin these referenced country evaluations, looking at just what we are doing within the society.

And so, for Grooming, it’s not just about these credits that our women receive, it’s also about the impact on their lives. So, if you read the book and you look at the stories, we are talking a lot about health, lifestyle, talking to them about how to manage their health, manage home, and just different things one can do to ensure and elongate life and impact life and by so doing, impact the community.

So, we look at just facing the ripple effects because you give a woman whether it’s ₦40,000 or ₦100,000 as a loan, and you begin to see it as credit or financial support; you begin to constitute different things, and even through partnerships.

We are seeing reported improvement in child health; the women themselves are now empowered. I’ll talk a bit about the displaced people because we all know we have a huge displacement problem. What we are seeing with them, even as they are mobile and homeless, if you are able to find a way to work with them and connect with them, even within their communities, as they are even mobile and track them overseeing, as they get access to finance and help even for their micro trading (some of them are selling akara, koko and all of that) we see that they are reporting the same outcomes, the social impacts have to be; one, the children are healthier; two, they report now that they’ve gone to give birth in the general hospital, before, they were giving birth in the settlements.

So, what does this mean? That we are seeing more of those giving birth; we are seeing more of them that go to hospitals. We are seeing long term benefits. So, when we look at social impact, as Dr. Oby said, we are not just talking about doing our CSR, we are busy talking about changing lives and making sure that there’s that objectivity; there is sustainable development that comes with it.

When you talked about measuring social impact, it is not just the CSR work that we’re doing; there’s a lot of impact that we are trying to gain traction within – on health, education, some of those things, even on disabilities, for example, some of the work we’re doing – supporting a foundation that works with amputees (people whose legs were amputated for different health reasons). So, there’s so much of that, and of course, you know that all these things contribute to ensuring that our societies continue to grow and be impactful.

Lehle Balde: Dr. Godwin, I’m going to move on to you; I know that Ier Ichaver briefly spoke about the services that the Grooming Centre offers. To your beneficiaries, what other services are offered and how can a woman for example, if a woman would like to take part in the Grooming Centre experience, how does she go about that? What is the way to join the Grooming Centre?

Godwin Nwabunka: The membership of the organisation is an open space basically for providing services. It does take aspiring to have business in a small enterprise, motivated to be economically active and that’s what it takes. Our people go to the markets, to all over the place to mobilise. We started as a group-based institution. Groups are usually self-selected. Women form the groups themselves.

Because the world is moving forward from the group arrangement to much more personalised arrangements, we have products and targets, not all about women, but men also. We move forward also to more individual kind of lending that helps a woman who started in a group environment. I will cite a story of the lady who started with ₦40,000 moved on to ₦150,000. That will create more specialised windows to enable them to get much more that we can stay with our members and clients through the whole chain. The progress out of poverty and then going up the income tree becomes more than achievable within one window that Grooming Centre provides. And now that technology is the driver of what is now total development, we are also working with them, to make sure that, that development happens also at that backend

A lot of organisations tell you they do process digitisation. They want to become more efficient internally and all of that. Grooming Centre is all of that and recognise, you have to also make the self-development at the end of our plan. So, for instance, working with the MasterCard, we set the women also to be able to make their inventories keep their inventories and they are able to manage their funding. And what we aspire to do is to have those two have a handshake; our digital development and their digital development at that time come together so that we can grow our women much better and what that does is that it reduces transaction time so that women at the end of one loan project can immediately take another one without too much dependency. Of course, there are challenges that come with the environment, discussions are happening, all kinds of digital products are coming in, the fintech is coming in, and all kinds of technology arrangements are coming in. So, we want to be part of that process with our women.

This actually is the future for us to go. And again, we listened to what Dr. Ezekwesili said, looking at those stories and going beyond the economic factors in those stories, going beyond the immediate social aspects of those stories. Now going into the governance issues, the development issues, and the policy issues that come up. So, how do we work with other third parties – and we’ve done that already with Sesor, for displaced persons, with Feet of Grace, in terms of prosthetics for amputees? We are dealing with some initiative, educating our women. For instance, during this major crisis, before it was Ebola, now it is COVID. We do all those.

We need to expand those partnerships to make sure that we are reaching out and providing the kind of support that helps people to move forward. Now, it is election time and there are a lot of bags of rice flowing all around, but because women are empowered, they’ll be able to ask those questions and say that this goes beyond a bag of rice. This will affect our future in the next four years; so, let’s take it more seriously and let us make sure that the kinds of people who can provide that type of leadership are doing it. Again, going forward, this is going much more beyond just finance, economics and social.

Another thing I think about is the youth, also a very large component. And so, a couple of days ago we just started a small initiative. It is basically like America Got Talent. So, we started a small talent hunt, and we called the producer and said come over. We have done three series and we have over a thousand youths who have come forward to enlist. And so beyond just the prizes that we give them, is that each and every one of those 1000 youths who come forward, we believe they have the talent, and that talent can be translated into a productive activity that can lead to a business. And so, beyond the fanfare, we are now trying to filter from that big mass, business ideas that we signed into our incubation process, through our acceleration process that the Grooming
Endowment Force, can help this kind of venture development. So the future is huge.

Lehle Balde: Touching on all the points that you made, data is going to be huge in terms of figuring out the habits of the women that you are serving, I think that’s a wonderful feat when it comes to the power of digital. And also, you talked about partnerships, in order to be able to sell the help that you are doing, you have to partner with like-minded organisations. So, I think it’s great that you do that and especially over 250,000 women alone with a couple of friends that you mentioned. So, congratulations and well done.

As we’ll be rounding up the Fireside Chat, I’d like to talk about the future of the Grooming Centre. You were founded in 2006, and we are now in 2022, what does the future of the Grooming Centre look like? And that will be my final question.

Ier Ichaver: Okay. I think I’d just say a few things. I think is a very exciting future, we’ve seen already some of the things that are going on, on the part of the stuff about the young people. One thing I have to talk about which we’ll see later is this place that we are in – this centre that we are in. I think one thing that the Grooming has done excellently, and we don’t celebrate enough is the fact that we stayed in Ejigbo – the community we are in. Normally, we would go on to VI, but we stayed in Ejigbo.

And what is incredible is just how it started with Grooming giving credit or access to finance to a few women and start impacting the entire community, the entire local government, and Lagos State and Nigeria. We have an advanced network. So, to me, I see more of Grooming doing a lot more in that space as well, the expansion, because it continues to impact the expansion of impact on communities in the different ways that you are seeing. So that’s one way because one thing leads to another.

Just to talk about the digitisation training that we are on, we’ve talked about the user experience also there, we are going to see more of that; and more women gaining access to all the stuff that Grooming has to offer, in a much more seamless way, that’s what we are working towards. Of course, it’s a work in progress, there’s a lot of stuff that we need to iron out, but we are very excited about that. So, that’s something to continually look forward to. We’re excited, we look forward to telling the Grooming story more, just so that we can inspire you because as we are here, it’s about us going back to our communities, also looking at the ways that we can impact our communities the way that Grooming cares.

Godwin Nwabunka: You’ve said it all. The future for us remains the women – they are the reason why we are in business. The future for us is to make it simplest for them to access the credit and then go beyond the credit again, to become more active communities and families and bring the leaders of tomorrow.

And of course, Ier talks about the many states we have. One of the major drivers for us is education; educating our children and making sure that beyond the families, the women and the men who interface with us and the family are also impacted. Then, really something in the area of scholarship, providing scholarship to the children of our women in our Senior Secondary Schools. We’ve done that and sat for about 100 and still reached about 500. The board just approved 1000 such scholarships so that these children can go to school.

As Ier said, we are also investing in small research grants for undergraduates. We encourage them to do their work in the rural area of enterprise development and start-ups. So, we provide some funding, and we provide funding for postgraduate students, who have applied to also do their research in this whole area.

What we try to do is to build an ecosystem of data of learning regarding what exists in this environment and it’s a whole lot of power. For instance, with the first set of 1000 women I told you we trained with MasterCard, we did an evaluation after six months and we found out that within that ecosystem, they have done business over ₦1billion, selling pepper, selling egusi. You won’t believe that this kind of resource exists but that is the power that resides at the bottom of the pyramid, that is the kind of power that we want to ignite going forward and make sure we integrate them in such a way that they understand that they have the power of change, coming together. That’s what the future will hold.

We want to cover more of Nigeria. We have done right about 12 million credits at the moment. If you take that 12million and above if you are committed to one value and say, at one person algorithm, about three or four credits, we are talking about over 3 million families that we have impacted. So, the 700,000 we are seeing are active ones but what we have done is much more than that. So, we want to drive that, and make sure that we cover the whole of the country. The future holds a whole lot.