The nexus between culture and business development
Olufemi Adedamola Oyedele, MPhil. in Construction Management, managing director/CEO, Fame Oyster & Co. Nigeria, is an expert in real estate investment, a registered estate surveyor and valuer, and an experienced construction project manager. He can be reached on +2348137564200 (text only) or firstname.lastname@example.org
February 6, 2023141 views0 comments
The Igbo entrepreneurship (apprentice) programme was taunted to be a solution to the pervasive poverty in Nigeria due to its success amongst Igbo businessmen. The “Igbo apprentice system”, also known as the “Igbo trade apprentice system” and commonly referred to as ′Igba-Odibo, Igba-Boi, Imu-Oru and Imu-Ahia′ is a framework of formal and informal, written and unwritten indenture (agreements) between two parties that ultimately facilitate burgeoning entrepreneurial communities among the Igbo people. It is an economic development model practised widely by Igbo people in the South-East of Nigeria. Its purposes were and still remain to spur economic growth and stability and sustainable livelihood by financing and investing in human resources through vocational training. The Igbo apprentice structure is an extension of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbos, where an induction strategy is utilised to ‘initiate’ mostly young Igbos into entrepreneurial ventures by established entrepreneurs locally referred to as Oga (Master). It is a widely accepted burgeoning practice in the region.
The apprenticeship venture can be a trade, an enterprise or a vocation and in some cases, apprentices serve also as domestic helps in their masters’ house, including serving the wife and children of their masters. The masters were former apprentices themselves, who had served and were handed resources to begin their own enterprises. This system is informal and has unstructured training programmes to learn and master skills required to embark on one’s own enterprise. According to an aspect of history of Igba Odibo, it was stated that after the civil war, which the then head of state of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, claimed there was neither a victor, nor a vanquished, the Nigerian federal government stripped the Ndigbo of their savings and money in Nigerian banks and they were given only 20 pounds sterling in exchange for whatever amount they may have in the banks, pre-civil war. The apprenticeship scheme can more or less, be described as a determination by the Igbo people to reclaim their lost fortune. As the Igbo proverb goes, ‘Onye ajulu adiro aju onwe ya’ (if people reject and deny you, you should not deny and reject yourself). Ibo traders work as a cooperative to capture all territories.
After the war, many young Ibo business men used the money they had to travel to various cities around Nigeria and started businesses, just as Israelis travelled to the Western world. As the elders blessed them, whenever they were leaving, they dropped a message: ‘onye aghala nwanne ya’ (do not leave your brethren behind). It is mainly this statement that propelled the success of Igba-Odibo. Various skills are imbibed in the apprenticeship training period. These skills are the technical, management and customer relations skills. Others are forecasting, customer management, stock management, inventory control and analysis, opportunity identification, recognition and utilisation, supply-chain management, quality control, bookkeeping and accounting, business communication, sales office planning, goal setting, business monitoring, marketing, crisis management, banking and finance, leadership, saving culture, network building, negotiation, coaching skill, and team participation.
Apprentices have been trained to help each other (brotherhood). They are also tutored to focus on returns on investment to enhance enterprise expansion, while maintaining no sentiment in dealing with family about their businesses. These training are evidenced in provision of the sales and services solutions covering all industries and sectors the Igbos are involved. These span the transportation, construction, manufacturing, real estate, commerce (import and export), trading, ICT, artisanship, film, automotive, etc. While all the different types of apprenticeship are geared toward the transfer of entrepreneur skills, they differ in approach. Unlike the Igba-Boi/Igba Odibo where a mentee will be tutored for serving free for a period of pre-agreed years, in the Imu Oru/Imu Oruaka and Imu Ahia types, tutorship are paid for by the mentee or mentee’s parents/sponsors. The Igbo apprentice scheme is a rational economic decision that uses cheap labour to build up human resources, while creating the opportunity of developing self-employed individuals.
Culture is a way of life of a group of people – the behaviours, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by intuition, communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group’s skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions. Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action. As the Ndigbos (Ibo people) have their own culture, so also the Yoruba and Hausa people.
Culture greatly impacts the relationship between an employee and employer. It also influences customer relations, marketing and entrepreneur’s decision on which market to enter and which one to deter. That is why some tribes are identified with some types of businesses and other tribes known for theirs. The success of the Ibo Apprentice Scheme is basically due to the culture of the Ibo people, which include servitude of a master by an apprentice in a master-servant relationship for a long period of time. The scheme may not work in another culture because it is a bond between the master to fulfil his promises of releasing the apprentice after the agreed period, setting up a business for him with a reasonable amount and supporting his business to grow, and the apprentice to serve throughout the agreed period. The civil war experience has its impacts. The Art of War, a business book by Sun Tzu; the fact that Military Science, which teaches topics like Managing the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), is now part of some MBA curricular and the fact that the Israelis and the Ibo people have similar war experience and approaches to business, give credence to this fact.
Can a Yoruba youth serve as an apprentice under a master for a sustained period of up to five years without salary or wages? I doubt it. Will an apprentice scheme appeal to a Hausa youth? I am not sure. It will also be worthy to do an empirical research on the readiness of Yoruba and Hausa Ogas, based on orientation, to observe the terms of agreement with their apprentices and to study the impact of culture on the business approach of the Ibo traders. Culture is an important issue in business development. While Israel’s innovation ecosystem is one of the most successful in the world because of Israel’s unique culture of discipline and cooperation among nationals, “global-first” market approach and government support; the “spirit of collaboration” propels the Egyptians to succeed in business.
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