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NCOY 2022: SDGs, JAN and FirstBank’s Decade of Raising Student Entrepreneurs

Bolaji Israel.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by 193 nations under the auspices of United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end extreme poverty and hunger, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy equitable access to education, peace and prosperity amongst others.

While goal 1 out of 17 targets eradication of extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030, goal 4 seeks provision of quality education for all as a fundamental path to creating a peaceful and prosperous world.

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Similarly, as SDG 5 captures gender equality as not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful and sustainable world goal 8 states that sustained and inclusive economic growth can actually open decent jobs for all and improve living standards.

NCOY 2022: SDGs, JAN and FirstBank's Decade of Raising Student Entrepreneurs


However, 7 years into the 15-year targets, global problems including COVID-19 pandemic, surging inflation and the rising costs associated with reaching net-zero carbon emissions, are significantly hampering the realisation of these overarching goals.

In fact, Reuters in September 2022 quoted a Report by the Force for Good Initiative (FFGI) that the cost of meeting SDG global targets rose by 25% to $176 trillion over the last year.

Journey So Far

Despite the daunting challenges, nations particularly Arabs, Asians, Americans and Europeans continue to strive towards hitting the targets through apt national legislations, policies, collaborations and programmes and are recording improvements.

For instance, out of the 22 Arab countries, while Syria and Libya score lowest due to internal conflicts and 3 others facing other problems, resulting in similar poor performance, Oman closely followed by Jordan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco emerged tops scoring 60 per cent of the UN Goals thus far.

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The Arab region scores an average of 58.2 out of 100, according to report released by the World Government Summit Organization, in partnership with the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government, titled Arab Region Sustainable Development Goals Index 2022.

Ukraine war, economic difficulties and COVID-19 slowed gains in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and India.

NCOY 2022: SDGs, JAN and FirstBank's Decade of Raising Student Entrepreneurs

The Chinese Story

Impressively, the number of people in China with incomes below $1.90 per day – the International Poverty Line as defined by the World Bank to track global extreme poverty–fell by close to 800 million. With this, China has contributed close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty.

China’s poverty reduction story is of persistent growth through economic transformation,” said Manuela V. Ferro, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

The approach has been based on two pillars, first was broad-based economic transformation to open new economic opportunities and raise average incomes while second was targeted support provided to areas disadvantaged by geography and lack of opportunities and later to individual households. Key lessons from reports include focus on education, an outward orientation, sustained public investments in infrastructure, and structural policies supportive of competition.

Nigeria and Africa

Like others, Africa faces an herculean task in its bid to achieve the SDG targets. Though hard pressed by galloping inflation, crises, food shortage and poverty, the continent is not without action and hope.

A new report released by UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM), confirmed efforts on SDGs, and called for more.

In Nigeria, the federal government says the nation is on course to hit the 2030 mark. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, senior special assistant to the president on SDGs in July, said the federal government’s optimism was based on institutional frameworks it provided both at the national and sub-national level and plans to brief the UN on updates for the 3rd time in 2023.

Similarly, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr Matthias Schmale, pointed that Nigeria was confronted by many challenges affecting its chances of meeting the goals, while speaking at a forum in Abuja on July 14, 2022.

He maintained that the situation was the same across many African nations, urging government to “pay more attention to promoting economic growth by supporting the private sector to create jobs and drive growth to other sectors of the economy.”

Schmale’s apt recommendation aligns with a private sector driven collaboration between Junior Achievements Nigeria, an international non-profit organisation and Nigeria’s premier financial institution, First Bank which has contributed significantly towards meeting key SDGs in Nigeria especially on poverty eradication, quality education and wealth creation.

For over 12 years, the partnership has provided a much needed platform and tonic for nurturing students into entrepreneurs while still in uniforms.

This was made possible through the National Company of the Year (NCOY) initiative launched by JAN twenty-four years ago as well as the Africa company of the Year version.

The NCOY program was designed to inspire senior secondary school students to start and run businesses, develop life impacting products or services, and market their brands under the auspices of JA for a few months with the support of seasoned volunteers and win prizes.

These activities help them hone in-demand skills like creativity, accountability, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, and public speaking and other entrepreneur related skills to succeed in the competition and thrive globally.

During the competition, ‘student business owners’ participate in stage presentations and pitches of their products to a panel of seasoned judges, as well as board room meetings and one-on-one Q&A session with the panel of judges.

The program features at regional, national and continental stages. The national winning team gets an opportunity to represent Nigeria at continental stage.


And the results have been an overwhelming catalogue of contributions and solutions from the young champions towards making life better across communities in Nigeria. Most importantly, while still in secondary schools, participants are already wired to becoming entrepreneurs and reoriented to provide jobs and not join the army of unemployed graduates in Nigeria.

Through the program, over one million young Nigerians have been impacted to become entrepreneurs and tackle extreme poverty through various scalable solutions developed within the JA program sponsored by First Bank of Nigeria.

At the 2022 edition of NCOY, Green Apex student company from the International School, University of Lagos, emerged overall winners having produced a biodegradable sanitary pad for women. The school will represent Nigeria at the Africa company of the Year in December 2022.

Other winners were: 1st runner up – Nexus Queen’s Creation student company from Queen’s School, Ibadan, which developed a decorative led lamp structured with 80% carton; 2nd runner up – KRi8 student company from Top Faith International Secondary School, Akwa-Ibom, which developed a vacuum cleaner.

NCOY 2022: SDGs, JAN and FirstBank's Decade of Raising Student Entrepreneurs

Crowned as the CEO of the Year was straw recyclers student company from Special Education School, Tudun Maliki (School for the blind and deaf). They recycled abandoned straws and takeaway plastic spoons from the garbage into home accessories such as bags, doormats, home decorations, tissue paper containers, coin purses, and more.

Also crowned as most innovative was Champion Squad student company of Taidob College, Asero, Ogun state. They had produced wearable totes from a revamping process of used clothes with creative and fashionable local adire.

The judges were Osayi Alile – CEO, Aspire Coronation Trust(ACT) Foundation; Molade Adeniyi -CEO, Wave; Uchenna Achunine, Director, Business Development and Communications, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF); Nneka Itabor – Head, Transaction Banking Sales, First Bank; Afolake Oredola, Business Manager, Commercial Banking, FirstBank; David Adegboyega – Sound Character Coach & Nation Builder; Femi Iromini – Co-founder/CEO Moni Africa.

In 2021, KereTerra Company from Secondary School Etoi (Uyo) emerged winner while Sonic Information from Heritage Global Academy (Lagos) and the Exploit thinkers from Taidob College (Ogun) emerged first and second runners up respectively. It was themed ‘Innovation with Grit’

The 2021 NCOY also featured the SPARK Competition. SPARK as an initiative of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, is an acronym for Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness. SPARK reiterates the Bank’s commitment to institutionalise kindness in Nigeria by encouraging and amplifying a culture of kindness.

The SPARK competition featured 15 finalist schools across Nigeria, whose CSR projects align with the Bank’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability pillars of Education, Welfare and Health, Financial inclusion and Responsible Lending and Procurement.

Similarly, the New Phase student company from Brookstone Secondary School, Rivers, producers of an eco-friendly building block emerged winner of the 2020 National Company Of the Year (NCOY) competition, and later represented Nigeria at the 10th Africa Company of the Year (ACOY) Competition.

Other finalists had also produced life impacting products including Amazing Amazon student company from Government Girls Secondary School, Abaji, Abuja which produced innovative healthcare technology that connects hospitals to blood banks and blood banks to donors; Jikoru student company from Alvana Secondary School, Owerri – a web platform that connects freelancers to jobs; Alpha Tech student company from Comprehensive School of Management & Technology, Ebonyi – a tyre fault detecting chip; Innovative Vibrant Youth student company from International School, Lagos – a mobile application to crowdfund towards feminine hygiene and tips for girls in underserved areas.

Some other remarkable innovation developed include Octagram student company from Redeemer’s Int’l Secondary School, Rivers State which developed a Gas detector that alerts users about leakages and Honey candy that aids digestion, heals sore throat and reduces cholesterol.

Amazing Explorer student company from Government Secondary School, Tundun, Wada, Jos also developed a pig dung, a renewable energy product that produces methane gas which when connected to a burner produces the required energy for cooking and a free energy generator produced from scrap materials while Unique Standard Technology student company from Unique Standard Academy, Kaduna, developed an Infinity DC Generator and De Perficient student company St. John’s of God Secondary School, Enugu developed Verso bot(a robot)

In 2018, Taidob College Abeokuta won at the national finals and later won four awards at the Africa finals in keen competition with representative of nine other countries.

The awards include Client Focus Award, Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, Facilitator of the Year Award and was the second runner up, Company of the Year Award.

At the 2018 NCOY, Inventive Explorers company from Caro Favoured School in Lagos emerged winners and went on to the continental stage in Accra, Ghana to beat students companies from nine (9) countries and emerged the Africa company of the year champions.

Speaking on the programmes and partnership, the Group Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Folake Ani-Mumuney, emphasised that the initiative aims at empowering secondary school students to become business owners and be financially conscious from a young age.

This, she pointed out, would help young people gain the tools and knowledge to make effective, informed financial management decisions and achieve long-term financial independence.

According to her, First Bank remains committed to engendering an entrepreneurial mindset in children and young adults, fostering their creativity, wealth creation and management skills and, ultimately, nurturing the kindness culture, corporate responsibility and sustainability involvements.​

“Our sponsorship of the National Company of the Year competition aligns with our FutureFirst initiative driven to promote financial literacy, entrepreneurship and innovative development and career counselling of school children at an early age.

“We are excited to be part of the entrepreneurship journey of all representatives of the participating teams and we wish everyone the best”, she concluded.

In her remarks, the Executive Director of Junior Achievement Nigeria, Foluso Gbadamosi, stated: “Our mission towards inspiring and transforming young people with the skill sets and mindsets needed to help them thrive in a global economy has been both challenging and exhilarating.”

“We celebrate our partners and sponsors, First Bank of Nigeria Limited for their continual support in building young leaders and we say a big thank you to every friend and stakeholder of JAN. Junior Achievement Nigeria (JAN) is part of Junior Achievement Worldwide (JAWW), the world’s largest and fastest-growing non-profit economic education organization with a 120-country network, ” she noted.

In conclusion, with a sustained framework in place by government, consistent monitoring network and effective collaborations such as the one between FirstBank and Junior Achievement targeted at poverty eradication and economic prosperity through entrepreneurship education borrowing a leaf from the Chinese success story, Nigeria and Africa may be at a vantage position towards achieving the SDG targets.