Covid Hero interview with Bola Atta

The COVID Hero campaign by The Luxury Network Nigeria, in partnership with Business Day, and Robert Taylor Media aims to applaud outstanding individuals and organisations, whose work is critical to the survival of Nigeria in these unprecedented and challenging times. It’s driven by the company’s ethos of partnership and collaboration for greater impact – especially in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.

The next organisation under the spotlight is the UBA Foundation. The Foundation was the first by a bank in Nigeria, and since inception in 2005, it has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives across the continent through various special projects carried out in various host communities. The CEO of the UBA Foundation is Mrs Bola Atta. Bola is also Group Director, Corporate Communications at UBA PLC.


Please tell us about the Mission and Objectives of the UBA Foundation

The United Bank for Africa (UBA) PLC is committed to being a socially responsible company and role model for businesses in Africa. The bank established its Foundation, the UBA Foundation in 2005 as the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of the UBA Group. The UBA Foundation is committed to the socio-economic improvement of lives across Africa, focusing on development in the areas of Education, Environment, Economic Empowerment, and Special Projects.

The Foundation draws its inspiration from the Group’s intrinsic values of Enterprise, Excellence, and Execution and its mission statement: “to be a role model for African businesses, abiding by the utmost professional and ethical standards, and creating an enduring institution.”

Can you tell us some little known, but interesting facts about the UBA Foundation?

United Bank for Africa is the first bank in Nigeria to institute a foundation – The UBA Foundation- in 2005.

The Foundation since inception has donated hundreds of thousands of books across Africa through the READ Africa initiative and has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives across the continent through various special projects carried out in various host communities.

Please share some of the Foundation’s key projects to date:

The scope of the foundation covers 4 main areas: Education, Empowerment, Environment, and Special Projects.

The Foundation is actively involved in facilitating educational projects and bridging the literacy gap on a pan-African scale. The Education pillar is the umbrella arm of the UBA Foundation that guarantees this commitment. The Read Africa program and National Essay Competition are geared at stimulating the quest for sound knowledge and arming educational institutions/organisations with support and/or resources to meet various learning needs.

The UBA Foundation aims to make sustainable improvements in the lives of the needy and underprivileged by empowering youths through entrepreneurship programmes that benefit the community at large. The foundation regularly supports skills-acquisition and empowerment conferences, workshops, and seminars including Sponsorship of the TEF/UNDP Pitching Competition to identify and seed thousands of African Entrepreneurs in the Sahel/Lake Chad region; the 7th Annual Celebration and Entrepreneurial Awards of the Fate Foundation, a private-sector-led non-profit initiative with a vision to foster the establishment of 5,000 businesses and the creation of employment for at least 50,000 Nigerians; the Gavi Vaccine Alliance “Give A Child A Chance” campaign to end infant mortality in Africa through vaccinations, and many more.

We have also rehabilitated educational institutions; built hostels across Africa; sponsored adult literacy programmes; Provided entrepreneurial and job skills training; advocated financial Literacy; constructed footbridges, Communication and Technology centers; Trained teachers and students; Provided scholarships and so much more.

In May 2008, The UBA Foundation joined a group of elite financial institutions that signed on to the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) Statement. Through this, we have pledged our commitment to improving the environment and promoting sustainable development by maintaining a number of gardens across Africa and forging best practices throughout the industry.

What are the primary goals of the UBA Foundation?

The UBA Foundation is committed to the socio-economic improvement of lives across Africa, focusing on development in the areas of Education, Environment, Economic Empowerment and Special Projects. These focus areas inspire the bank to ‘Do Well and Do Good’ by extending the hand of partnership and aid to those communities that need it the most.

How has the viral outbreak impacted the work of the Foundation?

Since the outbreak of the virus in March 2020, The UBA Foundation has continued to play its role, albeit virtually when necessary. We often go across the African continent with our Read Africa Initiative and encourage students in less privileged communities, to read to hope for brighter futures. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to take this physically to the schools but decided instead to do so online. We were still able to ship books to various countries, even though many schools are closed right now. The receiving ministries of education and other agencies who have received our shipment of books are able to distribute them effectively to those who need them.

With our National Essay Competition which is often written in a physical setting, the fact that many schools are shut at the moment has had an impact in delaying the competition for this year. We have, however, decided to take the competition virtual in order not to deprive kids who have been hoping for a chance at scholarships to the tertiary level of education.

What has the general response been to your work since the Covid-19 outbreak?

The United Bank of Africa Plc, through the UBA Foundation, donated USD 14 million to governments in Africa to fight the spread of the Corona Virus across the continent. We have worked closely with government agencies in all 36 states in Nigeria and in 19 African countries to provide aid in various forms across UBA Group host communities. The responses from host and international communities on the effort and the impact of UBA Foundation activities around the COVID 19 pandemic has been positive and well received. For some, it was a jump start at the beginning of the pandemic.

What are the main challenges the Foundation has faced since the Covid-19 outbreak?

A large percentage of the activities the UBA Foundation undertakes is targeted at the underprivileged but due to social distancing restrictions, we’ve had to develop and implement viable alternatives to be able to carry out our activities. However, a majority of the youth we aim to help remain marginalised as access to the internet remains a challenge in the face of social distancing protocols. We are attempting to tackle this head-on in steps. We recently collaborated with the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative to provide comprehensive worksheets to substitute educational literature for youth that do not have access to internet or E-learning platforms and who are unable to attend school.

What is the driving force that keeps the Foundation committed to its goals?

At the UBA Foundation, we believe in intervening and building capacity within communities to facilitate projects that act as a catalyst to social and economic development. Our primary driving force is to make a positive impact on the lives and societies amongst whom we conduct business, and beyond. It is imperative that we play an active role not only as Africa’s global bank but also as a brand that is known for doing good because it is part of our corporate DNA. As one of Africa’s largest financial services institutions, we recognise the need for a social contract between the bank, the community, and its people and we continue to work towards this goal.

What are the most rewarding moments so far?

The most rewarding moments thus far for me are those moments when we bring joy to a child’s heart. Like when we announce the winners of the National Essay Competition each year. To see the children and their families’ reaction is priceless. You know that these children through the competition will be changing the course of their lives and even of generations with the opportunity to be able to go through university without the worry of funding. I always feel so privileged to be able to contribute meaningfully, no matter how small, to the future of our youths.

Does the Foundation have any new advice for the public with regard to the ongoing crisis?

It is very sad that many lives have been lost due to the pandemic. Sad also that many have suffered ill health and financial stress as well as anxiety and loneliness amongst other things. But it would be even sadder if we went back to normal and never grew from this dark period. I feel that the pandemic brought on a season of reset. Reset of our values, both cultural and spiritual. This has been the first time for many families in many years, that they were able to bond together, eat together, study together, pray together and for a prolonged period. You cannot place value on how much that is worth. We cannot place value on the stillness of our environment as it has had a chance to heal and breathe. If we take the good that came out of this period, we can continue to build a better world. I hope that when we look back many years on this year 2020, we can dwell more on the growth and development that emerged from it. I hope it has rung in a new era and one that is conscious of the earth most especially.

What do you anticipate the future of Nigeria will be post-COVID?

We operate in 20 African countries so the UBA Foundation does not speak to Nigeria alone. We work throughout our communities on the continent. We are preparing them for a future that is inclusive and that leaves fewer people behind. One that is more caring and less hectic. A future that is technologically driven without losing sight of humanity. This is the type of life we are working towards, post-COVID-19.


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