Lifting people out of poverty is a popular campaign promise made by politicians during elections and often broken when they get into office. However, one organization does not pay lip service to fighting poverty; it has a solid record of transforming the lives of people at the lower demographic level and helping them achieve sustainable self-reliance. Over time, it has delivered measurable results in pursuit of this mission. This organization is the Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO).
Established in 1987 as a non-governmental organization with the mission to assist the poor, especially women in raising their socio-economic status, the LAPO brand has grown and expanded into different sectors of the economy. Through its financial institution – LAPO Microfinance Bank – the organization has provided affordable short-term loans to small businesses in rural and urban communities thus bridging the financial inclusion gap and supporting beneficiaries to contribute to the economic development of their communities.
LAPO Microfinance Bank through consistent innovation and has gone from a state-level microfinance bank in 2010 to the largest, with presence in about 34 states in Nigeria a little over a decade later. The MFB accounts for a market share of about 13% of the total microfinance industry loans as of December 2020.
Propelled by its mission of democratizing self-reliance and empowerment, the bank has been able to deliver micro-credit to over five million customers and has greatly impacted the lives and livelihood of Nigerians- funding from the bank has helped support small businesses and served as a source of funding for educational and health emergencies.
The nexus between MSMEs and access to easy line of credit is vital to the growth and sustenance of the economy. As PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) stated in its 2020 MSME Survey:
“Nigeria’s SMEs contribute nearly 50% of the country’s GDP and account for over 80% of employment in the country. No doubt, the sector is pivotal to Nigeria’s growth including reducing poverty and unemployment levels.” -PWC’s MSME Survey 2020
More recently, the LAPO brand expanded into the education sector with the establishment of the LAPO Institute for Microfinance and Management Studies (LIMMS). The focus of the institute is microfinance capacity enhancement, enterprise development programmes, research and advocacy in Nigeria.
Its vision is to be a center of excellence for learning, research and advocacy for holistic financial support for the poor and micro-enterprises in Africa.
The core values of the organization are: Integrity, Excellence, Professionalism and Consumer focus. These values are embodied throughout the LAPO brand.
By establishing the LAPO Institute for microfinance and Management studies(LIMMS), the LAPO group is continuing its mission of fighting poverty by contributing to the upskilling of the teeming labour pool – especially millions of jobless young people – and increasing their opportunities for employment.
It’s important to appreciate the context which provides the rationale for the establishment of this pioneering institution. According to the Nigerian Youth Action Plan 2021-2024 released in 2021, “as at 2020 (Q2) youth unemployment (15-34 years old) stood at 35%. A further 28 per cent of labor force were considered underemployed”. This points at a greater macro trend and the need to develop the capacity and marketability of young people who constitute the majority of Nigeria’s population. LIMMS provides an opportunity for young people to get the skills they need to avoid becoming part of the unemployment statistics.
It’s therefore good news that the institute has already been accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the Federal Ministry of Education to run National Diploma (ND) Microfinance and Enterprise Development.
LIMMS represents LAPOs recognition of the role of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in boosting the national economy. The sector is integral to the growth of the economy, sustenance of per capital income and overall growth of any countries GDP. The institute has tailored its courses to be relevant for today’s business climate and at per with international standards.
Courses offered at the institute include:
Basic Business Management Programme (BMPP)
Senior Management Programme
Advanced Manager Programme
Soft Skills: Customer Relationship Management, Time management, Occupational health safety
The knowledge and training students will obtain from these programs will build their capacity when they enter the market as entrepreneurs and business managers who make up the MSME ecosystem. In addition to the management courses offered, the institute also organizes training and international workshops to promote microfinance as a viable business venture.
Notably, LIMMS also offers a Thesis Support Grant (TSG) which is part of its corporate social responsibility to support scholarly research in Nigerian universities. This grant supports indigent post-graduate students under-going Masters and Doctoral programmes in disciplines related to the institute’s area of interest in Nigerian universities.
Given the track record of LAPO MFB and the Group as a whole, the LAPO School of Microfinance has excellent prospects of achieving its mission of empowering both current entrepreneurs and new entrants with the knowledge they need to build strong and sustained structures that would take small business in Nigeria to the next level.