21st October 2021
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Igbo business system

According to Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe on Tekedia.com, the Igbo system of apprenticeship is the best business framework in the world. During his talk on the Platform, he explained his reasons for this conclusion. I have taken time to analyse and outline the following points on why I agree with him:

Inequality is severely mitigated

The system is one where there is an efficient economic equilibrium and inequality is brought to the barest minimum. For example, a man goes into a particular business and when he establishes himself and gains a market share, he gets apprentices under his belt. He tutors them on the tricks of the business and they learn by experience not theory sitting in a class. After some years, he voluntarily settles them either by paying their rent of their store for a number of years, or buying their first set of goods. The new entrepreneurs thereafter gain their own market share using the skills they learned. Every one gains and nobody is left behind. Prof. Ekekwe says “no one is super-rich but everyone is just fine! And the players just like it that way because “onye aghara nwanne ya”) do not leave your brethren behind) is part of the culture!)

Erodes selfishness and greed

The man who goes to get apprentices has an obligation to “settle” his apprentices. It is part of the system. This is not the regular mentorship system where a person offers only advice/guidance if he pleases to. But the culture and system expect that he does it. He is also not afraid to lose some market share in the process because he knows the market is big enough to contain everybody. This is unlike what happens in capitalist societies where for example, a Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates is insanely rich but still looks for ways to collect market shares from others. He is not obliged to share his wealth or yield some way. He becomes like a large single tree in a desert. This exacerbates inequality and that is why the USA is one of the most unequal system in the world. The Igbo system curbs all of that.

Insecurity is reduced to a minimum

Inequality all over the world breeds insecurity. Those left out of the system usually resort to illegal means to survive. However, the Igbo system where there is a sure way of escaping poverty gives people assurance and certainty that there is a path to make it. Everyone in the community is assured of something to eat and poverty is reduced to a barest minimum. Given this, violence is reduced. That is why The United Nations Development report says that the South East of Nigeria is the most secured in Nigeria.

While we know that they system is imperfect but with constant fine tuning and evaluation, I believe the system can improve the lives of people. It has been proven and tested. Professor Ekekwe says “what the world is expecting Amazon, Google and Facebook to do, under the Igbo apprenticeship system, business legends fund competitors and give out market share to build an economic system where everyone participates with no sole dominant player. I have not seen any better business framework in the world if the essence of capitalism is to improve the wellbeing of the citizens and the world through fixing frictions which exist in economies and markets.”

He is not the only one who has reached this conclusion.  Robert Neuwirth, also made this conclusion during a TED talk he gave. He says “I can say with almost certainty that the Igbo apprenticeship system that governs Alaba International Market is the largest business incubator platform in the world.”

Watch the TED Talk

In my opinion, we hardly give credit to our organic systems. That’s why there is a need to properly document our systems and tell our stories. For us at Desert Bloom, we choose to tell the stories of organisations in the development sector because that’s where our expertise lies. I believe we need to start appreciating what we have and telling the world that look, the solution to the problems in the developed world can be found in Africa.

Note: The Igbo people are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria.

Feature image credit: Daily Post Nigeria

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com