It’s not enough to teach wealth creation without giving young people startup capital –Bishop Erumaka

By Enyeribe Ejiogu

The true worth of the life of a person is measured by the depth and breath of the lives such a person has touched, impacted on and the value created for the glory of God. 

Only in this dimension can the average person understand the motivation of Dr. Humphrey Erumaka, Presiding Bishop and General Overseer of Wordbase Assembly, Lagos, to show appreciation to God for sparing his life to attain a milestone age. 

On July 7, Bishop Erumaka will give expression to the biblical counsel that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” by empowering young people who win a business idea pitching competition with startup capital to actualise the project and begin their wealth creation journey. The competition is the brainchild of the Business Triangle Forum, a specialised enterpreneurship and business support group set up the Pentecostal church. In this interview he sheds more light on BTF. Please read on…

The Wordbase Assembly has for some time been hosting the Business Triangle Forum (BTF). I know that there that the church used to hold the Heaveneconomics programme. Is there a relationship between that and the BTF initiative which been almost every two months since last year? Is Heaveneconomics still running as a Wordbase programme?

Yes, it is. Heaveneconomics is entirely a church programme, which focuses on teaching believers to understand and adopt the principles of Heaven and apply them in their earthly business. These principles include honesty, integrity, dedication and commitment to purpose and hard work. None of these things is against the bible. The bible does not encourage laziness; rather, it encourages diligence, because the gospel says, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” It is then that God “will bless the works of your hands,” as the bible says. Even the bible warns people engaged in trading not use false measures to sell and defraud their customers. Therefore, Heaven is interested in economics. So, when we hold Heaveneconomics, we teach people that it is the will of God that they prosper economically. In essence, you must first play your role of doing something genuine which God can then prosper. Having said that, it is not enough to teach wealth creation to people in the church without giving some of them startup capital. 

In BTF on the other hand, we do not just talk about the spiritual principles of the bible only, we bring experts in various fields of business endeavours, to share testimonies of how they broke their rocks, as it were, to achieve success while deploying the heavenly principles I mentioned earlier. In some instances, the business of one member becomes a regular customer of another. There are instances where members who are professionals find opportunities to offer services relevant to other members, like accountants helping to audit  the business of members or tax consultants giving advice to ensure that our members fulfil pay appropriate tax to government. We also inform participants about business opportunities in their industr , and try to link up those who wish to utilise the opportunities. 

In the last session held in May, we had a resource person who came to teach our members how to participate in Oil and Gas business with very little capital. He started very small and the grew the business to the point of becoming a big player in the downstream sector of the Oil and Gas Industry. Those are the things that we do in BTF. We also do matchmaking of business enterprises of members. For instance, we had a resource person who taught about a special gum and explained how a number of people could team up to purchase one container of the product for distribution. BTF allows people to interact and establish business connections through the forum, in the same way that the Chamber of Commerce and Industries operates. In other instances, if a member has a business opportunity and needs to get clarification, the person can call the secretariat to seek information and advice from other people that are already engaged in it, on how to avoid the pitfalls and losses inherent in the process, before investing in the opportunity. 

Does the BTF give references and confirm the legitimacy of members to foreign embassies and agencies just like the chambers of Commerce and Industry do for their members?

Yes, the BTF does that certainly. We give reference letters in situations where foreign embassies or agencies require certification of the authenticity of our members seeking to establish business relationship with companies from the home country of the particular foreign mission. Such reference letters reassure the embassies that the member-company is reputable and operates with integrity, in a transparent and honest manner. The leadership of BTF has been making representations to Economic Counsellors of the notable foreign embassies in Nigeria, such as the United States, the European Union, China, Turkey, Indonesia, among others.

Who can become a member of BTF?

Membership in BTF is restricted to born again Christians who have been taught through the gospel to reflect the principles of heaven, which I mentioned earlier, in the way they do business, so that at the end of the day God is glorified. We teach members to exhibit integrity, honesty and transparency in their business, and these things are central to building good reputation for themselves and the business.

However, attendance of the bi-monthly meetings of the forum is open to the public, but there is a requirement that an individual or his business has to register as a member before you can access the full benefits of what BTF has to offer. When an individual or business enetreprise applies for membership, we naturally undertake a rigorous due diligence process, to establish that you are who you claim to be; the banks call it KYC – know your customer.. I value my name and reputation, so certainly neither myself or the leaders of the BTF would want to be associated with dubious persons. That is why membership is restricted to born again Christians who are committed to operating their business enterprises on the strict and godly principles of the gospel and directon of the Holy Ghost. BTF is being incubated by a Pentecostal church and so you would not expect anything less in terms of ensuring that only people with integrity are accepted as members. In essence, we maintain and update a database on our members

Does BTF provide some kind of mentorship?

Definitely. We bring knowledgeable people who will tell you what they have done and freely mentor anybody that wants to get into the area of business. In this regard, we do matchmaking for mentorship purposes, where a member can be paired with a more established member-company that has broad and deep experience in a particular business line.  Participation in BTF initiatives allows people to interact and create business connections through the forum in the same way that members of Chambers of Commerce and Industry do.

Does BTF engage in business incubation,?

What we do is called partnership where a bigger member takes a younger member under its umbrella, to guide the young member. One of our members who deals in alloy wheels was introduced to a bigger company, called Memose Group, which has a specialised division that refurbishes top range SUVs like the Toyoto Prado and other vehicles in that category, so that they come out almost new. One of the things that get changed are the wheels. This young man began supplying alloy wheels to the bigger company, and his business witnessed a fantastic growth. In essence, the bigger member became a key customer and a ready-made market for his product. 

Are there other things the BTF does, to support its members?

The forum exposes members to international business opportunities. For instance, we are planning a business trip to Rwanda. During the February meeting of the forum we had a resource person who is a foremost leader in the production of superior quality leater shoes leather in Aba, Nigeria.  He is serving as a consultant to Government of Rwanda, which wants to replicate the global renown of Made-in-Aba shoes in the country. In collaboration with this person, we are planning a trip to Rwanda, because a big market exists in Rwanda for shoes. Reputable shoemakers in Aba will be part of the trip being put together by BTF, to showcase their products and connect with importers and distributors. It will be a great opportunity for Nigerian shoemakers to expand to the international market, especially now that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement has been signed into law.  

The next session of the BTF meeting will hold on Thursday, July 7 which is my birthday. On that day, instead of receiving gifts from people, I will give out grants to a number of young people, to enable them fund their startup businesses. On that day, we will hold something like what Americans call Shark Tank, during which a person is allowed to pitch a business idea to prospective investors. At such occasion, anyone whose pitch excites and interests the panel of will attract equity participation from the investors. However, in my own case, I will give out reasonable amounts as straightforward grants to the young people who win the pitching contest on that day as startup capital to mark my birthday.

What inspired the vision for the BTF and when did it start?

This vision was inspired by my concern that churches have been engaging mainly in prayer  and fasting. Meanwhile, the bible clearly teaches that God blesses the works of our hands. I became concerned because I believe we should do something that God will bless. I felt it was more about releasing people into a conducive atmosphere, to prosper by starting a business and running it well with godly principles. University education is supposed to equip you to solve problems. Every problem is a business opportunity that will enable you earn income by finding a solution. People pay money for solutions. So the quickest way to set up a business is to solve a problem. Therefore, identify a problem and work how your physical effort, skill and intellectual imput can solve the problem. From that point the solution can grow into a business enterprise. 

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