By Jeremiah Agada
Brand Communicator has always been at the forefront of championing the reportage of Corporate Social Responsibility drives and other sustainable initiatives embarked upon by organisations as their contributions towards promoting CSR. That is why it has been recognised as the best print medium in CSR reporting for 2017 by the organizers of the Sustainability, Enterprise and Sustainability awards, otherwise known as The SERAs CSR Awards.
It is in this vein this fifth edition of Brand Communicator’s Women In Marketing beams its searchlight on Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, who is the Head, Sustainability for Access Bank Plc. Bolanle who has a passion for sustainability and corporate communications has made a huge impact in the various industries where she has worked, pioneering various sustainable innovative initiatives and generally moving the society forward.
Victor Okhai, a renowned cinematographer and the director of the International Film and Broadcast Academy Lagos, described her thus: “Sustainability was just another word in Nigeria business until Omobolanle came into the scene. She single-handedly transformed the Nigerian banking sustainability practices with many innovations that have since been adopted by the Central Bank of Nigeria and which have become the standard in the industry.
“A communication expert per excellence, her protégées are spread across various companies in Nigeria and abroad. She is also sought after and usually invited to speak all over the world on sustainability and corporate communication globally. A result oriented and focused team player, Omobolanle can rightfully be called the Queen of Sustainability in the Nigerian Banking industry.”
Early Life/ Background
It did not take quite much for Omobolanle to settle into life as a career woman as she grew up in a home where she and her siblings were exposed early in life to the work environment. Their father made sure they spend some hours within the week and fully during holidays working in his company. Coupled with the fact that she grew up with people who are older than she is, she learnt early on time from her father and elders, to imbibe the right values which include working and doing business ethically to make money.
She commenced her education in Gbagada Lagos at the Corona Schools in Lagos in 1978. She gained admission into the Federal Government College in Benin City in 1986, where she was until 1992 when she finished as a science student.
As a result, she shifted away from being a Science student to studying Mass Communications at the University of Lagos in 1995. She graduated in 1999 and proceeded to obtain an M.Sc in Sociology in the same university in 2000.
In 2015, she also attended the Wharton School for a Middle Management Programme in Leadership and Business Management, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not done, she proceeded to obtain an MBA from the Bangor University in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales, last year.
Omobolanle has over 20 years of experience in the field of sustainability and communications spanning various industries including media, manufacturing and the financial sector. Throughout her career, she has pioneered several initiatives that have contributed to sustainable development.
She commenced her professional career in 1995 with the Punch Newspapers as a Business Correspondent. Given her background and the work experiences gained working for her father which expanded her scope, made her understand the important role of communications in business growth and also gave her a perspective of life that were different from those of her peers, she was a natural fit at Punch.
Responding to Brand Communicator’s question on her career in Punch, she said, “I enjoyed writing at Punch a lot. I switched writing styles depending on whether I was writing for Eve’s World-a gender-focused page, or Consumer Watch (dedicated to consumer rights and protection), for property pages or feature articles or business pages including managing personal finance.
“I pioneered ‘Eve’s World’ a gender-focused page. I was also a member of the team selected to start-off Business Reporting in Saturday Punch. Thereafter, there was a need to start off Property reporting in Daily Punch and I was again appointed as a member of the team that pioneered the Property desk,” she said.
After three years at Punch, she left to join FMCG giants, Cadbury Nigeria Limited. There she began her sustainability journey, as the multinational’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. At Cadbury, she pioneered the ‘Consumer toll-free line,’ a first of its kind in the manufacturing sector at the time. This created a platform for consumer feedback at no cost to the consumer. From being the Consumer Relations Manager, She was thereafter appointed as the first Corporate and Social Responsibility Manager of Cadbury Nigeria Plc.
After about seven years, she left to join the services of financial giants, Access Bank, to establish the CSR/Sustainability function in 2008, as its head, Corporate Social Responsibility. Having spent three years in that position, the bank elevated her to the position of Head, Corporate Communications and Sustainability in 2012. She spent about two years in the position also until her promotion to her current position as Head, Sustainability for the bank.
One of her most remarkable achievements at the bank was the establishment of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) which she initiated. With the support from the then Access Bank CEO, AigbojeAig-Imoukhuede, as well as the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, SanusiLamidoSanusi, these principles, were developed and adopted across the industry.
She said, “Over the years, I have served as an internal leader and go-to expert on Sustainability, monitoring emerging trends, programmes and issues; communicating and educating others on sustainability. My career has presented the opportunity to join forces with other like-minded individuals to make a real impact in society by providing innovative solutions to addressing economic, social and environmental challenges.”
Outside all these, she has also worked in some other capacities. She lists them: “I serve as co-Chair, Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa and Member, Leadership Group, United Nations Women Empowerment Principles. I recently worked with some colleagues across the global financial sector to develop the Global Responsible Banking Principles and we launched the draft Principles in Paris on November 26, 2018.
Omobolanle said the advance in technology and the spread of globalization has posed challenges in recent times. She is of the opinion that the world has become a global village and technological advancement has impacted communications with changes happening at an alarming speed. What works today, probably would not work as well next year. This could be challenging but offers opportunities for innovation.
She added, “The integration of technology and evolution of the needs of millennials have impacted on IMC and Sustainability. I have been privileged to be trained in systems and organisations that uphold ethics, sustainability and positive impact as the core of their business processes. My current organisation, Access Bank, is an epitome of leveraging on integrity, vision and sustainability mindset as a tool for achieving long-term impact. Most recently, I have had to be at the centre of mentorship experiences where I have had to work with a lot of young individuals from other organisations requesting for mentoring support and desiring to achieve everything I have done and even more.
“Most times, many of them are not willing to pay the price and I’m faced with the challenge of convincing them that it is important to embrace the right values and strive for excellence on all fronts. I am determined to use the knowledge and experience that I have acquired over the last 20years of my career to improve the productivity of young people and everyone around me as a matter of fact. This has resulted in my on-going project which is aimed at restructuring and formalizing my mentorship platform in order to accommodate new requests, widen the scope and increase the overall impact.”
She added, “Understanding people and willingness are key ingredients in driving change in and out of an institution. Because I am dedicated to the success of both individuals and organizations, I explore opportunities to make sure I provide the necessary support to help them achieve their goals. Despite the fact that I am a very organised person, I also commit all things to God. This has helped me a lot in overcoming many of the challenges I’ve been faced with.”
Dearth of Female Professional
Like every other concerned professional in the industry, Omobolanle is worried about the dearth of female professionals in the industry, hence this suggestion. “An enabling environment and clear career paths are key to helping bridge the gap. As stakeholders, we need to create an enabling environment wherein women will be recruited, trained, valuable contributors and promoted in the workplace or as entrepreneurs. This may require formulating and adopting laws, policies and special measures by public and private sector organizations. This may mean actively regulating and providing incentives to companies and enterprises to become equal opportunity employers and incubators of female innovation and entrepreneurship.
“There should also be initiatives/programmes that encourage and support young women to improve their confidence levels, to be mentored and to be celebrated as they excel,” she advised.
Omobonle said her philosophy in life is to always put God first. She said her understanding of the principles of God has helped her understand that He embraces professionalism, ethics and continuous growth – which has helped shape her career till date. She said that it has helped her work to drive productivity, scalability and sustainability into all conversations associated with activities, projects and programmes in and out of her organisation.
“My philosophy to ‘put God first’ has made me an advocate of walking in the steps and path that God has prepared for me. I consult Him in all my decisions, through all situations, and He has always guided me. I, therefore, don’t compare myself with anyone but I always seek ways to improve myself and learn from the experiences of others. This philosophy has shaped who I am and shaped my career – I’m truly grateful to God for this. My entire personal and professional life is a testament to God’s faithfulness and direction, which has always helped me,” she said.
Omobolanle said she has been able to strike a balance between family and work because she has an understanding husband as well as a bank that has her interests at heart. “I am blessed to be married to the best husband in the world who helps to bring out the best in me and gives me the opportunity to bring out the best in him. Together we pray and plan for our home, careers and ministry. This has helped a lot in creating shared visions and engendering understanding, especially at peak periods. It has made it easier to weave together home and work responsibilities thereby making them complimentary instead of conflicting.
“Additionally, I work in Access Bank and it’s undoubtedly a great place to work. Access Bank creates an enabling environment for women to thrive both at work and at home. For instance, the Access Women Network provides opportunities for mentoring, networking and personal development to help female employees achieve their maximum potentials. I also work with a happy and productive team which makes me super energized.”
Awards and Recognitions
In the last ten years since Omobolanle joined Access Bank Plc., where she helped to establish the sustainability function and worked with the Bank’s leadership to mainstream sustainability, the Bank has established partnerships with over 200 local and international organizations/networks to fund high impact projects aimed at accelerating the impact of interventions focused on achieving the then MDGs and the new Sustainable Development Goals. These projects have reached millions of Africans, helping them to lead healthy, productive and sustainable lives.
Recently, she was awarded the prestigious CEO Employee of the Year Award 2018 at Access Bank Plc. This is reflective of Access Bank’s leadership commitment to, and support for, sustainability. Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank GMD/CEO, was also awarded the Sustainable Leader of the Year 2018 by the Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards. This award was in recognition of the exceptional leadership and support provided by the CEO in ensuring that Access Bank leads sustainably.
Access Bank has mainstreamed sustainability and implemented various innovative initiatives earning the bank many awards including: First African financial institution to win Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Award for Outstanding Business Sustainability (three-time consecutive winner – 2016, 2017 and 2018), Africa’s Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility at the Euromoney Awards (2018), Most Sustainable Bank in Nigeria Award by World Finance, UK (8-time winner including 2018) and Best Bank Corporate Social Responsibility Award by EMEA Finance
It is also the pioneer winner of the Central Bank of Nigeria Sustainability Awards for 2017 wherein an unprecedented feat, it won in all four categories- Most Sustainable Bank of the Year, Excellence in Women Economic Empowerment, Most Sustainable Transaction of the Year (Oil and Gas) and Most Sustainable Transaction of the Year (Agriculture).
Last year, it won in five categories of awards at the 2017 Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility Awards (SERAs), carting away the award for the Most Responsible Company of the Year Africa (overall winner), Best Company in CSR/Sustainability in West Africa and Best Company in Climate Action
Amongst many other prestigious awards, it was the first bank in West Africa to win FT/IFC Most Sustainable Bank of the Year (Africa and the Middle East).
The Queen of Sustainability is not just known in the corporate world. She also weaves her wand in other spheres of life. “Giving is instructed by God so, I have woven different approaches to giving back into my daily life. I also serve on the Board of various credible not-for-profit organizations, lending my skills, talent and resources to initiatives that contribute to sustainable development. Amongst others, I am a member of the Board of CSR-in-Action Advocacy; member, Board of Trustees, Mountain Top University Endowment Fund; and member, Board of Trustees, OVL Foundation.
“I also mentor women and young people, however, I’m currently restructuring the mentorship platform to ensure I can accommodate the new influx of requests while ensuring it is sustainable and highly impactful,” she said.
Thriving In A Man’s World
Omobolanle said rising to the top has all to do with grit, competence and being qualified for the job, and nothing to do with gender or entitlement. “I believe in myself always. I do not try to get anything because I am a woman, I get it because I am competent and qualified. It is important to note that all my career has been with merit-driven organizations, so that is the only way I know of, to get to the top and to stay on top.
“Additionally, Access Bank is very much gender friendly, starting from the leadership where we have a female chairperson, to being the first financial institution in Nigeria to adopt a 6-month maternity leave policy, to have a dedicated Access Women’s Network. These are some of the bank’s initiatives to ensure that we create an enabling environment for female employees that desire to attain the peak of their careers. Finally and most importantly, the God-factor and support received from my family help me stay atop,” she said.
Advice To Younger Female Professionals
On a parting note, Omobolanle has these words for young marketing communications professionals in the industry: “To get to the peak of your career, it is important to consider the role of character and competence. The two work together and you must always ensure that you always invest your time and resources to improve your character and competence. Also, always ensure that in whatever you do, you seek guidance from God, innovate, think about sustainability, impact and scalability,” she concluded.