Home Daily Videocast Nigerian Igbos Run the Largest Business Incubation System in the world – TED Video

Nigerian Igbos Run the Largest Business Incubation System in the world – TED Video

Nigerian Igbos Run the Largest Business Incubation System in the world – TED Video

It is not news that Nigerian Igbos run one of the oldest venture capital industries in the world. It is also not breaking news that Igbos have one of the most advanced business incubation systems in the world. And these things happen without anyone thinking about them. A kinsman is a merchant – he goes to China and imports containers. When I talk to him about bank supports, he laughs: “Bro, we have better banks without CBN wahala”, he reminds me.

Simply, under the Igbo apprenticeship system, the strength and measure of a man is based on how he has made those that worked under him better. In some villages in Ohafia (Abia State), you cannot speak in the village square if your “boys” are not progressing. In some communities in Arochukwu (Abia State), before elders can permit you to talk, you must begin by naming sons you made men.

Alaba market (Lagos State, Nigeria)

In my practice, I have worked with some moguls and observed reverence. Yes, you have made money more than your master. But till grave, he remains a demi-god to you. That is why a boy who did not enter university can run the largest (indigenous) car manufacturing company in Africa. That is why if another closes his fuel depot, Nigeria will experience fuel scarcity within days – but that guy dropped out in JS2.

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I have asked the Nigerian government to work on the formalization of the Igbo apprenticeship system. We have a great system, and certainly do not need to invent many new things. Interestingly, in this TED Talk, that Igbo apprenticeship, using Alaba market, was celebrated

The Igboland incubation system does not take equity. It does not require raising huge capital. It is driven by human-platform and it works. Nigeria needs to deepen this system even as we celebrate the modern forms of incubation. If government can find human-platforms to work with the youth, we can comfortably fix unemployment. With minor checks and balances, we will provide opportunities to young people.

The TED video expands that message (I could not upload the TED video because of copyright issues. But if you click, you will listen to the audio). The speaker used the Alaba market as a case study.

Update: I have just tracked the video (embedded below on this post) on TED. This is the transcript of the section to focus.

So the interesting thing is that this mutual aid economy still exists, and we can find examples of it in the strangest places. So, this is Alaba International Market. It’s the largest electronics market in West Africa. It’s 10,000 merchants, they do about four billion dollars of turnover every year. And they say they are ardent apostles of Adam Smith: competition is great, we’re all in it individually, government doesn’t help us. But the interesting reality is that when I asked further, that’s not what grew the market at all. There’s a behind-the-scenes principle that enables this market to grow. And they do claim — you know, this is an interesting juxtaposition of the King James Bible and “How To Sell Yourself.” That’s what they say is their message. But in reality, this market is governed by a sharing principle. Every merchant, when you ask them, “How did you get started in global trade?” they say, “Well, when my master settled me.” And when I finally got it into my head to ask, “What is this ‘settling?'” it turns out that when you’ve done your apprenticeship with someone you work for, they are required — required — to set you up in business. That means paying your rent for two or three years and giving you a cash infusion so you can go out in the world and start trading. That’s locally generated venture capital. Right? And 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.

This is the video I made before connecting the original TED, trying to avoid copyright issues from the portion someone sent me.

The Nnewi has a tradition there also, as shared by an indigene here.

An interesting take, Ndubuisi. But as an indigene of Nnewi, I will argue that government should actually not get involved or in anyway interfere in the Nnewi apprentice model. It has worked for decades and we really do not need government to come tell us how to run it. If it’s not broken don’t fix it, they say.

Innoson, Cocharis, Ibeto, Chikason, Ekenedilichukwu, are all from our great city of Nnewi. None of these may ventured anywhere near the gates of a secondary school, some didn’t even finish primary school, but control multi billion dollar empires. It’s starts with an apprentice system where a master takes a young boy of about 10 years, the boy serves his master for about 7 years. At the end of the 7 years, the master settles the boy with some capital. Most times depending on their relationship, the boy remains in the master’s house even though he is now free, eats there and sleeps there for the next 2 years or so, to save money. In addition to the capital, the master also extends credit facilities to the boy and gives him goods on credit to sell.

The interesting thing is that nothing is in writing, it’s all done on trust and credibility. The boy’s family would usually come together and meet with the master at the commencement of the arrangement. And at the end of the apprentice period, the master will also bring the boy home and settle him in the presence of his family. Government can not replicate that. They can only complicate it.

This is the full video from TED


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17 THOUGHTS ON Nigerian Igbos Run the Largest Business Incubation System in the world – TED Video

    • Not only in Nigeria, but in Africa too.
      That’s why somes moguls say. poverty in not about money but it is mental (mind)… The way people think.
      I’ve just read The Igbo Apprenticeship System and listened Prof Ekekwe… I’m a Cameroonian,


  2. It’s a system we are proud of; However, how can one monitor the wickedness of some masters who try to evade settlement by finding one fault or the other in the acts of the apprentice? Can we find a solution to acts like this?

    • You have to better legal frameworks. What is happening there can happen in any business relationships. Largely, we can improve the system if there is something like Umunneoma Institute which can work to deepen and improve the apprenticeship system.

  3. Nice one Prof, great insight I did receive, I hope this model becomes standardized as it as proven over decades of trueness of itself. Like you said both Model (Dangote and IVM) cannot be compared because they serve different purposes, however if Nigeria see it self as a community and not heterogeneous in it dealings and behaviour, following the IVM or IAS model becomes possible and it will automatically lead to improvement in the standard of living of all individuals, thereby increasing per capita income.

  4. ‘ It’s 10,000 merchants, they do about four billion dollars of turnover every year” … I will like this gentleman to tell me how he came up with this number? seriously!
    I am tired of reading articles online with people pulling numbers from their ass. I mean it would be fair for him to say “I estimate from my calculations using xyz amount per merchant that they do xyz billions every year” …

    Seriously, this turned me off from reading the entire article cos I see no citations.

    • NK – TED gives you say 7 minutes to make a case. That presentation is not an academic thesis. It is a TED event. He may not have the luxury of time to explain. I think he works for New York Times as an editor, spend time online, he might have written an article on how he came to that conclusion. That someone did not explain everything in a video or piece does not mean the person has not done his or her work. Most times, space and time would not permit that.

  5. Prof i am working on this same topic. But in a more advanced way. Ironically i tend to call mine University of Umu Afia. This is a system we need to embrace and expand on the long run, Just like someone posted earlier the system is becoming a threat to neighboring Africa countries. But it becomes a recognized system, it becomes an opportunity now not a threat

  6. Prof, this is a great and encouraging write -up. If for nothing sake, it lets us know that there is still a scheme that works in Nigeria. And I am most proud, that it comes from the Igboland.

    Meanwhile, one of the greatest challenge of this scheme is the fact that the child has to drop from school to join the apprenticeship scheme. Is there any way these two can be fused noting the great need for education in the contemporary world we live in?

    I will suggest that pundits from the Igboland (sourced from business, legal, social, academic and traditional/community) should come together and brainstorm on this programme and see how they can strengthen it and give it the required force that will let it survive the modern socio-economic encumbrances.

    God bless you Prof, bless all our men and women that have given life and hope to others through this scheme and bless the entire Igbo race worldwide.

    Onyeaghala nwanneya o.

  7. Thanks Prof for this wonderful piece.

    The Igbo Apprenticeship system is awesomely successful in multiplying wealth and lifting many people out of poverty. And I personally think this is the original aim of the founders.

    However, its greatest improvement would be to devise a way to be able to pass wealth from one generation to another within the same family. AKA to make the business outlive the founder.

    Most Igbo businesses die off after the exit of the founder because the heirs do not pass through the apprenticeship system themselves. While, the ‘umu boyi’ who served the late master successfully run their businesses, the children of the man usually fail woefully at managing the father’s business.

    I know. I know, that the no successful Igbo man would send off his son to go become an apprentice at another person’s business. He would rather send him to school. This is because, apprenticeship is currently seen as the lot of the poor; their opportunity for a bright future given that their parents can’t send them to school.

    However, looking at all the benefits that accrue from such a scheme, would it not be great if we can inter-marry it with schooling? Must it be an either/or situation, schooling or apprenticeship?

    We can either infuse the Igbo apprenticeship system in our education curricula. Or imbibe some formal education into the apprenticeship system. It’s not currently clear to me how this can come together. But I believe there lies the path to trans-generational businesses

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