In my village of Ovim (Abia state), we have an area dedicated to support those in need. Agbongele Ugwunta has a concentration of fruits planted by young men in the community who are tasked to plant and nurture those fruits. Any person can go to Agbongele, and harvest any fruit but never to take home. The deal is this: it is an abomination to sell any produce from that place but you are free to enjoy as much as you can.Thrice a year, male born would go and weed and also ensure the fruits are doing great.
In this time of coronavirus, coming together is key for the world. There are great lessons from African history. “Onye aghana nwanne ya”- do not leave your brethren behind. Like I tell people, it would be nearly impossible to have extremely rich Igbo traders because they win by funding competitors and dividing their market shares through the Igbo apprenticeship system. How can a man give his customers to his brethren just to ensure he does not close his shop and move to the village? You have no chance to win over that spirit in any market.
The soul of the Igbo Apprenticeship System could be likened to the U.S. Federal Reserve which largely works to keep the U.S. dollars stable (by reducing inflation) and maximize employment through interest rates. So, the Reserve has defined main focus areas even though it can use its systems to do other things. Consequently, the U.S. Congress uses those two main factors to ascertain the effectiveness of the Reserve policy. For the Igbo Apprenticeship System, the main focus is to prevent poverty by mass-scaling opportunities for everyone, and not building conglomerates!
So, you have a scenario where a man (trading in a city) goes to his village, picks 3 boys who might have lost their fathers, and decides to ensure they have meaningful lives despite the tragedies that befell them. Those boys serve him for some years, and one afternoon, he invites his kinsmen, friends, business partners and everyone as he “settles” them.
This settlement is simply dividing his market share among these boys. In other words, assume he holds 3% in that specific market, by the time he is done, he might be holding only 2%, releasing 1% to the boys. For him, the growth of his company is not what matters – it is that “his boys” do well. Then, he does not stop there, he begins to send the boys opportunities, making sure they are able to thrive independently. No Western textbook teaches that!
The Umunneoma* Economics will confuse any Harvard, Wharton or FUTO graduate because no textbook will teach you to go to a village, bring 5 boys to city, and within six years, give them money, assets, etc to become your competitors. But look deeper, the new global capitalist manifesto which is working to go beyond fixated focus on shareholders to considering ALL stakeholders is something that Umunneoma Economics is doing.
The Agbongele is a philosophy across ancient Igbo to ensure no one goes to bed on empty stomach, reducing begging and severe inequality in communities. The world needs to come together, on that shared spirit, as we look for solutions to Covid-19.
*Umunneoma means “good brethren” in Igbo.