Equity Bank’s brand is well known not only in the financial circles of East Africa, but across our continent and the world over as an indigenous grown institution that is continually growing in leaps and bounds in terms of customer numbers, capitalization and regional expansion. Indeed, awards continue to flow to this institution taking into consideration the recent Euro-money 2008 Awards for Excellence, where the institution was feted as the Best Bank in Kenya for the second year running.

But it is its focus on providing financial solutions to the small and medium clients that other banks perceive as ‘unbankable’ while focusing on customer care with flexible and market responsive products and services that has sustained the bank’s phenomenal growth.

CSR Africa had a strong listing of education related CSR undertakings by various institutions in the East African region, but the story of Equity bank’s university sponsorship to over 400 students won the day.

The Beginning

One of Equity bank’s critical success factors is value maximization for stakeholders and as such, CSR is part and parcel of its social aspirations. The institution has always had a policy of managing and balancing stakeholder’s relationships and interests while adding value to produce a positive and sustainable impact for the business and society. One of its CSR pillars is to support the education sector.

The Equity Bank university sponsorship program is the bank’s flagship CSR undertaking. By extending sponsorship for university education to the best boy and girl in KCSE in every district where the bank has a presence, the program aims to empower young people by motivating them to aim high in their academic pursuits.

Operating then as Equity Building Society, and with a limited branch network, the first batch of 5 students was taken in 1998 from the previous year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam. This was still a significant number, taking into consideration that the total number of staff was a meagre 86 compared to the current number of over four thousand. Its intake has grown over the years to last year’s 186, a project that will cost Ksh.112 million to implement.

Over the years, the countless dreams of over four hundred brilliant Kenyan youth have been realized and great talent nurtured, the programme having been initiated then with the objective of creating role models and mentors among the youth. This was the institution’s way of reciprocating the goodwill and advocacy from customers within its regions of operation.

Selection

Students joining the programme are selected on the basis of academic merit with the best boy and girl in each district being picked after the announcement of the KCSE exams results. While this is limited to areas in which the bank has branches, the programme has been extended to benefit top students from Northern Kenya where the bank is set to open branches within the year. In the beginning, only the top student would be picked which tended to favour male students and it is upon recognition of this bias that it was decided to pick from both sides of the gender divide. This in turn has boosted the morale of the community in offering post-primary education to the hitherto discriminated girl child. Dr. James Mwangi, the bank’s CEO notes, “In recognizing the socio-cultural barriers and stereotypes that the girl child faces in her pursuit of self empowerment through education, Equity Bank offers opportunity for sponsorship to both the top boy and girl. This, we believe, will go a long way in ensuring equal opportunities in accessing resources”.

Each student benefits from a sponsorship of Ksh.720,000 by being attached to the bank for the two years before enrolling in universities for their higher education. The money goes towards their university tuition and upkeep. The chosen interns represent a diverse spectrum of family backgrounds and while a few could be from stable economical backgrounds, others are orphans, have substantial school fees balances or have gone through secondary school education under sponsorship from various organizations.

The Job

For a bank whose passion is in empowering Africans while positively changing livelihoods, rewarding and caring for its community cannot be exemplified in a better way than by engaging the best brains in the society and transforming them into future leaders and social ambassadors. Equity has a way of turning these youth into useful employees; by attaching them to mentors who orient them on skills in leadership, work ethics, team work and life skills. Some of their duties in the institution involve customer service, floor management, cashiering and marketing.

The top boy and girl in KCSE 2007, Morris Maganjo from Starehe Boys Centre and Abdurzak Muzna of the Aga Khan High School in Mombasa respectively are among the recent beneficiaries of the programme. Maganjo believes that the training offered by the bank can help beneficiaries significantly change the lives of other people close to them. He notes, “I have a dream of a country where everyone, including people in the villages will have access to education which will in turn improve their lives.”

Outreach

At Equity Bank, customers’ loyalty brings in new business every day and this is also true of the pre-university interns as they reach out to the education community. They are the bank’s social face through their advocacy among peers. They are involved in mentorship programmes in their former high schools as well as others within the neighbourhood of their branches. Through these visits and other forums, the bank encourages other students to look up to these achievers for inspiration in their academic pursuits.

“The average student tends to be easily discouraged by the sight of idle school leavers in their neighbourhoods. By providing sponsorship to the top students in the district where the bank operates, Equity Bank is making a strong statement to the young people of this country: merit counts and success will be rewarded.” says Dr Mwangi.

Higher Education

As Equity bank gains recognition across the globe as an African market-led success story, its pre-university scholars seek to chart their own success stories in various professional fields. The choices are as numerous as the beneficiaries, but medicine, pharmacy, commerce, engineering and actuarial sciences are but a few of the favourite courses.

An additional benefit of being engaged by the bank is internship opportunities during college vacations. This guarantees a steady source of upkeep money for the students as well as being an avenue to build on their relationship with the financial institution.

Upon completion of college education, Equity Bank is committed to offering employment to its interns if they so wish. In deed some of its alumni are engaged by the bank having completed their undergraduate training in various courses. Mary Wanjau, an alumnus of the programme and a graduate of the University of Nairobi’s School of Health Sciences is in charge of the staff health scheme at Equity bank. “The warmth of the Equity family made me rejoin the bank after graduation”, she says.

Contribution to social development

Speaking while officially opening the 2008 programme, Education Minister Prof. Sam Ongeri noted “By sponsoring a program to reward the best boy and girl in each district, Equity Bank is not only giving a chance to young people to excel in life but also inculcates in them valuable leadership skills. This program is moulding the youth through work ethics and timely delivery of services, mentoring them into responsible adults capable of being entrusted with serious tasks. This program will contribute to the realization of the objectives of the social pillar of the Vision 2030 to make Kenya a more cohesive society.”

The efficient implementation of the pre-university programme could not have been possible without the input of the Equity Bank Foundation. The Foundation is committed to its mission; fulfilling the bank’s social contract to serve the needs of the community, nurture human potential and create a vibrant environment to make a difference.

Equity Bank is also a key sponsor of the schools and colleges music and drama festivals. This is one of the bank’s contributions towards the realization of a strong cultural identity for the nation, an important pre-requisite for economic development.

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