2. Protocols.

3. It gives me great pleasure to be here today to witness the distribution of grants, by the Nigerian government, to finance eighty-one (81) of our most innovative and promising micro, small and medium sized technology firms (MSMEs). I am particularly pleased this morning to note that the majority of these companies were started and are run by some of Nigeria’s brightest young minds, showcasing the talent and potential of our youth. I would like to thank the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, for initiating the provision of these grants through the Growth and Employment (GEM) program, to empower Nigerian youth, create jobs, and drive inclusive economic growth.
4. Let me start by congratulating each and every one of our grant recipients here today. I’m pleased to note that all of today’s beneficiaries are alumni of the inaugural Aso Villa Demo Day (AVDD) – an initiative by the Presidency to identify and support young Nigerians with business ideas seeking to provide technology-enabled solutions to our most pressing challenges. That first edition, which held in September 2016, and was attended by the founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is a testament to the Government’s commitment to support, empower and celebrate our homegrown, top performing and highly scalable indigenous MSMEs, specifically those leveraging technology to solve local and national problems.

5. As technology continues to evolve and rapidly change the paradigm of human interaction, we look to innovators like you to craft locally relevant technological solutions to meet the needs of every day Nigerians. This is what you are striving to do with your enterprises, of which we are immensely proud. We are confident that the financing provided today will empower you to keep innovating and expanding your reach, and by doing so bettering the lives of our fellow Nigerians.

6. When the Growth and Employment (GEM) project first launched our Business Innovative and Growth (BIG) platform in February 2016, my desire was to champion the cause of Nigeria’s MSMEs as a means of creating jobs and bolstering growth within non-oil revenue generating sectors. Small businesses remain the key drivers of Nigeria’s economy, contributing to more than three-quarters of the National Labor Force and accounting for close to half of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product. The acceleration of this sector is therefore positively correlated to our nation’s economic growth and advancement. Needless to say, MSMEs are the key to unlocking Nigeria’s unemployment gaps, especially among our youth. This is why the GEM project is a top priority for my Ministry – the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment – as it continues to tackle the bottlenecks that hamper MSME development such as financing and access to basic skill training. By providing a combination of grants, business development services and training and mentorship programs, GEM is scaling up some of Nigeria’s most promising MSMEs and is building a formidable platform for them to grow and thrive.

7. The GEM project, established in 2013, is a World Bank assisted program with the primary objective of increasing MSME growth and cross sector employment across all regions of Nigeria. The project prioritizes five sectors: ICT, entertainment, construction and real estate, light manufacturing (including agro and industrial processing) and tourism (including hospitality). Including our 81 grant recipients today, GEM has disbursed almost N1billion Naira to qualifying MSMEs and is set to support 4,000 MSMEs by 2018.

8. One of the five pillars of our Vision at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, is to champion MSMEs to create jobs and achieve inclusive growth. I, personally, have set targeted goals at the Ministry to boost the growth and development of MSMEs through a series of Agency-run programs that address the growing needs of small businesses in Nigeria. The Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and the Bank of Industry (BOI), both under the supervision of the Ministry, are actively disbursing low interest, micro-credit loans to small businesses and providing skill and entrepreneurship training to business owners ranging from market men and women to farmers, artisans and youth. Programs like these, alongside GEM, are an affirmation of the Government’s view of MSMEs as a vehicle to eradicate poverty, create jobs and rapidly develop rural and urban communities while ensuring sustainable economic growth across all regions of our nation.

9. In closing, I would like to once again congratulate our grant recipients and remind you that the success of this project rests firmly on your ability to efficiently and responsibly use these funds to grow your businesses. Simply put, when you succeed, this program succeeds, and by implication the Nigerian economy succeeds. I wish you the best and have no doubt that the sky is your starting point.

10. Lastly, I would like to extend my gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for their active commitment to enabling and empowering Nigerian entrepreneurs and youth; and also to the World Bank for enthusiastically supporting the GEM project.

11. Thank you and God bless you all.