The Tony Elumelu Foundation has made giant strides in raising young African entrepreneurs to transform the continent, writes Peter Uzoho
Over the years, Africa has been grappling with different forms of socio-economic problems, ranging from poverty, illiteracy, inequality, to general under-development, and this has made it difficult and almost impossible for African young men and women, gifted with talents, creativity and potentials, that can help change the face of the continent, to realise their goals.
Ironically, these problems were self-inflicted, because for decades, government of African countries have not done enough to liberate their people from this age-long bondage, in spite of huge resources available to them. Also, the concept of giving in the continent has been such that one gives to make the recipient perpetually dependent, subservient and impoverished, rather than given to empower people economically. These have over time, made the world to perceive Africans as second class citizens, who are not worthy to be counted in the global stage.
But why many are yet to see this as a challenge that must be tackled, or have seen, but not ready to take the lead, Tony Elumelu, Africa’s shining light, has seen the problem as having over-stayed its welcome in the continent, and therefore, should be shown the exit door. His contribution towards this onerous task has indeed been phenomenal; no wonder the wide commendations, accolades and blessings he receives on a daily basis, from within and outside Africa.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Entrepreneurship programme which is one of the platforms to tackle the challenges has started raising young African entrepreneurs who will in the nearest future transform the continent.
Between 29th and 30th October, 2016, what may be tagged ‘the largest annual gathering of African entrepreneurs’, was held in Lagos, Nigeria, where the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) hosted 1,000 men and women from 54 African countries, for the second TEF Entrepreneurship Forum.
The Forum meant to celebrate the 2016 successful young entrepreneurs, selected from over 45,000 applicants, was the highpoint of the annual Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship
Programme, which saw the presence of leading policy makers and business leaders from across Africa, giving their support to the Foundation to enable it fulfil its promise to identify, train, mentor and seed 1,000 entrepreneurs in a decade-long $100 million commitment.
Through the Forum, each entrepreneur is eligible to receive up to $10,000 to implement a business plan, having passed through the Foundation’s training and mentorship programmes
The two-day forum buzzed with energy as entrepreneurs shared and gained knowledge, built cross-border partnerships, and connected with investors and policymakers, fulfilling the goal of fostering innovation and collaboration between entrepreneurs from across Africa.
On day one, attendees benefited
from masterclasses on traditional and alternative means of financing, sales and marketing, as well as sector specific workshops, and an in-depth session on Africapitalism- Elumelu’s economic philosophy that identifies the leading role of Africa’s private sector, including its entrepreneurs, in Africa’s transformation.
In her opening remarks, Mrs. Awele Elumelu, CEO Avon Medical, Trustee of the Foundation and wife of Founder, Tony Elumelu, welcomed the entrepreneurs to Lagos and commended their drive and effort in finding solutions to some of the continent’s most pervasive challenges.
The CEO of the Foundation, Ms. Parminder Vir, urged the young African entrepreneurs to continue to build the future and to challenge the flawed perceptions of Africa.
The Group Managing Director of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, also used the occasion to inform the guests of the bank’s value-chain approach to support entrepreneurs, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which aligns properly with the chairman’s vision and mission.
According to Uzoka, the value-chain approach “will contribute significantly to deepening the skills pool and capacity building on the African continent; support standardisation and quality assurance; promote competitiveness; facilitate employment and wealth creation; boost internally generated revenue (IGR); facilitate technology transfer and innovation; and facilitate regional trade and payment platforms.”
The GMD noted that the economic development of Africa was at the heart of the bank’s aspiration. “We are Africa’s global bank. Entrepreneurship has been an enabler of our institutional heritage. UBA is in Africa for the long-haul, Africa is indeed our home,” he added.
Speaking during the panel session, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija congratulated the entrepreneurs, praised TEF’s focus on entrepreneurship and shared her own personal story of perseverance to demonstrate to the entrepreneurs the need for resilience and doggedness.
On his part, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has come up with policies and programmes that will drive the country’s economy and create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who received a standing ovation when he sauntered into the auditorium,commended Elumelu’s perseverance and focus on giving back, saying “By every means, God has made His face shine upon you. You are not the only one, but unlike you, some others do not have the idea of empowering the next generation of Africans in the manner and scale that you are doing.”
Advising the entrepreneurs on the need for patience and resilience, Obasanjo noted, “For strength in life you need a bit of adversity.” He also called on the Nigerian government to implement policies that encourage investors and entrepreneurs to do business in Nigeria.
In his goodwill message, Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, noted, “I’m not going to say so much about Tony Elumelu and his Foundation because human beings are not very fair when it comes to accolades and encomiums, but I’m sure by God’s grace, history and posterity will be very fair to Tony. Today, indeed is not Tony’s day. Today, belongs to these young entrepreneurs that are going to bear the flag of Africa on their shoulder in the days ahead. That is to tell you that the milestone you have achieved is such that you cannot go to any office to look for job, because it implies that you’re all catalyst to employ others. Therefore, you carry on your shoulder, the mark of excellence. As you go forth into Africa and into the world to conquer the world, I want you to at all times remember this day.”
Former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, commended the Tony Elumelu Foundation, saying “What Tony Elumelu is doing is the exception, not the norm.”
Lending his voice, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, said, “Indeed, I’d like to start by paying a particular tribute to Mr. Tony Elumelu and the Foundation for the financial support it makes available to the businesses and leaders of tomorrow, you here in this hall, and for the valuable mentorship that this forum provides, and the inspirational business leaders’ expertise which they’re sharing with you through this wonderful session. I’m constantly impressed with Nigeria, the country where I serve, about the creativity and the energy of the people here, particularly here in Lagos.”
Applauding Tony Elumelu’s promise to not only empower entrepreneurs, but also to tackle the fundamental economic challenges
confronting the African continent, the Guest Speaker His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone called on others to emulate Elumelu. “Even when we had Ebola in Sierra Leone, Tony was there. His is an example which other successful Africans must follow.”
Focusing on the uniqueness of TEF’s approach to entrepreneurship development, Koroma hailed the programme as “a genuinely innovative approach to philanthropy in Africa – an African offering African solutions.”
“What is unique about this programme is that it not only provides a platform for entrepreneurs to build connections, but they are also being taught how to build their businesses in a sustainable way. Other philanthropists will be inspired to support and promote this philosophy,” he noted.
An elated Elumelu who received a standing ovation and the capacity crowd chanting his name ‘Tony’ for few minutes, started by saying “I salute those here; our ambition is that you become ambassadors for entrepreneurship in Africa – you are a generation of wealth creators, who share our commitment to the economic and social transformation of Africa. Let me tell you about Momarr Mass Taal, the CEO of Tropingo Foods, who has turned his first $5,000 seed capital received from the Foundation last year, into a $1.2 million revenue business. I want many more of these!
“However, as excited as I am about the 2,000 entrepreneurs that we have selected, this gathering is in some way bittersweet, as I reflect on the 63,000 ideas we were unable to select – our commitment is to all entrepreneurs in Africa.”
Elumelu challenged all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, multilateral organisations and all individuals interested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support the wider African entrepreneurial community. “We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place.”
He also announced partnerships with regional institutions like the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, and others, including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre, the Nigerian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, and the Ivorian Ministry of Entrepreneurship.
The enthusiastic and ambitious young entrepreneurs were unable to hide their joy for seeing someone in the person of Tony Elumelu, help them to pursue their destinies.
One of them is Mr. Emmanuel Olabisi, a Nigerian entrepreneur who specialises in providing professional accounting and allied services to entrepreneurs.
“I’m highly excited because this is what Nigerian and African youths have been waiting for a long time-somebody that will draw the youths up and follow them up with training and all other resources that are needed to make one grow. In fact, this is a very fantastic opportunity for Nigerian youths. They’ve trained us for twelve weeks on various business processes and how to administer a business successfully. They’re still supporting us with $5000 seed capital. Apart from that, the networking opportunity they provided for us has been awesome,” Olabisi said.
Ms. Onyinye Obi, who is into manufacturing tissue papers, said “the forum is the biggest gathering of African entrepreneurs. 54 countries participated and all of us gathered together to share ideas, learn new things. I’ve always dreamt of owning my business and managing it and creating employment opportunity for people. So when I heard about Tony Elumelu Foundation and what they do I decided to apply and fortunately my name came out. So I’m happy to be here. Coming here, I really want to network so as to take my business to the next level, and also get some financial insight. So I thank Tony Elumelu for his generosity and concern for the youths of Africa, and may God expand his coast.”
On his part, Prince Joshua Oyeniyi, CEO of Amborion Media Global Enterprises, a company involved in event planning and management, designing, branding and general logistic management, said “I’m amazed and really thrilled to be here, I’ve been excited all the way since yesterday. I must say that the Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum for entrepreneurs has broadened my mind scope. It has really introduced me to a lot of things-making me understand the very intrinsic and intricate part of my business. So I’m really grateful to the Foundation for such unusual opportunity.”
Also baring his mind, Adarsh Bholah from Mauritius, who is into medical tourism, said: “Well, it has been an awesome experience being here as a young entrepreneur. Everything about the programme is so helpful to us. The seed capital we’re going to obtain is really going to help our businesses. The mentoring programme that is set up for us is also going to be helpful to us. The networking is another value addition to us and our business. The Founder of this Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu is doing a great job and I hope that he will continue to embrace young entrepreneurs in Africa. I think other African personalities in the calibre of Mr. Elumelu should join forces with him to increase funds for this programme so that other people will have the same opportunity that is given to us,” Bholah noted.
Other speakers and dignitaries at the event included Clare Akamanzi, Representative of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; Hon. Kayode Fayemi, Nigeria’s Minster of Solid Minerals; Segun Awolowo, CEO of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Clem Ugorji, Public Affairs and Communications Director, Coca-Cola West Africa, Emeke Iweriebor, Regional CEO of UBA Africa (Francophone), Matthew Pearson, Head of Africa Equity Sales at ICBC Standard Bank, Sam Nwanze, Chief Investment Officer at Heirs Holdings.
Others were: Mr. Kalilou Traore, Commissioner for Industry and Private Sector Promotion, ECOWAS; Mr. Mustapha Naite, Hon. Minister of Youth and Sports, Republic of Guinea; Mr.Kelechi Igwe, Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State; and Umar Buba Bindir, Secretary to Adamawa State Government.