The stage is getting bigger for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum; and so is the multiplicity of roles it is inadvertently assuming, and rising expectations.
Having five African Presidents, over 60 global speakers from the public and private sectors across three continents one space is a large private sector platform for empowerment and generation of ideas.
At the two-day forum, which held in Abuja recently were Paul Kagame, President, Republic of Rwanda; Macky Sall, President, Republic of Senegal; Félix Tshisekedi, President, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria; and Hon (Dr.) Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister, Republic of Uganda, who represented President Yoweri Museveni.
Also present to interrogate a related issue, “The Role of Healthcare in Economic Transformation,” were healthcare leaders in the private and public sectors. They included Dr. Awele Elumelu, Trustee, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Founder/CEO, Avon Medical Practice; Mrs. Aisha Buhari, First Lady, Federal Republic of Nigeria; Mme. Djena Kaba Condé, First Lady of Guinea; Mme. Keïta Aminata Maiga, First Lady, Mali; Gilles Carbonnier, Vice President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Oulimata Sarr, Regional Director, U.N. Women Central and West Africa; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation.
An assembly of so many people of diverse backgrounds has huge potentials for tourism and marketing of the country, a platform to attack problems with tested perspectives and for forging stronger inter-African relations.
At the centre of it all was the need for concrete steps for Africa to empower its youth and accelerate the continent’s development, as well as attracting the support of international development institutions.
The logistics for such mega-events could be scary, but the seamless flow of activities at the forum underscores the importance The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which has been at the forefront of advocating for entrepreneurship as the catalyst for the economic transformation of Africa, attaches to this goal.
The challenge, as the stage gets bigger, is that many variables are thrown up to threaten focus and sustainability, even as expectations rise.
The Abuja event convened over 5,000 participants from 54 African countries, including representatives of the 7,521 beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme.
Founder of the Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu, reiterated the urgency in creating jobs on the continent to catalyse Africa’s development.
“Extremism is a product of poverty and joblessness. Poverty anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere,” he said.
“If our leaders understand the reason and rationale for our youths to succeed, they will do everything they can to support them.”
Emphasising the role of technology as a key enabler in accelerating development, he cited the TEFConnect, the digital networking platform for African entrepreneurs launched by the Foundation in 2018.
With over 500,000 registered users, the hub provides a platform for entrepreneurs to network and forge business partnerships regardless of their location.
The interest of the federal government in the aspirations of forum was evident in the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
In a keynote, he commended the Foundation for birthing an intervention that compels “us to focus on what matters, our youth and their dreams.”
“The message to Africa’s emerging business giants is a clear one: How and what can you contribute like Tony Elumelu to empowering the next generation, helping them to realise their dreams?”
Established in 2010, The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is the leading philanthropic institution in Africa championing entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs across the continent.
The Foundation’s long-term investment in empowering African entrepreneurs was birthed by Elumelu’s philosophy of Africapitalism, which positions Africa’s private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent.
Its flagship initiative, the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, is a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs capable of changing the face of business across Africa.
The milestones achieved so far include:
• Training, mentoring and provision of funding to thousands of start-ups in several African countries.
• Introduction of the TEF entrepreneurs to their political leaders at the highest levels of government to bring them and their challenges to the attention of policy makers who can effect changes that will improve the enabling environment.
• Leveraging access to unique data to produce original reports to support advocacy agenda to improve the ecosystem for African entrepreneurs: Unleashing Africa’s Entrepreneurs; improving the enabling environment for start-ups; Africans investing in Africa.
• Collaboration with University of Edinburgh to produce a report on Africapitalism, while a teaching case study is being developed by the Bertha Centre, University of Cape Town on the Foundation and its programme.
• TEF is the founding member of SPARK, launched by President Obama in May 2015 at the White House to promote global entrepreneurship;
• Presentation of TEF at global entrepreneurship fora;
• Signing strategic partnerships, including an MOU with the Nigerian Ministry of Information and Culture to invigorate the Nigerian creative industry; ECOWAS; International Trade Centre; Africa Development Bank, Microsoft, to name but a few. Many more in the offing.
• Building Africa’s largest online platform, the TEFConnect, a must-go-to destination for African entrepreneurs.
The Abuja Forum, with a substantial array of leaders and experts, provided several takeaways. At the Presidential Dialogue were Mr. Elumelu; Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation; Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President, African Development Bank; Prof. Benedict Okey Oramah, President, African Export-Import Bank; Dr. Sidi Ould TAH, Director General, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa; Gilles Carbonnier Vice President, International Committee of the Red Cross; Koen Doens, Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Development, European Commission.
The takeaways include those from:
Africa is not arising, it is already risen. This year we project that the economic growth rate (GDP) will be four per cent, next year 4.1 per cent but that doesn’t tell story and the excitement of this continent.
We have 22 countries that are growing at well over 5% and 21 countries that are growing at 3-5 per cent. The global average GDP growth rate is 3.2 per cent. That means Africa is doing well, and Africa is resilient.
However, I must be very quick to mention that although the GDP growth rate is important, but nobody eats GDP.
GDP itself doesn’t create jobs. The challenge that we have, the honest challenge we have as we sit here is a very humbling one. It is that we have six hundred and seventy-eight million young people in Africa today; and12-13 million people enter labour market every year but they can’t find jobs. Only three million of them can find jobs, and so when we talk about growth, the growth has to be a growth that creates jobs.
Not just any kind of jobs; I mean quality jobs to have a decent living. So what we’ve got to do in my view, is to look at the young people of our continent that are going to grow, about eight hundred and forty million people by 2050, a billion people by 2063.
We can’t keep postponing their future into the future; we have to help them today; the young people are not liabilities but are assets.
As President of AfDB, the point I want to make is that we must begin to put capital at risk for the young people of Africa, this is fundamental.
Tony is doing a fantastic job, and we think we should clap for him again. However, it’s more than Tony; it’s more than each of us. What I want to propose today is this: that it’s time for African leaders, African governments to begin to shift from youth empowerment to youth investment.
The big advantage we’ve had with migration is that it has put Africa much bigger on Europe’s radar screen than ever before. Thanks to migration, Europeans have started to understand that what happens in Africa doesn’t stay in Africa and that the future of Africa immediately affects the future of Europe. That’s the first change.
Behind the immediacy of migration, there is a continent that is booming, and I think that what we see today, all the dynamism, the power, the energy of African entrepreneurs is just the tip of the iceberg. We see it all over the place, in plenty of countries, how young Africans, middle-aged Africans are having entrepreneurial spirit and skill.
Now, if I look at Europe; 99% of Europe’s companies are small and medium-sized enterprises; 85% of the jobs created over the last five years in Europe have been created by small and medium-sized enterprises.
There is no reason why African entrepreneurs cannot do the same in Africa and that is where we want to move now in Europe, which is we want to support this enormous potential of African entrepreneurship with our expertise with our means and the starting point for that is of course a shift of mindset in Europe.
We are looking at how we can use our means to support Africa in terms of developing and attracting, making easier, investment; public investment, private investment. We are now heavily going to invest in skills in vocational and educational learning because when jobs are created, you also need people who are capable of taking those jobs.
I think we are missing one thing, that one thing is our people because if you look at the world there are developing countries where they have built the infrastructure, where they have a lot of money but look at their development indices today and compare it to the indices in South Korea, Japan and all that and you see that very far away, and then you ask yourself is infrastructure the problem?
If it is, then those countries would’ve been somewhere else. I think it is people.
I am happy that there is a fair convergence that in the 21st century, the development of Africa first lies in our hands. Two, that entrepreneurship is a way to sustainable development; three, that self-reliance is key and it is what we all should seek to achieve when we are living.
I like the fact that today we have in the audience, presidents of African countries who are committed to the development of our young ones; who have realised that as we prioritise our young ones, we also prioritise the development of the continent. That is fantastic.
But let me say to the young African entrepreneurs, the stage is now yours to take and actualise your dreams and aspirations. What we do at the Tony Elumelu Foundation is to create this kind of platform for all of you, give you the opportunity to interact with our leaders and give you little seed capital to help you prove your idea so that our young ones don’t go to the grave with their ideas. We want to see you succeed and I am happy that everyone is on board about prioritising you, about supporting you, about providing extra capacity to enable you to become our true future leader indeed.
To us, this is the changing narrative, and this is the changing mindset we would like international development institutions should have; that the way to go is to intervene and support Africa. We should support from helping Africans to become self-reliant.
With increasing support for Africapitalism and rising expectation of growth, the stakes are higher now. But beyond protecting a strong can-do reputation is a bigger expectation of helping as many African youths, as possible, utilise their ideas, rather than getting them buried in the Sahara Desert or in the Mediterranean Sea.