Harvard Business School Unveils Tony Elumelu Foundation Case Study

Harvard Business School Unveils Tony Elumelu Foundation Case Study

Oluchi Chibuzor

At a time of renewed geopolitical interest in Africa, and an increasing questioning of traditional development finance models, Harvard Business School on Thursday, released a case study examining the role and impact of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), and its unique approach to catalysing entrepreneurship in Africa.

The Foundation, one of Africa’s leading funders of young entrepreneurs, has pioneered an innovative approach to seeding, capacitising and networking young entrepreneurs across Africa.

Drawing directly from Tony Elumelu’s entrepreneurial journey, his acknowledgement that luck and chance played an important role in his success, the Foundation democratises luck, spreads opportunity, in a sector agnostic approach, and has developed a bespoke infrastructure that reaches every country in Africa.

The Foundation is a direct expression of Elumelu’s philosophy of Africapitalism, that the private sector must play a pivotal role in Africa’s development, and that investment must seek social, as well as economic returns.

The case study, the first of its kind, focused on African philanthropy, was launched before a class of graduate students at Harvard Business School and explored the Foundation’s unique approaches and transformative initiatives, showcasing how the strategic philanthropy offered by TEF was driving positive change and elevating countries and communities.

The case study recognises challenges the Foundation faces, and its responses, as it developed its mission, since founding in 2010.

The Group Chairman of Heirs Holdings and the founder, TEF, Tony Elumelu, while interacting with some Harvard Business School scholars, said access to capital and a challenging operating environment was a critical issue affecting entrepreneurship on the African continent.

“TEF is creating economic hope and opportunity for African entrepreneurs. We know that entrepreneurship is the solution to youth unemployment and insecurity.

“Through the intervention of the Foundation, we are transforming our young people, giving them hope. Collectively, all of us can resolve the challenges that we have on the continent.

“It is wonderful to have had the opportunity to work with HBS, to spotlight our successes, acknowledge the challenges that we have at times faced, and provide the opportunity to spread our experience, for the benefit of others.”

The Harvard Business School session provided an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion on the role of philanthropy in shaping sustainable and inclusive economies.

As the world grapples with complex challenges around demographics, climate and sustainability, the Tony Elumelu Foundation model offers a fascinating model of how strategic philanthropy can be a driving force for positive change.

Elumelu also questioned the reason why African women cannot have access to properties, noting that this was also a hurdle for them approaching lending institutions that demand collaterals for loans.

The Nigerian philanthropist said most entrepreneurs on the continent were faced with these two critical challenges.

Narrating how he and his wife through sheer luck became successful, Elumelu stressed that democratising access to capital was dear to their hearts hence the establishment of the TEF.

“Access to capital is not a function of interest rate, access to capital is a function of availability and about having it available. That is why in some parts of Africa, women don’t have access to properties and lending.

“So why should women not have access to properties on the continent?  Why should we not prioritise our women? Why should we have joblessness all over the continent? And so this begins to tell you why at some point you come to the lower end of the pyramid. You have a significant sense of urgency to do something now.”

Commenting on the huge expectations on his foundation, the Chairman of the United Bank of Africa (UBA), acknowledged that scarcity of resources was also a challenge facing donor agencies like the TEF.

The TEF has disbursed over $100 million, reaching every African country.  The Foundation is increasingly developing a partnership-based approach, working with institutions such as the EU, US agencies, the UNDP, the ICRC, the Ikea Foundation, and others to develop bespoke programmes focused on fragile states, female entrepreneurs and sustainability initiatives.

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