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Published On: Sun, Jan 29th, 2017

Need To Structure How Africans Give Influenced Tony Elumelu Foundation

‘There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs’. These are wise words that fall flat where there are no stairs. Perhaps this was the thinking behind the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s initiative to grow African entrepreneurs because in Africa, there are teeming youths with potential but without support to achieve their dreams not only to rise out of poverty but to contribute to their communities.
So it rang true to African ears when at a recent world conference Elumelu declared that Africans believe in communal living where well-to-do family members give helping hands to other members. What is lacking in this generous behaviour of Africans is that it has never been “structured”.
It is the need to structure how Africans give that gave birth to the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship programme with a commitment to give $100 million over a ten year period. Participants are eligible to receive up to $10,000 seed money to actualise contents of their business plans, which is the equivalent of N3, 147,500 at current exchange rate.
Elumelu Entrepreneurs represent sectors as diverse as agriculture and fashion. Thirty-six per cent of those chosen were women, a significant increase on the first year’s twenty-four per cent. Entrepreneurs range from 18 to 54 years old.
“In the first two years of the programme, we have selected 2,000 women and men covering all of Africa’s regions-North, East, Southern, Central and West Africa-and all major language blocs-Anglophone, francophone, Lusophone and Arabic Africa”, Elumelu said in a speech at the forum.

A handy reason for Africa’s need of an intervention such as the one being provided by the foundation is the endemic poverty in Africa. According to World Bank data, more than 414 million people are living in extreme poverty across sub-Saharan Africa. They live on less than $2 a day. Extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.25 or less a day.
This is a fact that Elumelu is acutely aware of leading him to declare after the plenary of the 2016 cohort that, ‘Extreme Poverty and Economic Opportunity Can Rarely coexist In the Same Place!’ Indeed, this is a compelling reason to rewrite Africa’s future and what better way to do that than by teaching young men and women ‘how to fish’.
The Foundation promises to identify, train, mentor and seed 1,000 entrepreneurs in a decade-long $100 million commitment. Following the Forum, each entrepreneur is eligible to receive up to $10,000 to implement their business plan.
This is a task that makes Elumelu a little giddy. When asked about what excites him about his many forays in the business world which includes, banking, finance, power, oil and gas among others, Elumelu said the most exciting for him is “to help young Africans become big players on the continent.
In his keynote speech, he reiterated that” 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.

But the challenge to lift Africa is onerous. No one institution can single handedly fork Africa out of poverty. Elumelu is modest enough to realise that. That is why he went into partnership with He regional institutions like “the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, and others including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre, Nigerian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Entrepreneurship”, to achieve the objective of empowering Africa’s future wealth creators.
But the party doesn’t seem to be full yet. Elumelu expressed desire to have more people and institutions come on board. He challenged all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, multilateral organizations and all individuals invested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support the wider African entrepreneurial community.
Elumelu is confident the initiative will pay off. He says it has started paying off. He proceeded to tell 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.”
He is also confident that many of the participating entrepreneurs will end up like Momarr Mass Taal: “ I want many more of these!”
Elumelu’s visible pain, however, is that he cannot do more than the 2,000 entrepreneurs selected, for the programme, leading him to say that the event of the second forum is ‘bittersweet’. ‘As I reflect on the 63,000 ideas we were unable to select – our commitment is to all entrepreneurs in Africa.
“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.
Deeply touched by the initiative, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone hailed it as “a genuinely innovative approach to philanthropy in Africa – an African offering African solutions”. He is convinced that other like minded philanthropists would latch on to the programme.
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was beside himself with joy on learning of the initiative. He was so affected, he offered prayers: “By every means, God has made His face shine upon you. You are not the only one, but unlike you, others do not have the idea of empowering the next generation of Africans in the manner and scale that you are doing.”

Former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, said, “What Tony Elumelu is doing is the exception, not the norm.”
It takes only a peek at the The two-day to bne conmpletely consumed by its objectives.

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, Mr. 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, invited entrepreneurs in the audience to continue to build the future and to challenge the flawed perceptions of Africa.

Day Two featured a high-level panel dedicated to identifying policies to strengthen the enabling environment for entrepreneurs, moderated by BBC anchor, Lerato Mbele, with panellists including His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria, Former Prime Minister of Benin RepublicLionel Zinsou, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture and Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil.

Opening the High-Level Panel, Mrs. Alakija congratulated the entrepreneurs, praised TEF’s focus on entrepreneurship and shared her own personal story of perseverance to demonstrate the entrepreneurs need for resilience and doggedness. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo hailed Elumelu’s perseverance and focus on giving back. “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.” He further emphasized patience to the young entrepreneurs. In his words, “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. Former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, commended the Tony Elumelu Foundation, stating “What Tony Elumelu is doing is the exception, not the norm.”

Originally published in Independent Newspaper under the title: Why The Tony Elumelu Foundation Is Growing Entrepreneurs

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