Wednesday, 3 December 2014

‘EMPOWERING THE NEXT GENERATION OF AFRICAN LEADERS’ by Tony O. Elumelu, C.O.N., founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation at the launch of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, December 1, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this joyous occasion.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you here today as my life’s story, in business, comes full circle. My name is Tony O. Elumelu. I was born, raised, educated and have worked all my life in Africa. I am also an entrepreneur, and one who has enjoyed a lot of success in my chosen pursuits. 

You might say that I was made in Africa, and I made it in Africa.

And that means so much to me. 

To be able to make it at home, on a continent handicapped by narratives of hopelessness, the fact that entrepreneurs from humble beginning, like myself, like Ayodeji Adewunmi the Co-Founder of the Nigeria job search site Jobberman,  like Monica Musonda, the CEO of Java Food in Zambia, like Strive Masiyiwa of Econet in South Africa, not only speaks to the potential for success in our homeland, but it gives hope to other budding African entrepreneurs, wherever they may be, that success is possible; that they can help build the African we want to live in.

But I didn’t do it all by myself.

I believe that one of the key reasons why I made it in business is because, early on in my career in Nigeria, I benefitted from the mentorship of Chief Ebitimi Emmanuel Banigo at AllStates Bank. 

Chief Banigo helped me to develop my strategic thinking and to channel my ideas into concrete actions, so that when the opportune moment arrived, at the age of 34, I had the self-belief to gather a small group together to take over and revive a failing bank through innovations in our services. 

And there was a lady too- Rose Ada Okwechime who bought into our vision by investing in us at the critical early stage when very few had confidence in us because there was little or no track record. Yet, my team and I held onto our bigger dream of becoming a pan-African bank, that serves the whole continent. This dream lead us into a merger with UBA Group, and expansion of the new bank into 19 African countries.

Over the past twenty years plus I’ve spent as a banker, I had the opportunity to  meet hundreds of entrepreneurs, like me, all across Africa, many of them young people, with incredible dreams and business ideas but without the experience or the access to mentoring and support required in order to build a bankable business plan. Without these critical resources, these ideas often never make it out of the dream world and into the reality of African soil.

I’ve also met entrepreneurs who are already running home-grown businesses and have deep insights into local consumer demand. They can spot unique gaps in the market for specific products and services. They can tap into strong networks and often exhibit a burning drive to create innovative, often disruptive, solutions to complex challenges. These are the people who can fuel our future, but who often lack the capital, the training or the support to take their strong small business to national or regional scale.   

I believe we can’t afford to waste this talent.

Demographic trends show that we need to create 10 million jobs a year, to sustain Africa’s young population, who can spell an economic boom or doom for the continent. Governments and big corporates alone cannot provide the number of jobs that are required by the millions of young Africans entering the job market every year. But I believe African entrepreneurs can.

Entrepreneurship is how we take ownership and demonstrate leadership in our continent’s affairs – it’s not up to anyone else to develop Africa but us. Entrepreneurship means you no longer have to wait to see who will give you a job, you can seize the opportunity to secure your future and in the process, create jobs and livelihoods for others. Entrepreneurship will allow our young people to take charge of their futures, instead of letting the future happen to them. Entrepreneurship is how we become masters of our destiny and tackle the serious risk that poverty and mass unemployment pose to the stability of our societies and economies.

There is no more important or urgent, a task before us.

I believe that in business, “Opportunity” is the great equalizer. African entrepreneurs need opportunity in the form of mentorship, capital and business ecosystems that favour their success. In other words, we need to “institutionalize” the luck or good fortune that I benefitted from early in my career.

This is why I have invited you here today.

My life has come full-circle, because today, I the lucky entrepreneur, will today embark on the journey of giving back to the continent that has given so much to me, and doing it at an unprecedented level. Through the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, I am committing $100 million to support the next generation of African entrepreneurs- the next Dangotes, the next, Mosepe, the next Jumias, the next Nandos/MTNs, the next UBAs.

The Programme represents a decade long commitment to support 10,000 African entrepreneurs and start-ups. The programme is open to entrepreneurs from all 54 African countries. Over the next 10 years, our goal is to create 10,000 African-owned businesses, generating 1,000,000 jobs and contributing $10 billion to revenues across Africa.

The Programme will seek out and support the growth of African Entrepreneurs in any sector or field. We are building an ecosystem to identify and cross-pollinate grassroots innovation across Africa, sparking intra-African trade and accelerating success.The Programme will also promote the role of African entrepreneurs within the global supply chain and put African innovators front and centre on the global stage.  

This is far more than a funding initiative or networking opportunity. It is an act of faith in our entrepreneurs and our young people to transform our continent; to be the engine for the creation of both economic and social wealth, in line with the principles of Africapitalism!

Because business isn’t just about money.  It’s about, vision values, plans, drive, community and development.

My new dream is that at the end of this “decade of entrepreneurship,” we will have laid the groundwork for thousands of businesses to grow and flourish across the continent, creating new partnerships and trade routes both within Africa and internationally.

This is how we will transform the lives of our people across Africa. This is the way we will transform our societies and economies. It is up to us.

And you the media can help by sharing information on this opportunity to reach the entrepreneurs among us, by tracking the progress of entrepreneurs, by telling the stories of their business growth, and most importantly, holding us accountable for this promise of reaching 10,000 entrepreneurs in 10 years.

Thank you again for joining us and I look forward to your questions.

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