The question never goes away. It resumed its relevance when it came from the respected President of one of Africa’s successful democracies, Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana at the last forum of the Tony Elumelu foundation in Lagos.
Sharing the spotlight with Mr. Tony Elumelu at Founder’s dialogue of the forum to discuss the African entrepreneurship ecosystem, the role of the government in the growth of the economy and the opportunities that exist in Africa, the President had looked Elumelu in the eyes asked, “What is the motivation for what you are doing?”
In order words, what would make an individual commit to a $100 million programme over 10 years to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs to generate over 1,000,000 new jobs and contribute at least $10 billion in new annual revenues across Africa?
So far, the programme has empowered 4,460 entrepreneurs with a total investment of USD20million; 4,000 funded directly by the Foundation and 460 have been funded by partners.
Just as some people expected him to grow weary over time, fresh applications are being received for the fifth year of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme, which has empowered thousands of entrepreneurs, using a bespoke and robust selection, training and implementation process to create visible and sustainable impact across all 54 African countries.
In four years, TEF has directly impacted 4,460 entrepreneurs, and the multiplier effect is showing in job creation, but most importantly in the recognition that Africa’s economic well-being could be driven by entrepreneurs, who are becoming the engine of the continent’s transformation.
TEF said it received over 150,000 applications in 2017 alone, up from 20,000 applications in 2015. Akufo-Addo didn’t have to wait long for a response to his question.
“Two things,” Elumelu said. “One is my own story, my own life. I’m trying to democratize the luck that I had. So ultimately, what becomes important is not who you know or where you come from or whose child you are but the ideas that you have.
“Secondly, we all struggle in life. Those who work with me know how hard we work. Ultimately, all the struggles, pursuits and everything that we have, when we die, what do we die with? At some point, you will start thinking about legacy. You will start realizing my parents did not leave houses or company shares for me. So, what I owe my children are education and a decent living. The rest, as much as possible, should be used to create wealth across board. That wealth across board is what we are doing at the Tony Elumelu Foundation.”
He continued: “I am always quick to say that we don’t do this because we have so much. Actually, we prioritize and make sacrifices for this to happen. It gives us significant joy to see forums like this happen because poverty anywhere is a threat to all of us everywhere and the more prosperity, we have around us the better for everyone.
“I am concerned with the philosophy of Africapitalism. It is about shared prosperity and not just how much money we have in our bank accounts. So, we need to mobilize, not just government but private sectors. That is why advocacy is key.”
The subject put them on the same page as the spotlight they shared. Building his argument block-by block President Akufo-Addo make a strong case for African entrepreneurs.
“First, we live on the richest continent in the world and yet our people are the poorest. That is a contradiction that has to be resolved,” he said.
“The second, look at the history of other countries in other continents. It is clear that strong market economies provide the best framework for development, prosperity and wealth.
“We are told that in 40 countries of the continent, more than 50 percent of the population have is aged below 35. It means that all these young people are the African people.
“We put all these things together and what does it mean? It means the work you (Elumelu) are doing here to encourage entrepreneurship, ingenuity, creativity, innovation among young people, is the future of our continent. No two ways about it, and I felt that with these reasons, it will be a good idea to come here, to support what you are doing and for the world to see that the political leaders of this generation in Africa appreciate what you are doing.”
He also advocated for good governance and strong economies with focus of small-scale industries and capacity building in Africa.
He told African leaders: “Run your countries well. You allow the institutions of your country to run efficiently. The second thing, that you also run your economies well. Run an economy where there is macroeconomic stability, where inflation is low, interest rates are low, where the deficits are controlled.
These are the building blocks for an economy that can grow. That’s our responsibility; run our countries well and provide a framework for the macro economies of our countries to work well. I think if we put those things together and encourage the ingenuity, enterprise, innovation among our young people, then we are on the right track.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who also attended the forum delivered a goodwill message to Elumelu and the entrepreneurs at the forum. He commended the work of the foundation and the founder, Mr. Elumelu, affirming his support to the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa.
He encouraged the young entrepreneurs to seize opportunities and to remember that nothing is impossible.