Leading Ivestment Company in Africa

Entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility & Africapitalism: The Role of the Private Sector in Fighting Poverty in Nigeria

Remarks by

Tony O. Elumelu, CON

Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation

at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies;

Kuru, Plateau State

Tuesday, August 23, 2016



  • Over one billion people live on less than $1.25 a day worldwide. These are known as the bottom billion.
  • Of those, in 2012, 330 million were identified as Africans living in extreme poverty, up by 50 million, from 280 million in 1990.
  • According to some experts, today, up to 70% of Nigerians can be classified as living in extreme poverty. This represents a significant increase from when the exercise was done by the World Bank, during the Obasanjo Administration when it was determined to be under 50%, though part of it is attributable to a change in the methodology of their calculation.


The sad fact is that despite valiant efforts by the government over the last 30 years, from ‘Austerity’ to the ‘Structural Adjustment Programme’ to ‘MAMSER’ to ‘SURE-P,’ poverty is on the rise in Nigeria. Long before we suffered the economic blow of the plummeting of commodity prices, poverty was on the rise. But Nigeria’s problems are not unique on the continent. African countries share the common challenges of poverty and underdevelopment.

To be sure, these statistics can be overwhelming. But I am also sure that this fight can be won!

This captures the essence of the video you just saw.

I am certain that the fight against poverty is not a Herculean task to be fought by a heroic government as the sole actor. And neither is it a fight to be fought by donor agencies or foreign governments alone for us.

It is an epic saga, that must be fought by multiple actors, to not just pull everyone out of poverty, but also to keep future generations out of poverty. And despite the seriousness of the situation and the millions of lives that are often on the line, I am also convinced that, as much as possible, our interventions should approach the challenge of poverty with great optimism, because that is the way we will be able to recruit more people into the fight and why they will stay in the fight.

My greatest contribution, is not the money. It is in the fact that they can relate to me. Another regular guy like majority of them. And when I say to them – if I succeeded, you can too, it resonates.

The documentary you have just watched is a chronicle of the creation and the first cycle of the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme. And some of you might already have seen the feature on some of the beneficiaries of the programme done by PBS channel for a S. audience. TEEP represents my response, as a private sector actor, to the challenge of poverty in, not just Nigeria, but the entire continent of Africa. And as you can see from the faces of the beneficiaries of the programme and our focus on job and wealth creation, we are together approaching it with zeal and great optimism. And these our young men and women are once again hopeful for a better tomorrow. This is key because HOPE addresses anxiety and keeps young people away from extremism, away from vandalism, away from drugs, etc.

Everyday, as these entrepreneurs create new jobs and new products, we are chipping away from the mountain that is extreme poverty.

It is important to understand though that this entrepreneurship programme is unique because it is underpinned by a solid business strategy and philosophy that will ensure the sustainability of the outcome of our investments in these entrepreneurs and the future of Africa. The programme represents the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s commitment to invest $100 million over the next 10 years to identify, train, mentor and seed 10,000 African businesses. We aim to create 1 million new jobs and $10 billion in additional revenue for the continent by democratizing and institutionalizing the ‘LUCK’ that I had as a young man that me led to significant levels of success in the Nigerian and African private sector.

Additionally, we are identifying and advocating for policy reforms to enable not just the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs but all African entrepreneurs with the will to succeed.

Because ultimately, what we are seeking is the ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION OF AFRICA. And the response has been overwhelming!

In its inaugural year, we received 20,000 applications for the 1,000 available slots and, this year, more than 45,000 aspiring entrepreneurs applied. This October, we will host another class of 1000 budding entrepreneurs from 53 countries in Africa, at the Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos. The programme and the forum will serve to empower them, inspire them and, most importantly, teach these young African Men and Women how to become fishermen.

I am proud to tell you that in the Class of 2015, Nigerian entrepreneurs numbered 480, and all 36 states were represented this year; Nigerians make up 601 (or 60%) of the top 1,000, bringing the total number of Nigerian entrepreneurs in our programme to 1,081.

The fact that Nigerians make up more than half of the 2,000 beneficiaries chosen in a merit-based selection process led by Accenture, and that every state in the federation has been represented in the programme both years, are testaments to the strength of the entrepreneurial spirit in our Nigerian youth.

Let me share with you, 3 concrete examples of what some of these Nigerian entrepreneurs are doing that help to fight poverty through profit-making and sustainable solutions:

  • In the ICT sector one of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, Nasir Daniya from Sokoto State has created an app to link all Nigerian Police Stations together with photos of wanted individuals, a critical gap in our national security coordination.
  • Kehinde Yinusa, another beneficiary of the programme, from Lagos State, has created an is now scaling up the distribution of cost-effective “birthing kits” with essentials to aid midwives and birth attendants in the birthing process to help reduce maternal and child mortality.
  • A third entrepreneur Nkem Okocha, from the South-East, is crowd-sourcing funds to lend to female micro-entrepreneurs to support their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty.

These are all PRIVATE SECTOR SOLUTIONS to pressing development challenges facing our country and continent. And they are available RIGHT HERE in Nigeria, from our own youth.

Even better, these entrepreneurs are collaborating with each other to amplify their business reach and impact on our under-served populations. At the micro level, with their insight and innovations, many of these start-ups and small businesses are taking a bottom up approach to economic and social development, utilizing private sector capital and expertise, to drive the creation of home-grown solutions to local problems in core areas such as food, education, health, water and sanitation, etc.

At the macro-level, they are an expression of Nigerian solutions to Nigeria economic and social problems. And with each business they grow, with each job they create, and with each naira they generate, they are helping to create a tide of prosperity that will lift families, communities and our nation out of economic stagnation and despair, and into a future of dignity and development.



Now how does the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme relate to poverty reduction?

Well, like most people, I could not be a bystander to the suffering of my fellow Africans and the negative narrative and imagery that represent the world’s perception of our continent, especially being an African that has been so blessed with opportunity and prosperity by this very maligned continent. And after several years of thinking it through, I came to the conclusions that if Africans are serious about eradicating poverty and achieving development, and changing the narrative about our continent, we must acknowledge the following:


  • That no one but us will save ourselves. The development of Africa is up to Africans.  Donors and partners can help, but the work of developing our nations is ours
  • There is a prevailing development paradigm which hasn’t worked.

The traditional approach to development has been for governments and donors to invest in basic health, education and access to food in developing countries, with the hope that the beneficiaries will eventually become self-sufficient. But I also believe that if we help people become self-sufficient, by providing them with jobs and economic opportunity, they will purchase those same basic goods and services, that governments and donors are struggling to provide.

Basically, humanitarian assistance and economic opportunity are two sides of the same development coin and we tend to focus on the former at the expense of the latter, with limited results. So, we must elevate jobs economic opportunity as a tool for fighting poverty and promoting development.


  • Governments do not have the capacity to provide the basic daily needs or employment for the millions of young Nigerians entering the job market every year. Therefore, the private sector must be an integral part of our national poverty eradication and development strategy.


And, it is this last point that led me to develop the economic philosophy of Africapitalism and the imperative to nurture a generation of entrepreneurs who identify as Africapitalists- that is private companies who create financial and social impact in their chosen sectors and geographies.



Africapitalism is borne of my own experience of investing in the private sector. When I stepped down as the CEO of UBA in 2010, and established Heirs Holdings, I was venturing out from my comfort zone, as a Banker, into new territory, as an Entrepreneur!

To help guide my investment decisions, I took some time to reflect on what principles, practices and decisions had underpinned the success of Standard Trust Bank and UBA, what I’d learned and what impact I wanted to make in all my new endeavour I found that I wanted to:

–   Create wealth;

–   Promote development in Nigeria and across Africa;

–   Do it from the private sector; and

–   Deliver societal benefits.

And that is how the concept of Africapitalism was birthed.

I believe that along with poverty our greatest challenges in Nigeria and Africa includes untapped human potential – a great deal of that potential exists among the poorest, the unemployed and the young. Therefore, our development agenda should not just be about fighting poverty. It should be driven by strategies that centre around building capacity and unleashing the potential of millions of marginalized citizens – the continent’s greatest and most abundant natural resource.

This modern development agenda should be about creating jobs, unlocking entrepreneurial opportunity, spreading prosperity and catapulting the country into a significant player in an industrialized global economy, as opposed to one which operates on the periphery.

I think this new attitude to development deserves its own approach- AFRICAPITALISM!

Africapitalism asserts that the private sector has a leading role to play in the development of Africa. A role it must recognize and embrace. Specifically, Africapitalism promotes long-term investments in strategic sectors that deliver economic dividends for shareholders and social dividends for society. Africapitalism is needed because if African governments and the private sector continue to operate in parallel, at best it is a recipe for “MUTUALLY-ASSURED MEDIOCRITY.”

However, if African governments and businesses are connected by a shared philosophy, common principles and coordinated objectives for trade and investment promotion, it will deliver the shared prosperity we see.  Essentially, Africapitalism requires the government and private sector to work in  “SHARE D PURPOSE.”



Now, one of the areas I’ve been asked to speak about is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a tool of fighting poverty. I think CSR is tremendously valuable.  It is helpful in saving lives and improving lives and even creating economic opportunity.  And it is important for good community relations by ensuring that the local community benefits from some of the value being derived in their sphere.  In fact, all my companies practice CSR to develop the communities in which we operate.

However, if our collective objective is transformative development on a macro-scale, CSR is not enough. We have got BIG PROBLEMS and we need BIG IDEAS that deliver BIG RESULTS!  In my view, CSR goes far but not far enough to deliver sustainable development on the scale that Nigeria requires.

And this is where CSR differs from Africapitalism.

First, CSR is an activity of large corporates and Africapitalism is practicable with all sizes of businesses.

Secondly, CSR involves large companies going about their regular business and then at the end of the fiscal year, allocating a small share of their profits to social programs, usually, but not always, in the communities in which they operate.

Africapitalism is NOT about what a company does for the community AFTER it has done its business and generated profits.

Africapitalism is about HOW a company goes about its business and WHAT kind of business it is engaged in, to ensure that it’s very existence, strategies and operations generate profit and serve society.

So, I recommend an Africapitalist approach to business, with CSR augmenting it, after profits are derived.



And this brings me back to Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a key feature of Africapitalism and it is the philanthropic pathway I am using to promulgate Africapitalism to promote development across Africa.

I shared with you earlier that I believe that economic opportunity has equal ability to fight poverty and promote development and I told you about my own practise of Africapitalism, and the success it has created for me personally and the countries in which my businesses operate.

I’ve also told you that I believe that nobody but us will develop our country and continent. These two beliefs have led me to understand that I have an additional responsibility to replicate my success and create  1,000  more  Tony  Elumelus  and  UBAs  to  help  stimulate  the economic transformation of Africa by nurturing  The Next Generation oAfricapitalists.

So I would argue that to effectively fight poverty and achieve “Shared prosperity,” WE MUST PROMOTE ENTREPRENEURSHIP, AS A NATIONAL PRIORITY.

Governments and large corporates do not have the capacity to provide employment for the tens of millions of young Africans entering the job market every year. Therefore, we MUST empower them to create their own livelihood and in that process possibly create jobs for others.  This means they take charge of their futures by starting their own businesses.

Many of them have deep insight into their local markets, consumer needs and ideas for locally-generated solutions. But they are shut out of the formal economy by bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, policy gaps and a perennial lack of access to capital, markets and training.

There are millions of entrepreneurs out there with millions of ideas that can help achieve the economic transformation of this country and our whole continent. And I am not alone. For the last several years President Barack Obama has hosted a global entrepreneurship summit to engage young people positively in creating jobs to occupy themselves and others, stabilizing their communities and helping to grow their national economies.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation is a founding co-chair of Spark!, the private coalition that partners with the US government to spread the message of economic opportunity as a path to prosperity and national development.

I also continue to engage African leaders, at the presidential level, on the transformative impact of entrepreneurship, by bringing their home-grown entrepreneurs before them to tell them what they have been able to achieve with the support of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and what the government can do to improve the enabling environment for their success and that of other entrepreneurs in their country.

Here at home, I am encouraged by some of our government’s programmes, to support young entrepreneurs, but we must do more to help more of them.We need to think BIGGER!

Other African countries have seized on the opportunity. The government of Cote D’Ivoire for instance has decided that with my foundation’s technical assistance, they will duplicate our entrepreneurship program to expand and support for thousands of more Ivorien entrepreneurs.  In Uganda, we’ve been asked to support an industrial park for start-ups.  We have developed partnership with Kaduna State Government in Nigeria to assist them in identifying and supporting their entrepreneurs.

I believe that, more than anything else at this point, entrepreneurship is the key to Africa’s economic salvation and elevation and I urge you all to use your influence to promote it as one of our key strategies for eradicating poverty in Nigeria.

And let each and everyone of us here adopt an affirmative action, that as you go back to your respective institutions, you will take at least one policy action that helps our entrepreneurs to succeed because their success is our national success.




The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We live in a new era- one of sustainable development and we require a new philosophy of development and way of doing business.

Africapitalism provides both, and demands SHARED PURPOSE for SHARED PROSPERITY. Nigeria, and indeed Africa’s, transition from poverty eradication to sustainable development is an unfolding journey, and the destination is not as important as who we carry along.

For too long, our governments have tried to go it alone and it hasn’t worked. Those governments that have learned the lessons of the past are those that will carry along the private sector, academia, civil society, aspiring entrepreneurs and, most especially, the poorest and most vulnerable among us along this path to progress and prosperity.

The good news for you, our policy leaders here today, is, you don’t have to carry me along. I am already here, ready to walk with you and work with you.

Thank you.



Tony O. Elumelu, CON

Chairman, Heirs Holdings &

Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation


Twitter: @TonyOElumelu and Instagram @TonyOElumelu

Twitter: @Heirs_Holdings and Instagram: @HeirsHoldings

Twitter: @TonyElumeluFDN and Instagram: