We give to empower in order to break the cycle of dependency. Entrepreneurship is the only path to independence and sustainability.
Last weekend, the Tony Elumelu Foundation hosted almost 1,000 women and men from 54 African countries for the 2nd TEF Entrepreneurship Forum – the largest annual gathering of African entrepreneurs.
The forum was our celebration of the 2016 cohort of Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, selected from over 45,000 applicants. This event is the annual highlight of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and provides a platform for leading policy makers and business leaders from across Africa, to support the Foundation and our promise to identify, train, mentor and seed 1,000 entrepreneurs in our decade-long $100 million commitment. Following the Forum, each entrepreneur is eligible to receive up to $10,000 to implement their business plan.
I was honoured when His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone hailed the TEF Entrepreneurship programme as “a genuinely innovative approach to philanthropy in Africa – an African offering African solutions.” The President also lauded our programme as unique in that it not only provides a platform for entrepreneurs to build connections, but they entrepreneurs are also taught how to build their businesses in a sustainable manner. The President also called on other philanthropists to be inspired enough to support and promote the Foundation’s philosophy of African entrepreneurship development.
Our ambition with our entrepreneurship programme is to create ambassadors for entrepreneurship in Africa: to build a generation of wealth creators who share our commitment to the economic and social transformation of Africa. One of our entrepreneurs in the 2015 Class, Momarr Mass Taal, CEO of Tropingo Foods, has turned his first $5,000 seed capital received from the Foundation last year, into a $1.2 million revenue business. Isn’t this amazing? We all want many more of these!
However, as excited as I am about the 2,000 entrepreneurs that we have selected, the forum was in some ways bittersweet as I continue to reflect on the 63,000 ideas received in the Programme’s short two years of existence that we were unable to select. Our commitment is to all entrepreneurs in Africa. We will not slow down until all entrepreneurs across the continent are impacted.
Though we have formed partnerships with institutions including the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre, and the Nigerian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, I continue to challenge all organizations and individuals invested in Africa’s economic development, to join hands with the Foundation to support these 63,000 unselected entrepreneurs as well as the wider African entrepreneurial community. We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place.
Our two-day forum buzzed with energy as entrepreneurs shared and gained knowledge, built cross-border partnerships, and connected with investors and policymakers, fulfilling the goal of fostering innovation and collaboration between entrepreneurs from across Africa.
On Day One, entrepreneurs 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 – my economic philosophy that identifies the leading role of Africa’s private sector, including its entrepreneurs, in Africa’s transformation.
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 Republic Lionel Zinsou, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture and Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil.
Finally, special thanks to President Olusegun Obasanjo who commended the Foundation’s perseverance and focus on giving back while calling for other successful Africans to emulate our model. His closing line to the entrepreneurs, “For strength in life you need a bit of adversity” was met with great applause. Thanks also to former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, who wrapped up the panel with very high praise for the Foundation: “What Tony Elumelu is doing is the exception, not the norm.”
Details of the 2016 Elumelu Entrepreneurs can be found at http://tonyelumelufoundation.org/teep/ and TEF’s documentary “Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs: Transforming Africa” at http://bit.ly/TEEPdocumentary.