Tony Elumelu: His philosophy, his vision, his passion


Ime Akpan

Tony Elumelu shares the philosophy of the English dramatist and writer, Douglas William Jerrold (January 3, 1803-June 8, 1857) who said “happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in strangers’ gardens.”

Based on the above belief, Elumelu has chosen to look inwards for Africa’s economic freedom and also tasked African leaders to look within to grow the continent economically.

He reasons rightly that the only way the continent can get out of its present economic wood is to tap into its super abundant youth population through entrepreneurship instead of whining about how somebody or group from outside under-developed the continent.

Besides, he believes that building the capacity of the African private sector, as well as creating the enabling environment for business, will drive truly sustainable development.

He further reasons that Trojan horse charitable aid from anywhere is not the panacea for the continent’s economic emancipation and growth and as such will not take Africa beyond ground zero.

These and many more form the core of Africapitalism, an economic philosophy which Elumelu owns the patent right.

“My philosophy for how we will solve these and many of Africa’s other problems is rooted in the belief that no one can develop Africa except Africans. Building the capacity of the African private sector, as well as creating the enabling environment for business, will drive truly sustainable development … This is why I preach Africapitalism, which calls on the private sector, national governments and development agencies to work together to achieve long-term impact that creates economic prosperity and social wealth for all,” he said in an interview.

To walk the talk, he floated the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) that “supports entrepreneurship across Africa through programmes that develop the leadership skills of young entrepreneurs, making impact investments that support the growth of budding African businesses, and by sponsoring research that provides critical insights into the environment in which African entrepreneurs operate.”

“The Foundation is also very involved in creating a better enabling environment for business in Africa. We have done a lot to draw attention to the fact that there may be a new way of engaging in philanthropy in Africa that has less to do with charitable aid and more to do with impact investment for the future. Furthermore, by establishing a Foundation with global standards and ambitions, we have helped changed the conversation around Africa’s development – placing Africans and African donors firmly at the centre,” he said.

Like the French troubadour in the 11th-13th centuries, Elumelu has, since the birth of Africapitalism, travelled round the African continent and beyond, expounding this idea and what should be done.

The TEF which has been described as “Africa’s largest business incubator” receives applications from thousands of young African entrepreneurs, with business ideas that can transform the continent.

The programme provides critical tools for entrepreneurial success, including intensive training on setting-up and managing businesses, mentoring successful applicants in creating a robust business plan and provision of $5,000 in non-returnable seed capital and access to a $5,000 convertible loan.

Every year, 1,000 young entrepreneurs who are selected based on the viability of their idea, including market opportunity, financial understanding, scalability, and leadership and entrepreneurial skills demonstrated in the application, are churned out after undergoing the tutelage for cake baking instead of cake consumption.

Successful applicants join the cycle of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), TEF’s 10-year, $100 million commitment to train, mentor and fund 10,000 African entrepreneurs in every African country.

But the 2018 cohort is different. It includes an additional 250 entrepreneurs to the standard selection of 1,000 – thanks to: a $1,000,000 partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to support 200 entrepreneurs in conflict and fragile zones of Nigeria (the North East where the Boko Haram scourge is felt and the Niger Delta region which suffers environmental degradation from oil spillage) a $200,000 agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support 40 pan-African entrepreneurs; and a $50,000 partnership with Indorama to support 10 Nigerians.

They will join the 4th ‎cycle of TEF’s 10-year, $100 million TEEP.

Elumelu, who is also the chairman of UBA Plc, said at the unveiling of the 2018 participants in Lagos that the number of registrants is a confirmation of the strength and depth of entrepreneurial promise and commitment on the African continent.

“The number and quality of applicants, 151,000 ‎ in total, was outstanding – it illustrates the strength and depth of entrepreneurial promise and commitment on our continent. Selection is never easy, and we profoundly regret that we cannot help all.

“Our partnerships with the Red Cross, UNDP and Indorama, alongside ongoing discussions with other international organizations, reflect the growing global recognition of what we have known all along – that entrepreneurship is the most effective path to sustainable development on our continent and our Programme is the model to follow,” he said.

Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of the initiative have created more than 55,000 jobs and counting, and will convene from across all of Africa’s 54 countries in Lagos in October for the TEF Forum which has been adjudged the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs in the world.

Since inception in 2015, the programme has assisted nearly 2,000 entrepreneurs and created hundreds of jobs across the continent.

“The programme is a deliberate effort to institutionalise luck and provide the essentials for business growth to Africa’s next generation of business leaders. It is a demonstration of my faith in this generation’s ability to transform the African narrative, from the single story of disease and poverty, to one of enterprise and opportunity.

“Spread the word; we need Africa’s best and brightest entrepreneurs. Their ideas will transform Africa. We encourage women, French, Arabic and Portuguese speakers and business ideas from every region across Africa, to apply. If you have a transformational business or an idea, we have an opportunity for you.

“Through the TEF, I have committed $100 million to identify, train and fund 10,000 African entrepreneurs over a 10-year period with the goal of realising $10 billion in revenue for the continent and creating a million jobs.  We want to incubate a new generation, so that these young women and men can themselves become the catalysts for further entrepreneurial led growth,” said Elumelu.

At the celebration of TEF’s seventh anniversary, Elumelu said in a statement entitled ‘Seven Years – Creating A Legacy, Changing Mindsets, And Empowering a Generation’ that “our goal is to create over a million jobs and $10billion of entrepreneurially driven wealth,” re-emphasising “our work is rooted in our core philosophy of Africapitalism, which states that the private sector’s role is crucial for Africa’s development and that the private sector needs to create both social and economic wealth.

In seven years, he said “we have had direct impact on thousands of people, empowering individuals to create jobs, influencing policy and becoming the leading driver of entrepreneurship across Africa.”

He recalled when TEF was launched that “we wanted to change the narrative on African development. We wanted to reframe the agenda, so that economic development would no longer be centred on foreign aid. We would show that Africa’s transformation could and should be driven by Africans.”

Elumelu, who is unofficially the business ambassador for Nigeria, nay, Africa, has been commended for his feat.

U.S. Chargé d’affaires, David Young recognises the contribution of the TEF to the growth of entrepreneurship in Nigeria, stating that through the Foundation, “Nigerian businessman Tony Elumelu has focused on training and sponsoring young entrepreneurs, not just in Nigeria, but throughout Africa.”

“Indeed, the United States and Nigeria share the high regard in which we hold the importance of vibrant small and medium enterprises among business and political leaders.

“As Nigeria begins to grow out of recession, working with the government to build a solid foundation for broad-based economic growth will help businesses realize their full potential,” said the envoy.

For President Muhammadu Buhari, the TEF chairman is an “an economist, consummate banker and successful entrepreneur, whose pacesetting antecedents continue to inspire both the young and old on the power of ideas, big dreams and hard work.”

He commends Elumelu’s diligence, versatility and selflessness in championing the economic philosophy of “Africapitalism’’, “which calls to action the need to grow businesses that cater for African interests, support governments and bottom-up development within the continent, by discouraging long term dependence on donor countries and philanthropic organisations.

“Elumelu’s greatest investment has been in the development of people and communities, clearly evident in the TEF which started with scholarships and fellowships, and now trains a new generation of business leaders across the continent.

Besides, testimonies by participants in and winners of TEEP has not been in short supply.

“The foundation offered me a stepping stone to thrive further. As I speak now, am involved in social entrepreneurship ventures where I’m inspiring, offering mentorship and skills training to more than 1, 000 youths in my community. This was only made possible through inspiration and training from the Tony Elumelu Foundation not forgetting the boost from the seed capital.” –Joel, C.

“I am a Tony Elumelu entrepreneur and I’m going to transform Africa. You’ve sown a seed of greatness. I promise to make you proud. Thank you very much.” –Okoroafor A.

“Participating in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme is my greatest achievement this year.” Chinedu N.

“With the seed capital received, we have now set up our poultry project which employs three permanent staff and 10 contract workers every month. This is only the beginning. Thank you TEEP.”–Mavis N.

“If only we could have 5 more Tony Elumelu’s, Africa will be a continent to be relied on by the world.”–Chukwu C.

For his undying zeal in youth empowerment and pursuit of economic emancipation of the African continent, the TEF boss has been honoured both locally and internationally.

These include: *Leadership Award in Business and Philanthropy, the Africa-America Institute (AAI) Awards (2013).

*African Business Icon at the African Business Awards (2013).

*ESI Most Influential Figures in African Power (2015).

*Lifetime Achievement Award at the 5th edition of the annual Economic Forum of the Ivorian National Council of Employers, CGECI Academy, (CGECI) Abidjan (2016).

*Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Entrepreneurship Award presented to him by former US President, George W. Bush (2017).

In 2003, the federal government conferred him with Member of the Order (MON) and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), 2012.

He was voted African Business Leader of the Year (2006) by Africa Investor Magazine, African Banker of the Year (2008) by African Banker Magazine and Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People (2012) by Forbes magazine

A voracious reader, a consummate entrepreneur, a development economist, business and life coach, Elumelu has written about his philosophy and the economic development of Africa for several publications around the world including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.











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