The narrative of aid for Africa is fast being replaced by trade with Africa with aggressive entrepreneurs taking the front seat in pushing for an economically independent continent. At the heart of this drive is the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a philanthropic campaign that seeks to empower young Africans to find solutions to African problems.
Started by investor and philanthropist Tony Elumelu, the project embraces Africapitalism, the belief that through the right systems and processes, and by empowering the growing list of entrepreneurs, Africa is capable of finding solutions to its problems and experience an economic transformation. This concept of catalyzing entrepreneurship across Africa embraces the traditional charity and business acumen to foster self-sufficiency for African communities.
The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program, TEEP, now in its second year is targeting 10,000 entrepreneurs and startups in Africa who have viable ideas, but no financial means to realize them. The idea, according to Mr. Elumelu, is to create businesses that can generate over 1 million new jobs while contributing at least $10 billion in revenues across the continent for the next ten years.
Through a competitive process, participants are selected and immersed in a program that includes 12 weeks business skills training, mentorship, and a boot camp on entrepreneurship, which culminates in investment to jumpstart their ventures.
In its inaugural edition in 2015, 1,000 entrepreneurs across Africa—drawn from different sectors including energy, agriculture, health, and education, among others—benefitted from this project. They have gone on to start their businesses, creating employment and raising the social profiles of their communities.
Premier Seed Limited, one such beneficiary from Kenya, has managed to move Kenyan smallholder farmers from growing the traditional cereals like maize and beans to growing and exporting herbs which have lifted their economic status.
Such trailblazing enterprises have been hailed by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker who described the foundation as ‘raising entrepreneurs who will be the leading edge of Africa’s next wave of economic growth.
At the 2016 annual Harvard International Development Conference at Harvard University where he had been invited to give a keynote address, Mr. Elumelu continued with his Africa economic empowerment gospel insisting that the 21st-century charity has a lot to do with teaching people how to fish.
The man who has been credited with a Midas touch, giving fresh breath to dying businesses in Africa and whose $1 billion fortune–spanning banking, energy, investment and real estate–intends to grow the training program to reach more startups, even as he redefines philanthropy. In his words, philanthropy should be long-term and sustainable, and the only way to achieve this is by creating an enabling and environment for those with ideas but no means to implement them. ■