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The Entrepreneurship Programme That Is Changing Africa

No doubt, Africa is rising. And one of the special purpose vehicles for this is the Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF Entrepreneurship Programme – celebrated as the only African funded entrepreneurial catalyst of its kind.

On January 1, 2019, the foundation began to accept online applications for the fifth circle of the programme from where 1, 000 applicants from different parts of Africa will be selected to join the growing number. Upon their selection, the young entrepreneurs are assured of 12 weeks of accelerated online business training as well as access to experienced mentors and membership of Africa’s largest entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

In the last five years 4, 470 young Africans have benefited from the programme. And each received a seed capital of $5, 000 to drive a business that is expected to create wealth and empower more Africans. And in the process, poverty, youth unemployment and social vices are being tackled in a systematic and well thought-out manner while Africa is being developed.  

The TEF Entrepreneurship Programme is an offshoot of Africapitalism – an economic philosophy propounded by Tony Elumelu, founder of the Foundation and chairman, United Bank for Africa, UBA. Africapitalism seeks to encourage practices that create, retain and multiply value within the continent. Elumelu, who is also the chairman of Heirs Holdings, is one of Africa’s great minds in business and entrepreneurship. Often times, Elumelu has told beneficiaries of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme that “The future of Africa is in your hands.” That is his dream – putting the future of Africa in the hands of Africans.

He has, in a rather eloquent manner, emphasised that the world is moving away from the era of development by aid to another era of development by investment. That was a take home message for participants at the 2017 TEF Journalism Fellowship and the third edition of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. It is a clarion call on Africans to develop the continent by investing in its people.

The entrepreneurship programme, which was launched in 2015, is a US$100 million flagship programme aimed at identifying 10, 000 African start-ups and entrepreneurs over a period of ten years. Such start-ups and entrepreneurs must have the potential to transform Africa in line with the Africapitalism philosophy of the founder.

2018 was remarkable for the Foundation as it continues to gain momentum in Africa and beyond. In June, the foundation organised a forum with President Emmanuel Macron of France and young African entrepreneurs. Similarly, in October same year, the TEF Entrepreneurship Forum had President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya in attendance where they addressed young African entrepreneurs. Several distinguished Nigerians including Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa have at different times, not only endorsed but have also given words of encouragements to the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.

Also in 2018, the programme received 151, 000 applications. It also got a boost with additional 250 entrepreneurs to the standard selection of 1, 000 applicants. That was as a result of a one million dollars 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 insurgency is making a devastating impact; and the Niger Delta region which has gone through decades of environmental degradation due to oil spillage. There was also a $200, 000 agreement with the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP to support 40 pan African entrepreneurs; and a $50, 000 partnership with petrochemical giant, Indorama to support 10 Nigerians.

In 2017, the programme received about 93, 000 applications. It also witnessed growth and innovation as it consolidated on the success story of the first two years – 2015 and 2016. For that year’s programme, TEF increased the number of women business owners from 24 per cent in 2015 to 39 per cent in 2017. “With our investment in over 900 African women business owners, the increased role models, we have every confidence that this number will continue to grow,” the Foundation said. Year after year, the quality of applications for business interests across sectors, and awareness for the revolution continue to better. And the 2019 circle will not be different.

Elumelu himself has a reason for this passion to raise entrepreneurs. The story of his life as a young graduate who was determined to succeed is amazing. He tells the story, emphasising the role of luck in business and personal achievement. “How did I get from there to where I am now? Of course, hard work, resilience, a long-term vision – but also luck,” he says. He believes, and rightly so, that going by his own story, many young Africans have bright ideas but have not been exposed to any form of support and mentorship.

“This is what the Tony Elumelu Foundation offers: a platform that empowers African entrepreneurs with opportunities ranging from business management training to mentoring, to funding to networking – championing their cause and giving them a global voice to actualise their ambitions. This is precisely why I launched the $100 million Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Indeed, their businesses may become the next UBAs, United Bank for Africa.

“So, when I am asked, ‘Tony, why are you and your family doing this? What is in it for you?’ I smile and recount my own story of luck. Luck is real, it is powerful, and I am committed to spreading it as far as I can. I am a beneficiary of luck, and I am passionate about sharing it across the continent, to all 54 countries,” he wrote as the Foundation began to receive applications for the 2019 Entrepreneurship Programme, beckoning on young aspiring entrepreneurs from across Africa  to apply.

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