​Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum hosts young African entrepreneurs

A speaker waxes lyrical at the Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum held in Lagos, Nigeria

A speaker waxes lyrical at the Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum held in Lagos, Nigeria

The third annual Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum concluded in Lagos, Nigeria with a call from business and political leaders to embrace Africapitalism and for young people to be bullish in their entrepreneurship endeavours.

Africapitalism is an economic concept, defined as the positive role the private sector must play in Africa by making long-term investments in strategic sectors of the economy in a way that creates and multiplies local value, in order to accelerate and broaden prosperity throughout the continent and around the world. According to the Africapitalism Institute, Africapitalism calls for a new kind of capitalism — a version in which Africa leapfrogs other models, creating a more broad-based and sustainable economy.  The term was coined by Nigerian philanthropist, private investor and former banker Tony Elumelu in 2011.

The two-day forum was attended by over 1 000 entrepreneurs from across the continent. During the event business leaders in different spheres reiterated this call, arguing that the future of Africa’s development agenda will depend on its private sector.

Addressing the gathering, Lamin Manneh, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Service Centre for Africa director, said there is a need to change Africa’s development paradigm through investment and entrepreneurship.

“Supporting the private sector is critical in realising the development targets, predominantly through entrepreneurship. We have to give more attention and support to emerging African entrepreneurs to address poverty, inequality and [the] unemployment challenges facing the continent,” he said.

Sam Nwanze, chief investment officer at Heirs Holdings, challenged private companies to take the lead in Africa’s development journey, saying that’s the only sure way to ensure sustainable development on the continent.

“We practise what we are talking about here at Heirs Holdings. We make investments that create both economic and development impact. This is how much private investments can work,” he noted.

Heirs Holdings is Tony Elumelu’s proprietary investment company with interests in financial services, power, oil and gas, real estate, hospitality and healthcare across Africa.

Through the foundation Elumelu committed $100-million to empower young innovative African start-ups for the next 10 years.“We did this because at the core of the foundation’s mission is the belief that young entrepreneurs are that class of catalytic entrepreneurs which the continent needs to progress,” he said during the forum.

He said the goal is to build a continent where all Africans can fulfil their potential and attain self-reliance, instead of depending on handouts.

Supporting the next generation

The philanthropist said their commitment is aligned to the understanding of the immense role that young people will play in the private sector once they are empowered, which will contribute significantly to developing the continent.

“Africa’s development, which must be private sector-led and entrepreneurially driven, will have at its heart young African innovators and their transformative ideas. Only they will create the millions of jobs Africa needs,” he noted.

“We have committed to invest in the next generation of African entrepreneurs because we believe they are the right definition of Africapitalism. We are experiencing the transformative nature of private capital in changing the lives of individuals and their communities,” he added.

The initiative is benefiting thousands of African entrepreneurs, who often struggle to establish and run businesses due to lack of capital and skills.

Rwandan beneficiaries speak out

Already, there is an increasing number of Rwandan emerging entrepreneurs who are benefiting from the programme. Frank Mugarura is one of the local beneficiaries who participated in the forum in Lagos.

Mugarura runs Gravity Rwanda, a branding and marketing creative agency that links SMMEs to their target markets, a startup that he created two years ago after graduating from University of Rwanda’s then Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, now called the College of Science and Technology.

Being part of an event that brings together entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers in one room, he said, presents the reality of what can be achieved and “tells a story of what Africa is capable of achieving”. Mugarura and his team have managed to raise $30 000 (about Rwf25.7 million) in less than two years.

“Through our services of design and small format printing of the branding and marketing materials I managed to raise Gravity’s net worth from $500 to $30 000. Today, we are moving towards large format printing, where we plan to invest an additional $30 000 to buy large format printing equipment that will help us to grow from a monthly net profit of $700 to $3 000,” he said.

He argued that Elumelu’s philosophy to truly empower entrepreneurs creates a new perception about the bigger role they can have in helping their countries realise their development agendas.

The forum, which involved plenary panels and masterclasses, provided the class of 2017 entrepreneurs a platform to network and connect with business leaders, policymakers and investors. Multiple partnerships developed between UNDP,  French bilateral development bank Agence Française de Développement and the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

Zamantungwa Khumalo

Zamantungwa Khumalo

Zamantungwa’s passion in media, women empowerment and African development, is evident in the work she’s been involved in throughout the years. In September 2015, she was promoted to be the station Executive Producer at a talk radio station, POWER FM, where she leads a group of producers and oversees all the content on the station 24hour station. Zamantungwa has over five years’ experience in radio, having started her career on campus radio station, where she anchored and produced her own current affairs talk radio show on Voice of Wits FM. She the M&G's special projects and supplements editor. Read more from Zamantungwa Khumalo