Opinion: Entrepreneur-Led Development; A New Model for Africa

Written by Staff

heirs holdings Tony ElumeluI call this idea – that the private sector has a profound role to play in Africa’s development – Africapitalism. Africapitalism means that we cannot leave the business of development up to our governments, donor countries and philanthropic organisations. We must instead rely on and empower African businesses – with entrepreneurship as its driving force.

Africa is rich in entrepreneurial energy and talent. Many African entrepreneurs are already running home-grown businesses and have deep insights into local consumer demand; they can spot unique gaps in the market for specific products and services. These are the people who can fuel Africa’s future, but who often lack the capital, training and support to take their small businesses to a national or regional scale. In Nigeria alone, 95% of start-ups fail in the first year, largely due to regulatory and infrastructure issues. But many more of them can succeed with the right support and the right enabling environment.

I have so much belief in the potential of nascent and budding African entrepreneurs that I have committed $100 million to support them directly. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) is designed to identify 1,000 African entrepreneurs every year over the next decade and provide them with much needed training, mentoring, financing, and networking.

The initial reaction to the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme shows the energy behind African entrepreneurship. For the first 1,000 available slots, we had over 20,000 applicants from 54 African countries and territories. The winners represent 52 African countries and territories as well as a multitude of value-adding sectors ranging from agriculture to education to entertainment to technology.

But the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme alone cannot transform Africa. Political leaders, business leaders and philanthropists must embrace entrepreneur-led development on a wide scale. I appreciate the role that President Obama and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, as well as entrepreneurs and philanthropists like Jeff Skoll, the Omidyars and Richard Branson, have played in supporting entrepreneurship as a development path for Africa.

To those leaders I say, “thank you” – for supporting the transformation of Africa by supporting African entrepreneurs. To the rest I say, “Will you join me?” My commitment to entrepreneurship is unbounded. I count myself among those who believe that five entrepreneurs transformed the U.S. into what it is today – John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan. Now it is Africa’s turn. But I myself can only do so much. Let us work together to support Africa’s entrepreneurs – Shadi Sabeh and millions like him – and secure Africa’s future.

Tony Elumelu is the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation.