Philanthropy for Entrepreneurship key to economic development in Africa

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Philanthropist and Entrepreneur Tony O. Elumelu , his wife and some of the beneficiaries at the 2017 TEF forum in Lagos, Nigeria.

Philanthropy is one of the ways today’s billionaires channel their wealth to improve the lives of those around them. Therefore, a philanthropist is someone who donates his or her time, money, and/or reputation to charitable causes. For instance, in 2004, Sir Richard Branson one of my favourite authors and the originator of Virgin established Virgin Unite – a charitable arm of Virgin that draws upon the resources of the Group to establish projects and campaigns that empower budding social entrepreneurs and grassroots organisations.

According to Branson’s concern for global warming has prompted his dedication of all future profits of Virgin transportation businesses, a sum he estimates at $3 billion over the next ten years, to investments in renewable energy initiatives, research and development. This follows the founding of Virgin Fuels, now the Virgin Green Fund, which will invest in companies in the renewable energy and resource efficiency sectors in the U.S. and Europe. Sir Richard Branson has also instigated the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million prize awarded to whoever can demonstrate a commercially viable design that will result in the removal of greenhouse gases from the Earth’s atmosphere. He is ranked the world’s 324th wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $5 billion.

In January 2019, Forbes Africa Magazine published a list of Africa’s wealthiest people who have signed the philanthropy or giving pledge. They included Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe, Sudan’s Mohammed Ibrahim, Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa and Mohammed Dewji from Tanzania among others. But, one celebrated philanthropist changing lives of young African entrepreneurs one at a time, is Nigerian economist and entrepreneur Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu

Different sources say Tony Elumelu’s net worth stands at between $700 Million – $1.9 Billion. The Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa & Transcorp is also founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation. The foundation established in 2010 birthed The Tony Elumelu Foundation. Entrepreneurship Programme in 2014.

The Nigerian billionaire believes in not just the possibility but also the reality of positioning Africa’s entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent. A mindset he has termed “AfriCapitalism”. The programme helps businesses that are three years or younger get training, mentorship for a specific period of time and after successfully completing it are given USD $5000. The end goal is to be able to realise the vision of AfriCapitalism. Since 2014 when the TEF entrepreneurship programme was launched, there has been significant growth in applications from entrepreneurs across Africa. 2018 alone received 151,692 applications.

Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta are some of the Heads of State from Africa who addressed thousands of participants at the 2018 TEF forum. “We live on the richest continent in the world and yet our people are the poorest – a contradiction that needs to be resolved”, stated Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo at the 2018 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum ( #TEFForum) in Lagos, Nigeria that marks the climax of the entrepreneurs bootcamp.

This paradox is what philanthropists like Tony Elumelu are trying to find a solution to with the entrepreneurship programme. besides the $5000 seed capital, business development training and one-on-one mentoring the entrepreneurs have access to pan-African meet-ups, participation at the annual TEF Entrepreneurship Forum, the largest convening of the Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. In a nutshell it opens the doors of luck and opportunity to Africa’s entrepreneurs.

“Our entrepreneurs are hard at work across the continent, identifying gaps in the market for specific products and services, and bridging these gaps with their innovation and ingenuity. Yet, many of these budding entrepreneurs often lack the capital, the networks, the training, the support to take their small business to national or regional scale. All they need is a helping hand, some luck, someone to believe in them and take a chance on them”, said Elumelu in his new year message shared on social media platforms( That is why his philanthropy focuses on African entrepreneurs running existing start-ups with high growth potential and aspiring business owners with transformative ideas to apply. ( )

Emeke E. Iweriebor, CEO, East & Southern Africa UBA (5th Right), Isaac Mwige Former CEO UBA Kenya (4th left) with team of TEF entrepreneurs in Lagos, Nigeria during the 2018 TEF Entrepreneurship Forum

While philanthropy is a selfless act, the end result is expected to be transformation and impacting of lives. 4,470 entrepreneurs have so far benefited from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme and another round of applications is open for 2019. This makes it the 5th edition this year. The annual $100M 10 year entrepreneurship forum that usually targets 1,000 entrepreneurs has now engaged partner organisations and will have an addition 260 spots for entrepreneurs from the continent in 2019.

Some of Africa’s leaders like Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta have added their voice to at the annual forums. At the 2018 forum which he joined via satellite President Kenyatta said, “the population of more than 40 countries on the continent are below the age of 19 and therefore there is need to build strong market economies through the best framework for development, prosperity and well being for this and the next generation.”

Mbagara Karita, Head MCC (2nd left), Evelyn Nungari Head Brand Management, UBA Kenya Ltd (Right) with some of Kenya’s selected entrepreneurs at the 2018 Forum in Lagos.

For the last three decades, philanthropic work across Africa has concentrated much on helping the under privileged living in war torn countries and people affected by natural calamities. This help came in form of mostly food, clothing, shelter and in some cases financial assistance to see the beneficiaries through school. But just like most of the continent’s education systems, none of this kind of philanthropy has prepared our young population for economic take off. And if Tony Elumelu’s economic philanthropy is anything to go by, possibly all billionaires across Africa should dedicate a percentage of their philanthropic charity to helping young entrepreneurs get past not just their first and second business birthdays but launch them into fully established businesses for economic development.

Watch Testimonials of some of the TEEF programme beneficiaries here

Testimonials by some of the 2017 TEF beneficiaries

Twitter: @JoyDoreenBiira
YouTube: BiiraOnline

6 thoughts on “Philanthropy for Entrepreneurship key to economic development in Africa

  1. This is a great initiative. I think there are so many more like this one, but unfortunately we don’t hear those positive stories. It is good if we know those ones that have benefited and succeeded, and also those who benefited and never succeeded to know what they didn’t do right. The successful ones should also help others rise up. We should also encourage sustainable development, a kind which benefits the current population, the environment and the future.

    Liked by 3 people

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