Tony Elumelu: Role of private sector in fighting poverty

Over one billion people, referred to as the “bottom billion” live on less than $1.25 a day worldwide. In Nigeria, it is estimated that up to 70 per cent of Nigerians can be classified as living in extreme poverty.

Without a doubt, poverty statistics can be overwhelming, but I am certain that the fight against poverty is not a Herculean task to be fought by a heroic government as the sole actor. It is an epic saga, which must be fought by multiple actors, to not just pull everyone out of poverty, but also to keep future generations out of poverty.

My greatest contribution in the fight against poverty is not money. It is in the fact that the poor can relate to me. Another regular guy like majority of them. And when I say to them – if I succeeded, you can too, it resonates.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) represents my response, as a private sector actor, to the challenge of poverty in, not just in Nigeria, but the entire continent of Africa. The programme represents the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s commitment to invest $100 million over the next 10 years to identify, train, mentor and seed 10,000 African businesses.

We aim to create 1 million new jobs and $10 billion in additional revenue for the continent by democratising and institutionalising the ‘LUCK’ that I had as a young man that led me to significant levels of success in the Nigerian and African private sector. Additionally, we are identifying and advocating policy reforms to enable not just the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs but all African entrepreneurs with the will to succeed.

What we are seeking is the economic transformation of Africa. The response has been overwhelming. In its inaugural year, we received 20,000 applications for the 1,000 available slots and, this year, more than 45,000 aspiring entrepreneurs applied. This October, we will host another class of 1,000 budding entrepreneurs from 53 countries in Africa, at the Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos.

The programme and the forum will aim at empowering them, inspiring them and, most importantly, teach these young African men and women how to become fishermen. I am proud to tell you that in the Class of 2015, Nigerian entrepreneurs numbered 480, and all 36 states were represented. This year, Nigerians make up 601 (or 60%) of the top 1,000, bringing the total number of Nigerian entrepreneurs in our programme to 1,081.

The fact that Nigerians make up more than half of the 2,000 beneficiaries chosen in a merit-based selection process led by Accenture, and that every state in the federation has been represented in the programme both years, are testaments to the strength of the entrepreneurial spirit in our Nigerian youth.

Let me share with you three concrete examples of what some of these Nigerian entrepreneurs are doing that help to fight poverty through profit-making and sustainable solutions:

In the ICT sector, one of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, Nasir Daniya from Sokoto State, has created an app to link all Nigerian Police Stations together with photos of wanted individuals, a critical gap in our national security coordination.

Kehinde Yinusa, another beneficiary of the programme from Lagos State, has created and is now scaling up the distribution of cost-effective “birthing kits” with essentials to aid midwives and birth attendants in the birthing process to help reduce maternal and child mortality.

A third entrepreneur, Nkem Okocha from the South-east, is crowd-sourcing funds to lend to female micro-entrepreneurs to support their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty.
These are all private sector solutions to pressing development challenges facing our country and continent. And they are available right here in Nigeria, from our own youth.

The Birth of Africapitalism

Africapitalism is borne of my own experience of investing in the private sector. When I stepped down as the CEO of UBA in 2010, and established Heirs Holdings, I was venturing out from my comfort zone, as a banker, into new territory, as an entrepreneur.
To help guide my investment decisions, I took some time to reflect on what principles, practices and decisions had underpinned the success of Standard Trust Bank and UBA, what I had learned and what impact I wanted to make in all my new endeavours.

I found that I wanted to: create wealth; promote development in Nigeria and across Africa; do it from the private sector; and deliver societal benefits. And that is how the concept of Africapitalism was birthed.

Specifically, Africapitalism promotes long-term investments in strategic sectors that deliver economic dividends for shareholders and social dividends for society. Africapitalism is needed because if African governments and the private sector continue to operate in parallel, at best it is a recipe for “Mutually-Assured Mediocrity.”

However, if African governments and businesses are connected by a shared philosophy, common principles and coordinated objectives for trade and investment promotion, it will deliver the shared prosperity we seek. Essentially, Africapitalism requires the government and private sector to work in “Shared Purpose.”

CSR vs Africapitalism

Now, one of the areas I have been asked to speak about is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a tool of fighting poverty. I think CSR is tremendously valuable. However, if our collective objective is transformative development on a macro-scale, CSR is not enough. We have got big problems and we need big ideas that deliver big results! In my view, CSR goes far but not far enough to deliver sustainable development on the scale that Nigeria requires.

And this is where CSR differs from Africapitalism. Africapitalism is NOT about what a company does for the community AFTER it has done its business and generated profits. Africapitalism is about HOW a company goes about its business and WHAT kind of business it is engaged in, to ensure that its very existence, strategies and operations generate profit and serve society. So, I recommend an Africapitalist approach to business, with CSR augmenting it, after profits are derived.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a key feature of Africapitalism and it is the philanthropic pathway I am using to promulgate Africapitalism to promote development across Africa. My target is to replicate my success and create 1,000 more Tony Elumelus and UBAs to help stimulate the economic transformation of Africa by nurturing The Next Generation of Africapitalists.
Governments and large corporates do not have the capacity to provide employment for the tens of millions of young Africans entering the job market every year. Therefore, we MUST empower them to create their own lives.

– Elumelu, Chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, writes from Lagos

 

This article first appeared on ThisDay Newspapers

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