Not every day do you wake up to this —honoured to be named to the 2020 Time100 from TIME. This has been a tumultuous year for all of us — challenging, humbling, and forcing us all to reflect.
Why am I there?
When in 2010, we launched the Tony Elumelu Foundation to champion African entrepreneurship, we had clear goals to catalyse and, yes, showcase the capacity, determination and power of the African entrepreneur. Young women and men shaping economies, creating jobs and singlehandedly confronting the clichés that often surround Africa.
Africa is not a “continent of unrealised potential”, but one of innovation, pulsing with productivity, as our entrepreneurs are reimagining and building a new future for the continent.
It is also about businesses like Transcorp Power, Nigeria’s largest power producer; UBA Group, a bank in 20 African countries democratising financial services and breaking down barriers to trade; Avon Healthcare, innovating in delivering healthcare —our Group CEOs like Dr. Awele Elumelu, Owen Omogiafo, Simbo Ukiri, Dupe Olusola, Uzo Oshogwe, and Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu ideally females! We are changing the African narrative – thanks TIME for recognising this.
Business and philanthropy have taught me that talent is evenly distributed.
Yes in California’s “Silicon Valley”, but also Lagos’ “CC-hub”, the young people are just as gifted, but the structures of institutionalised support, the networks committed to and invested in their success could not be more different.
Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity —where there is more opportunity, inevitably, there will be more success. It is this imbalance, the uneven access to opportunity for entrepreneurs in Africa that ignited my 2015 US$100 million commitment to empowering African entrepreneurs.
Our rejection of the status quo propelled us to fund, mentor and train 10,000 entrepreneurs and counting, creating a digital ecosystem of support for over one million Africans. The results have been phenomenal.
Across tech, agriculture, retail, fashion, education, healthcare and countless others, our beneficiaries are launching and growing businesses that are transforming their cities and countries.
Organisations including the UNDP, the ICRC and leading European development agencies are working with us to reach thousands more because what we do is pretty unique —we give capital, training and mentorship to those who can make a difference at scale. But the work remains just as urgent, this is no time to rest.
Young Africans should not be disadvantaged by their heritage and place of birth. They should not be forced to leave our continent. It is the responsibility of all of us —private sector peers and colleagues, the global development world, policy makers home and abroad and all stakeholders— to identify and invest in the next generation of Africans as the world has done for their counterparts elsewhere for so many years.
African entrepreneurs deserve the global spotlight today and every day after. This is a great day – I am proud, thankful, touched – thanks TIME.
Tony Elumelu is a Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist.