Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu is an economist by training, a visionary entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He is the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and Founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Elumelu, who was also a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, sat down with Dolapo Aina for an interview at the sidelines at the just concluded World Economic Forum on Africa held in Kigali, Rwanda.
What is your take on the World Economic Forum on Africa in Rwanda?
It is good for Africa that we are able to attract the world to our Continent, so that the world would see that what they read in the press or watch in the news is quite contrary to what is on ground. People have been here for a couple of days and have seen that Africa is indeed hospitable, safe and a good place to be. That helps to attract investments.
I accepted the role of Co-Chairmanship of the World Economic Forum on Africa because of this kind of opportunity to help attract private capital to Africa; to help mobilise African business leaders to see opportunities beyond their borders. To help mainstream the issue of job creation for our youth and most importantly to help create economic empowerment for our people.
I have also said that if we are not careful in Africa; today’s demographic boom would become a demographic doom.
Why do you say so?
Demographic boom today because it is good to have an expanded market, large population and a young workforce. But it becomes a demographic doom if you have so much energy and it is not been utilised. If you have young people who have graduated from school and are not economically active or engaged, they can channel their energies into unproductive activities and that would become a major challenge. You would either see in future; an Africa that is truly economically transformed or an Africa that becomes a bed or centre for extremism; if we don’t begin to immediately execute plans that would engage today’s demographic boom.
What is the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) all about? And why the interest in agriculture?
The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) is my own way of giving back to Africa. I was born in Africa, bred, schooled, worked and made some fortune in Africa. And when I look back and look to the next phase of my life; which is basically talking about legacy. How do I want to be remembered? Not to be remembered by the amount I have but by how I have been able to impact people. How I have been able to play my own role in my life time in improving the African narrative. How I have been able to help create a solid foundation that would yield economic prosperity for our people which would make our people become self-reliant. That would make our people become fishermen rather than fish eaters.
So, with such thinking, it led me to set aside $100million for the economic empowerment of our youth. And because I am concerned (as I said earlier) that if we don’t manage the demographic boom of today; it can easily turn to demographic doom, I felt I should do something in this regard. That is the whole essence of the TEEP that my foundation runs.
It is a programme that seeks to identify 10,000 Africans over a period of ten years and give them ten thousand dollars each, which comes to hundred million dollars in ten years. That comes to ten million dollars every year. We give them five thousand dollars as first instalment and train them for twelve weeks and as they graduate, we appoint coordinators for them. And as they improve their business concepts, we decide when to give them the remaining instalment of five thousand dollars. So far, it has been wonderful.
Success is a long term journey because we are creating and building entrepreneurs. With the results we are getting, it is very encouraging and I feel encouraged. I am much more confident about the future of Africa; as we interact with the young entrepreneurs.
What is your take from an African perspective on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and do Africans have any role to play in it?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (the Digital Industrial Revolution so to speak) is upon us and we must make sure we are not left behind. From my experience, a couple of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme Entrepreneurs are in the Information Communication Technology space. Digital transformation is all about helping us to be more efficient and more effective in what we do.
we need the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa? Yes, we need a plethora of it. We can be a lot more organised, effective and efficient in our delivery and in how we harness our natural resources.
But we should keep in view that it is a means to an end. The end is to create economic prosperity, economically empowered people, have an inclusive growth, and engage our women economically and actively. Invariably, digital transformation is one of the ways for achieving this. But it is not the sole platform through which this can be achieved.
What is the Unleashing Africa’ Agricultural Entrepreneurs about?
The interest in Africa is quite glaring because agriculture is very important to us as Africans. It is a major contributor to our Gross Domestic Product. About forty percent of Africa’s GDP is attributed to and accounted for by agriculture. Agriculture is the biggest employer of labour on the Continent and for me, you can not be thinking of how to transform Africa without thinking of how to fix agriculture. That is why I decided to give a lot of attention to young Africans in that sector.
And it is quite exciting for me to discover that young Africans are interested in choosing agriculture as a profession.
The first and second batches of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs comprise; over thirty percent involved in agriculture, which is good. That means and indicates that young people are interested in agriculture.