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Davos 2017: Entrepreneurship and innovation are top of the list

‘We, as leaders, have a responsibility and a duty to think beyond ourselves and beyond our businesses’ Tony Elumelu.

Entrepreneurship and innovation on the continent is a massive focus right now, as economies look to diversify and grow. Siki Mgabadeli is in Davos at the WEF Annual meeting and she caught up with Nigerian economist, banker, investor and philanthropist Tony Elumelu. He is head of Heirs Holdings, a business with interests in strategic sectors of Africa’s economy. He is furthermore the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded not-for-profit organisation (NPO) that is dedicated to the promotion and commemoration of excellence in enterprise leadership and entrepreneurship across Africa. The TEF programme has supported over 2,000 entrepreneurs since its inception.

SIKI MGABADELI: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. For you, when you look at the theme here in Davos, Responsive and Responsible Leadership, what does it say to you?

TONY ELUMELU: It says to me that the world is gradually beginning to realise that we need to grow in a manner that is all inclusive and that we, as leaders, whether political or private sector leaders, we have a responsibility and a duty to think beyond ourselves and beyond our businesses, it’s all about humanity and that you cannot live in an isolated world. We need the world we live in and the world we want to leave behind, the one that has common prosperity and the one that makes leaders know that we have to be responsible and make leaders know that we have to be responsive and know that attaining leadership is not an end on its own, it’s a platform for you to do good. So it’s good that once in a while, as a global community, we remind ourselves of this and we need to be responsive and responsible.

SIKI MGABADELI: How do you apply that then in the way that you approach your investments, the way that you do business?

TONY ELUMELU: I would say that I believe in the intercession of business and humanity, and that intercession of business and humanity is what I call Africapitalism capitalism and it is what has shaped the investment philosophy of myself, my group and I’m beginning to get associates to also key into it.

Simply put, Africapitalism is the realisation that the private sector, especially in Africa, has a key role to play in developing our continent and this can be done, even though we are not in government, through investment, so the power we have is the power of capital and the power to make investment decisions and we should make investments in key sectors that can help us to catalyse the African economy, create economic prosperity and create social benefits for everyone.

That in my viewpoint is what will help us to bridge this inequality we have, that will help us drive an all-inclusive government and business, and that will also help with the eradication or drastic reduction of poverty and massive employment opportunities for people and most importantly, engaging and mobilising our women, so that they come into the mainstream and get empowered because we know that economic empowerment for women goes beyond women and her family to the communities. We should all do this to drive inclusiveness.

SIKI MGABADELI: For a long time we were talking about Africa rising and that was the theme at many World Economic Forum meetings, whether it was the Africa chapter or the annual meeting. Now, of course, many of our economies are going through trials and tribulations, are you optimistic that we can turn things around?

TONY ELUMELU: I’m very optimistic because even now we have some countries in Africa that are growing very well, amongst the top ten in the world, countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. We also have struggling countries, like my country, Nigeria, and South Africa. But the truth is there are huge opportunities, it’s a bit of our reliance on commodity prices in Africa. So the new narrative should go from Africa rising to Africa industrialising. Let’s begin to industrialise Africa, we have the population, our population is a huge dividend for us but we need to mine that dividend very well so that it will be for the benefit of everyone. The African story must go beyond the commodity story, we must begin to delink our economies from…if the oil price goes up today then we are doing well and if they go down then we are not doing well. We need to industrialise so that we can create local value addition, which will help our extension. But going forward, I think we are learning, we are learning the hard way though and most governments now, like the theme of the new government in my country, Nigeria, most governments now are beginning to think of diversification in the true sense of it because therein lies the future.

SIKI MGABADELI: And in which areas do you think Nigeria could be diversified?

TONY ELUMELU: Nigeria is hugely endowed in so many areas, there’s agriculture, again, I want to go by the form and damaged population, the demographic structure of our population is good, we have a lot of consumers, a lot of young people coming now, we must engage them economically, so they are active or they will become social challenges for us. We have agriculture, we have minerals but, as I keep saying, if you have a huge market and you have people who are enterprising, Nigerians are extremely enterprising, very hard working, and that is also what you see across Africa. So what we need to do is see how we can create economic opportunities for these young ones and that’s why my foundation, The Tony Elumelu Foundation, is trying in our little way to provide economic opportunities for others. Through the US$100 million endowment that I put in place to identify 10 000 Africans, I will support 1000 every year, so that ultimately all of us will have shared prosperity. This, in my viewpoint, is what will help us achieve inclusiveness and when we achieve inclusiveness, we achieve true peace and security. When we don’t achieve it, its a tragedy for all of us.

SIKI MGABADELI: When you look at those young people, the ones you have supported so far, what do they tell you about the future?

TONY ELUMELU: I did write a short blog, if you have time, and it’s also on my Facebook page too, inspiration from President Obama because he was delivering his farewell message, and I talked about the similarities between what Obama believes in and us. He believes in the power of power, as in electricity, and he believes in entrepreneurship. I believe in entrepreneurship and what I see in the faces of the young Africans who I interact with is these are energetic people, highly enterprising, very brilliant people and people who don’t want to take no for an answer, and people who want to succeed, and people who see their success as success for the community and the continent. But they need help and they need support. So I see hope in them, I’m the one supposed to be giving them hope but when I see them I get hope from them, inspiration that the future will be good for Africa. So even if it’s ten people who you can support in a year, if you are endowed, if you have the resources, go out and do it. Prosperity should spread across the continent.

SIKI MGABADELI: Thank you very much.

TONY ELUMELU: You’re welcome.

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