As I boarded flight KP-0025 from Libreville to Lagos on October 27th, my stomach felt the sting of a new, profound awareness. I was about to take part to the gathering seed of the century, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme yearly Forum.
During my years spent working for distribution or major oil groups as operations manager and contracting and procurement analyst, I realized that many entrepreneurs were as alone in the market as a rose in the desert: destined to dry because they lacked business competency, negotiation leverage and financial support. This lose-lose situation for all parties, an economy-killer, affects deeply francophone countries, like mine.
Last year, I heard of a businessman who was spending $100 millions on a ten years project. This programme would provide african project bearers and entrepreneurs with a first-class business competency package and seed capital. Could it be true?
What attracted me is the fact that the programme, being highly selective, calls for those who display reflexion, vision, preparation and self-research character. It draws the best out of the nest for a long-term impact.
As a mentor, I shared, and learnt from people I would have never met otherwise; people whose dreams match my purpose. Whose tenacity cannot be dwarfed by any adversity.
Being a mentor is not a charitable act, but a mark of a community service boosting conscience. It is not a bonus on your resume, but a unique opportunity to coach and challenge the next generation of nations builders. It is like writing a chapter on the book of those history makers who will create wealth for Africa.
The programme triggered in me a search for a deeper sense of excellence. That quenches my thirst for accomplishment. In spite of a 19 years strong working experience, I learnt so much about business thanks to the content. And I learnt about myself, as a woman entrepreneur.
I Had to stretch to give advice that goes beyond a business’ experience, to reach a higher purpose, for a common benefit:
Africa’s independent expansion.
Africans actors of an unprecedented shift.
The TEF entrepreneurship programme raises la crème de la crème of tomorrow's socio-economic force.
From the young entrepreneurs, I learnt about persistence. In Africa, we sometimes go into business without preparation, with just a good idea. But the participants are taught about business economic model, market study, cost price analysis and more. One of my mentees grew so much through the teachable process, that she then got confident enough to approach distributors. She will soon see her ready-to-cook mango sauces on the shelves of the biggest supermarket of Gabon. The mangoes come from her farm, and production to distribution is managed by her women-filled cooperative.
How could I miss the opportunity of taking part to such a destiny-enabler initiative? In fact, if I had to do it again, I would pay to be part of this journey!
Economist Lionel Zinsou said this weekend: “What Tony Elumelu is doing is not the norm. It is the exception". We all indeed took part to the exception.
Cindy Pearl Maphumulo once said: “Much sacrifice is required from this generation in reaching this goal of restoring Mother Africa to her promises of abundance, wealth and diversity”. In an exceptional way, TEF's framework is helping us reach this goal. Uganda, Burundi, Cameroon, all in the world Top ten of entrepreneurial rates, are the proof that africapitalism as an economic philosophy that empowers private sectors to produce wealth, is The home-grown solution that will trigger benefits to be ripped by each layer of our continent. Let’s keep the momentum going in such an appointed time!
During the forum, every speaker gave sound advice for all to take well-informed business decisions, and the entrepreneurs got the opportunity of networking. Parminder Vir, the sharp-eyed CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, made during the Forum a powerful statement: “ Entrepreneurs don’t always need funding, they need the resources to enable them to thrive”.
The programme is also the seed of the century because of these resources, because each skill transfered is a pencil stroke that redesigns the shape of the needy Africa we all knew, to a blooming one we all hope for, using leadership mindset as its mine.
Somachi Chris-Asoluka, head of research at TEF, said “We cannot leave Africa’s development up to governments. We are the answer.” Getting to hear women like her made my shoulders stand straighter with joy this week-end.
Lawyer, social activist and businessman Audu Maikori exhorted us all to stop complaining and start building something, while Samuel Nwanze, Chief investment officer at Heirs Holding Ltd, gave a true Masterclass on Access to Finance. We need 10 more like Sam, and Africa will speedily be transfigured.
With addresses and TED-style talks on topics like Building successful businesses in Africa, merging innovations or sales and marketing for SME’s, the forum got praises from many, including Guinea government minister, Mr Naite, president Obasanjo, who exhorted to make “agriculture glamorous again”, or Bai Koroma, Sierra Leone president, who affirmed his determination to promote SME-supporting policies.
Most importantly, the participants were deeply enriched: Gaspard, from Burundi, whose radio broadcasts edifying business-skills programmes and peace messages. Didier, from Ivory Coast, whose surveillance system company provides schools with customized health and safety training. Denodji, from Tchad, a bold little woman, ground nut oil producer. And all the others I spent hours talking to late at night, sitting on the floor of Nigeria Law school’s park, telling the sky he is definitely our only limit.
Fierce Folorunso Alakija’s closing remark says it all: “Never ever take no for an answer!”
Tony Elumelu concluded: “We have confidence that you will surpass our expectations”.
“Entreprendre”in French, comes from the latin “inter prehender”, which means “taking by the hand”, “mastering”.
It is an adventure only the bold can live, those who strive to create value.
Those who can go from common ground to compelling business case.
Supersize your dream. As soon as you have in your head a clear picture of what you want to achieve, you have no other choice than to work hard to make it happen.
This picture in your heart, translated into a business, is an important piece of the puzzle that helps Africa take a new shape.
It is the appointed time for Africa.
We are condemned to succeed.