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Nigeria’s business mogul, investor, and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu, recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative on the objectives of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and its peculiar interest in engineering growth among SMEs in the African continent. According to Elumelu, economic development in Africa can be achieved by channeling resources into Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). He noted that entrepreneurship has the potential to transform the economy of any nation and as such, supporting small and medium-sized business owners is the key to success. “I have come to realise the power of entrepreneurship in helping to deal with the issue of poverty. Entrepreneurs cannot do well in a society or continent where the enabling environment is not going to support business. If the enabling environment is good, the entrepreneurs will do well, and if they do well, the economy will do well. And the economy will help in a significant way to address problems and touch lives. Also, for the entrepreneur to do well, they need access to finance in a creative form; in a manner thathelps to address economic prosperity or equally important, society’s challenges.” Elumelu, who is also the chairman of Heirs Holdings, an investment conglomerate in Nigeria, explained that the objective of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, founded on three core principles of entrepreneurship support, policy development and providing access to finance, is to impact ten million lives within a ten year period. “We set out in a very ambitious form to touch ten million lives in ten years across Africa. And we said, how do we achieve this in a manner that is truly transformative, strategic, and within the time frame that we set? So we said, let us see how we can assist the entrepreneurs because as you see in developed countries, SMEs to a large extent drive economies. In developing or prescribing approaches to dealing with African issues, to a large extent, a local understanding of issues is very important. So we felt that access to finance can help. And one of the things we’ve done in recent times is to partner with the Rockefeller Foundation. We set up, in conjunction with them, what we call the ‘Impact Economy Fund’ basically to assist those who are innovative, because people have funds that can impact Africa, but the complaint is usually that they can’t find good projects. So we felt that the most significant thing to do is to help companies and institutions that would help upcoming companies to be at the state that people would like to invest in them. We think that such would help in a very significant way to touch lives.” Bill Gates, business investor, philanthropist, and Chairman, Microsoft Corporation, noted that Nigeria, in particular, presented enormous prospect for economic development despite its challenges. He explained that neighbouring countries with similar problems as experienced in Nigeria have not fared particularly well, hence the systems in Nigeria present a good launch-pad for economic growth. “I do think that Nigeria is an interesting case where we can get economic development because certain basic systems there are run very well,” he said. Elumelu, however, highlighted the problem of electricity supply facing Nigeria and several developing countries in Africa, noting that it is the bane of economic progress; “If you look at power, there is a limit to what can be achieved in Africa because of power. So we think that if we must touch ten million lives in ten years, we must begin to focus on those catalytic and big things that can help significantly to change lives.” In August 2013, Heirs Holdings, through its subsidiary – Transcorp Plc. – invested $300 million into the Ughelli Power Plant, Delta State, to boost the United States $7 billion Power Africa Initiative. Elumelu explained that the culture of business in Africa is undergoing a change into one that seeks to promote entrepreneurship through philanthropic efforts. “The concept of Africapitalism that we propounded speaks to that; we feel that there is a space where business and philanthropy come together, and that space is what we should spend time on to make sure we work together and to achieve common goal for the majority of our people,” he explained.

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This article was first published on 2nd October 2013 and updated on October 14th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

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