We are inviting world’s greatest catastrophe if the African youth is not politically and productively engaged –Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu says in BusinessDay Interview
Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, lawyer, business coach, and CEO, Tony Elumelu Foundation makes the list of hundreds of stakeholders in entrepreneurship, in and outside Nigeria, that yours sincerely has spoken to. If you are looking for one person who has a deep knowledge of the African entrepreneurship turf, you will find one in Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu.
You wouldn’t find this a surprise when you get to know her pedigree which you will do shortly. She had a one-on-one conversation with SIAKA MOMOH recently, in her car, which took off from her Heirs Holdings Ikoyi, where she just had a meeting, en route Tafawa Balewa Square, for another engagement.
Ifeyinwa has been so many things that have to do with entrepreneurship. She was an external consultant in the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan-Atlantic University, facilitating training sessions for management staff as well as business service providers and other related services.
Ifeyinwa founded and grew Sleek Nigeria, a medium scale business from a completely unknown brand to one of the top cosmetics companies in Nigeria. With an annual turnover of N400 million within the first three years of operation, it soon became a household name, well known among its target audience. She also conceived, initiated and developed the ‘Africa Women Economic Empowerment Initiative’ which started as a nationwide project developed on the principle that the economic empowerment of women in Africa is pivotal to economic growth and sustainable development across the African continent one community at a time. And many more. No wonder she was considered for the big CEO, Tony Elumelu Foundation job that is currently the toast of the African continent.
Why the choice of entrepreneurship?
Being an entrepreneur, I always say that the only better thing to do, as an entrepreneur, is to help others to make a success of their businesses. So, having spent time not just in Nigeria but in Cape Town, South Africa, I knew that the only way that Africa can find its way out of poverty is to go the entrepreneurship route.
And so having successfully run a business in Nigeria, I understood the trials of running a business in Africa and my time in Cape Town now led me into development where I started the Women Economic Empowerment Development Initiative, working with governments across Africa. So it just became clearer with each passing day, that entrepreneurship was the way to go. Concerning impact, no one in Africa as had much impact as the Tony Elumelu Foundation. That’s why, when I was approached by the Foundation to join the team, to catalyze the growth of the Foundation across Africa, it was a no brainer for me.
It has been great. When I came in, the partnership department at TEF was quite new. I came in as Director of Partnerships, this was in 2017. Since then we have been able to generate almost $20 million, to sponsor additional entrepreneurs into the TEF programme. Each of these entrepreneurs, after training and mentorship, receives the $5000 seed capital. The Foundation selects 1000 every year that get the $5000. The Foundation, from its own pocket, pays out $5million out annually. But with 216,000 applications this year, that 1000 is barely scratching the surface, which is why we opened up the programme to partners.
In 2018, we had 240 additional entrepreneurs, 200 from GIZ, and 40 from UNDP. Making it 1240 that were trained in 2018. In 2019, we had 3531 entrepreneurs:1000 from the Foundation and 2500+ from partners, So this year alone, we will pay out over $15 million to entrepreneurs across 54 African countries.
Number of partners to date
At the moment, we are working with several partners. We have UNDP, not only have they sponsored 754 entrepreneurs on the programme this year, but they also launched a separate programme, a 10-year programme in partnership with TEF, to empower 100,000 entrepreneurs. So that is a huge partnership we have with UNDP where we had to have an off-cycle programme, running alongside the flagship programme. We also have ICRC that has been our partners for the last two years. We have the African Development Bank (AfDB) which sponsored a thousand entrepreneurs. And it is also interesting that we have Anambra State sponsoring additional entrepreneurs from their State same as the Republics of Botswana and Benin. They also sponsored additional entrepreneurs from their own countries.
Flipside of beneficiaries
In Africa, they always say that most businesses that start don’t survive the first two years. But I think that we have proven that theory wrong because, with support, training and mentorship, I believe that entrepreneurs, who have good intentions, have a better rate of success. We see an estimated 65-70 percent success rate. And success here means that two years after you have received your seed capital, you are still in business, creating jobs and generating revenue.
Of course, some do not do what they are supposed to do with the seed capital. We have known entrepreneurs who collect the seed capital and travel abroad or entrepreneurs who in all fairness, their businesses fail so they give up and go back into paid employment. One thing entrepreneurs need to understand is that resilience is the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur and you must never give up.
There is no successful business leader today who has not had failure as part of his or her history. But the difference between the successful entrepreneur and the failed entrepreneur is that the successful one never gave up. Show me your failure and I will show you a successful entrepreneur. So you must always know that if it doesn’t work here, change your tactics and never give up. That is the message we give to our entrepreneurs and many of them know that as long as you stick with it and you are resilient, you will have success.
Why TEF? What is in TEF for Tony?
The only thing he expects from it, the only thing we as a foundation expect is that we want you to make a success of your business, go and create jobs for Africa and generate revenue for the continent so that we can raise Africa out of poverty.
So Mr. Elumelu believes in democratizing opportunity because he is a classic example that with hard work and determination, you can make it. Someone gave him an opportunity when he started in banking. And it was because of that opportunity he was given that he is what he is today. He applied for a job that required 2:1, but he had a 2:2. He went ahead and applied and wrote a letter telling them ‘you will not regret it if you give me this job. I know I do not have a 2:1, but I can do this job if you give me the opportunity.’ And he was given the opportunity. He is a product of that opportunity. That is why he has decided in turn, to give thousands if not millions of Africans, the opportunity to make a success of their business. That is why at the Foundation, we believe strongly in democratizing opportunity and institutionalizing luck.
Africa, poverty and disease
Everywhere that African entrepreneurship is on the agenda, the Tony Elumelu Foundation is the first partner or participant that the European partners think of because no one in the continent is doing it as we are doing it. The event in Brussels was put together by the Finish presidency and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it was a panel which had Graça Machel, Bill Gates, and several EU and Finish government policymakers. We came together on the panel to discuss the role of Public/Private Partnerships in developing Africa especially in the area of human capital development.
And my contribution was around the fact that poverty is the root cause of many of the illnesses you see across Africa. Everything we see from extremism to illegal migration, infant mortality and disease, is a symptom of this root called poverty. If we can solve the problem of poverty, we would have solved 95 percent of Africa’s problems. That is why entrepreneurship is the only way to solve the problem of poverty. Once you empower entrepreneurs, give them what they need, they will relate well with their community, with their families, and then they will solve all their problems. They would no longer need to travel and risk their lives on the Mediterranean Sea to go to places they think there are opportunities. They will go for opportunities right here in Africa.
TEF beneficiaries and AFCTA
Well the African Continental Free Trade Agreement signed by the African government, is really the beginning of African transformation. But signing it is the easy part, implementing it is the hard part. And I call on our African governments to engage the private sector in putting together the implementation plan around the AFCTA because without proper infrastructure, without ensuring that African fragmented market is dealt with, the AFCTA agreement will not materialize.
For instance, if our entrepreneurs all over Africa want to trade with themselves, somebody in Ghana cannot transfer Naira to somebody in Nigeria without first of all changing his Ghanaian Cedi to Dollars before changing it to Naira. Why? Why can’t we have a direct currency exchange system by which we can have a direct exchange between African countries?
Then let us not just talk about going from Nigeria to Gambia. A flight, if it is direct, should not take more than two and a half hours. With the system we have now, it will take you nine hours to get to Gambia. You will get to New York or London faster than to Gambia. Why don’t we have enough connectivity – air routes connecting Africa? Why don’t we have railways? Why don’t we have good road networks? How do we expect the goods that we have opened up the border to move from the places where they are produced to the places where they are needed? So, a good transportation system is critical for the AFCTA to work. We need to also ensure that there can be a free flow of capital between the countries without foreign exchange barriers. These are a few of the things that can be done to ensure that the agreement can succeed.
A common trend among African entrepreneurs
The common trend among African entrepreneurs is the fact that they are probably one of the most positive and committed entrepreneurs that you can find on the globe. I always say to them that if you can succeed as an entrepreneur in Africa, you can succeed anywhere because African economic terrain is not easy. In Nigeria for instance, you have to provide your own light, your own electricity, your own security, sometimes you have to provide your own road, provide your own water. By the time you spend your time and resources doing all these, your counterparts in other parts of the world have already gone far. So, what I want to tell African entrepreneurs is that ‘This is your time; there is no better time to be an African entrepreneur than now. When you succeed in Africa, it is rest assured that you will succeed anywhere’.
There is no better time to move because the world has moved on. Africa has a very huge youth population, over 200 million. By the year 2040, the African youth population will make up 25 percent of the world population. `If we do not ensure that African youth is not only politically engaged but productive, it would be the world’s greatest catastrophe. That is why governments in Africa and out of Africa are waking up to see that issues of youth’s entrepreneurship must be prioritized. We must train them and empower them so that they can be contributors to the world economy.
TEF in 10 years
TEF in the next 10 years will have the largest network of African entrepreneurs on the globe. With TEFConnect, which is our digital platform, we are creating a combination of the “Facebook” and “Alibaba” of entrepreneurship. It is a one-stop-shop for all things African entrepreneurship. It is the gateway to the African entrepreneur eco-system, for the world and African entrepreneurs who want to open up the market beyond Africa. It is going to be the largest marketplace. It is going to have tools to help entrepreneurs anywhere they are in Africa to succeed. From business marketing tools to social media marketing tools, everything you need to succeed.
Most importantly, our training and mentoring programmes sit on that platform now, and we are currently undergoing a digital transformation system that will ensure that leveraging at the official level and intelligence and machine learning, we can scale what we do, so that we can train millions of entrepreneurs simultaneously as well as ensuring that they have access to the much-needed funding. So I believe that we have started a movement at TEF: a movement that will catalyze into a global economic group and ensure that Africa stands shoulder to shoulder as equal partners with the developed countries across the world.
Our current challenges are the fact that as we scale our system, meaning that we can train millions, we have always said that training and funding are two sides of the same coin. We want to train you and give you your money in your hand and empower you to start your business.
And so the challenge we have is that as we are scaling our programme; we need to ensure that we work with enough partners who would fund the entrepreneurs that are taking our training programmes. So if let us say next year, we are training 100,000, governments, development finance institutions should come together to fund these entrepreneurs because they are the future of Africa. And if we do not take care of them now, Africa will burn.
Well, I don’t know about it being the beautiful bride because we need to see much more FDI than we are seeing now. To answer your question, Africa today is not taking advantage of the fact that Africa has the most investment opportunities and the highest potential for growth – the most virgin territory, something that you cannot find anywhere else. The opportunity is limitless. We need to create an enabling environment in Africa. So I call on our government and policymakers in Africa to create an enabling environment, not just for the MSMEs who we are empowering to be African leading entrepreneurs, but also for global companies who want to come and do business in Africa. They need to see a friendly economic environment. They need to see peace and security and a place that investment is safeguarded. Therefore, I think there is a lot that we can do to promote foreign direct investment. There is a lot that we can do that ensure that entrepreneurs have an enabling environment. As I said, the work has started. The governments have their minds in the right place. They are all committed. When we had our forum this year in July – TEF Entrepreneurship Forum, we had five presidents from African countries that interacted face-to-face with entrepreneurs. This tells us that African governments understand right now that creating an enabling environment for promoting entrepreneurship is the key to enabling development.