Nigerian banker and philanthropist Tony Elumelu was recently in Washington D.C., where he reiterated his belief that Africans themselves will be at the forefront of the continent’s economic renaissance.
“No one can develop Africa but us [Africans].” That was Nigerian philanthropist Tony Elumelu’s message to international business leaders, global philanthropic organizations and Western development partners during the Global Philanthropy Forum annual conference in Washington D.C on Tuesday.
Elumelu, founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, was among the keynote speakers at the annual forum event. He told attendees that Africa’s private sector will be the leading player in contributing to the continent’s economic transformation.
“We are now the world’s fastest growing region,” Elumelu said. “There is a social and economic impact to be derived, but it needs to be done with the right approach – with African leadership and with the private sector, rather than from a charitable orientation.”
Elumelu also seized the opportunity to introduce the audience to Africapitalism, an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create both economic prosperity and social wealth.
A day before he spoke at the Global Philanthropy Forum, Elumelu delivered an African investment-themed lecture to senior management and invited guests of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank, in Washington. During the lecture, he urged those looking to invest in Africa to demonstrate social responsibility even in the pursuit of economic prosperity.
“Investment in Africa needs a different perspective,” he told the audience. “For Africa’s economic growth, the private sector needs to take the lead, invest long term, and focus on making both economic and social gains. In my experience, we have made great profits, but we have also touched lives.”
During the week, the respected banker also honored an invitation from the World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick to participate in a meeting of his Advisory Council of Global Foundation Leaders. Other attendees at the meeting included founders and key representatives from philanthropies like the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others from Europe, Asia and Latin America. At the meeting, Elumelu advocated for strategic partnerships between the World Bank and philanthropic organizations in emerging economies as well as setting high standards and introducing legislation to foster the development of domestic philanthropic sectors.
“We have an emerging affluent class in Africa. Unfortunately, the institution of giving has not been professionalized,” he lamented. “We need the legal structures in place to really leverage Africa’s own wealth to set the continent’s development agenda from within.”
Elumelu, one of Africa’s most respected business leaders, famously acquired a moribund commercial bank in Lagos in 1997 and transformed it into the $2 billion (market capitalization) United Bank for Africa (UBA), a Pan-African financial services behemoth with a presence in 19 countries and 3 continents. He stepped down as CEO of the bank in 2010, and now serves as Executive Chairman of Heirs Holdings, an African-focused investment holding company, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a non-profit that promotes and celebrates African entrepreneurship and leadership.