Good morning everyone.
Excellencies: Her Excellency, the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, represented by Her Excellency, Dr. Mairo Almakura; Her Excellency, the First Lady of the Republic of Guinea, Madame Djene Condé; Her Excellency, the First Lady of the Republic of Mali, Madame Keïta Maiga, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, our distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my great honour to welcome everyone seated here, and those joining us online, to the 2019 edition of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum.
On behalf of the Founder–my husband, our family, and the entire staff of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, I thank you for being here
To all our amazing entrepreneurs seated here this morning: I say, big congratulations!
Many of you have traveled here from across Africa. For a number of you, this is your first time of visiting Nigeria. So, let me not only say welcome to the Entrepreneurship Forum, but also welcome to Nigeria!
We are truly happy to have you here – to celebrate you and to empower you!
As an entrepreneur, it is not always easy, I can attest. The reality of starting a business is tough, tough. They did not, and cannot, teach us the realities of being an entrepreneur in school. They did not warn us that having a great idea is simply not enough.
First, you have to raise adequate capital to lift your idea off the ground; manage the capital prudently; then, you need the right people – the right team to actualize your dream, the right mentors for advice and direction, and the right support network. You have to navigate rules and regulatory issues from agencies that you did not even know existed.
Then when your business finally gets running, there are those days where you just stare at the numbers, almost willing or wishing them to make sense. (Brief Pause)
Yet you stand. You will not only prevail, you will thrive and be successful!
Those ideas and innovations that came to you as you dreamt, in the shower, in the office, during chitchat with friends. They are crystallising into businesses that are transforming our continent, every single day.
You are the backbone upon which the future of Africa rests.
As some of you may well know, this is our ninth year as a Foundation and our fifth entrepreneurship Forum.
I hope that as more people take the stage over the next few days, you will enjoy all that we have with great care, put together for you. And that everyone, not only our entrepreneurs, will gain a lot from the insights of the speakers and leaders who have traveled from far and wide to share their knowledge and expertise.
They have made tremendous efforts to be here because of their belief in YOU and in the philosophy of Africapitalism that the private sector, especially SMEs, are key to Africa’s social and economic transformation.
Let me also take this moment to thank our distinguished speakers who have made the decision, many at great personal cost, to be here. We are truly, truly grateful!
A key message that I would like everyone to leave this Forum with, is empowering YOU, our young Africans must be prioritised if we must develop our continent.
I’ll take a quick step back to situate what we do in a global context. We have all heard that, with sixty percent of our population aged under 30, Africa is currently the youngest population in the world. The possibilities it presents for development are huge.
The expectation is that an abundant population of strong, able-bodied youth will lead to economic development across the continent. This is where our work at the Tony Elumelu Foundation comes in.
When young men and women start businesses, they lift their families out of poverty. They bring prosperity, security and hope to their communities and create a culture of innovation and creativity.
They export African excellence to the world.
And speaking of exporting African excellence – just a quick story. My daughters, like many young people, are huge, huge fans of Beyoncé. In fact, because of them, there is hardly any Beyoncé song that I don’t know! Anytime she releases a new album, it’s like Christmas day in our household. So, you can imagine the excitement last week when she released a new album. Screams galore!
But I was even more surprised when I looked at the musical artists featured on the album: Tiwa Savage, WizKid, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade and Shatta Wale among others. Our very own homegrown African talent sharing the stage with the biggest popstar in the world!
It is an amazing testament to the immense potential of African entrepreneurs individually and as a collective. With the right push, the right resources and the right environment, YOU, our entrepreneurs can compete on the world stage.
And this excellence cuts across all sectors – in agriculture, in ICT, in medicine, in fashion, really across all sectors! This reinforces our belief at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, that there are hidden gems in Africa who with the right amount of support, training and seed capital can be global trailblazers in their chosen fields.
Young Africans, there is excellence within YOU. You owe it to yourselves, your families and your communities to put in the hard work, to build the resilience and to keep at it until you succeed.
The world awaits YOU!