In recent years, the concept of inclusive entrepreneurship has gained worldwide momentum. In real time, we are collectively witnessing the catalytic impact of democratising economic opportunities in an inclusive manner to global citizens. At the forefront of this movement in Africa is the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). Having recognised that diversity and inclusivity are the key drivers of sustainable development, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) has led the charge to deliberately create and foster an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa, and this includes people living with disabilities. In this article, we will shed light on how the Foundation is working behind the scenes to create opportunities that empower Africans living with disabilities to become successful entrepreneurs, who go on to contribute to the development of a more inclusive and prosperous Africa.
The Landscape of Disability in Africa:
Across the world, there is a significant population of people living with disabilities, who face substantial barriers in accessing education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities, and a sizable number of them call Africa home. Our continent’s limited infrastructure, societal stigmas, and inadequate support systems exacerbate the challenges that these individuals face, and to bridge the gap, the Tony Elumelu Foundation lives its ethos of “Democratising Luck” by taking decisive steps – including entering into strategic partnerships – to ensure that the untapped potential of every African, who is or is not living with disabilities, is unleashed.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Commitment:
Through the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, the Foundation actively seeks to empower all African entrepreneurs, including those living with disabilities, by providing them with access to trainings, digital resources, networks, market linkages, and non-refundable seed capital funding. Though rigorous, the Programme’s selection process is objective and selects every African that applies, based on their innovative business ideas, potential for growth, and commitment to making a positive social impact, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
In 2022, the Tony Elumelu Foundation partnered with Sightsavers, an international charity organization working to prevent avoidable blindness, support equality for people with disabilities and advocate for change, to empower Africans living with disabilities. Through this partnership, the Tony Elumelu Foundation made significant contributions to the five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 4, 8, 10, 11 and 17) that aim to promote sustainable and transformative progress in the lives of people living with disabilities, and ensuring that they also benefit from societal, national, and continental development.
Support Mechanisms for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
To ensure inclusive support is easily and readily available to all African entrepreneurs, including those living with disabilities, the Tony Elumelu Foundation curates a diverse range of resources that can caters to the diverse needs of all African entrepreneurs. These resources include:
- Training and Mentorship: Participants of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme intensive training in business management, financial literacy, marketing, and other critical skills necessary for entrepreneurial success. They are also paired with experienced mentors who provide guidance and support throughout their entrepreneurial journey. The training is primarily deployed through the Foundation’s digital platform, www.tefconnect.com, but also through expert mentors who provide hands-on support as needed.
- Non-refundable Seed Capital: The Tony Elumelu Foundation injects non-refundable seed capital funding into the businesses of African entrepreneurs who have proven their business concepts and innovations to be bankable, and this includes entrepreneurs with disabilities. The seed capital funding enables them to kick-start or scale their business ventures, cover startup costs, procure necessary equipment, and invest in marketing efforts, ensuring a solid foundation for their businesses.
- Access to Networks and Markets: The Tony Elumelu Foundation leverages its extensive network of partners, industry experts, and alumni to connect budding African entrepreneurs, including those living with disabilities, to relevant opportunities, markets, and networks. This invaluable access plays a crucial role in fostering growth, collaboration, and visibility for these entrepreneurs.
- Advocacy and Awareness: The Foundation actively advocates for the rights and inclusion of all African entrepreneurs, including those living with disabilities, in entrepreneurship and society at large. By raising awareness about the potential and contributions of entrepreneurs with disabilities, the Foundation helps break down barriers and challenges societal misconceptions, paving the way for a more inclusive business environment.
Impact and Success Stories:
The impact of the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s initiatives in promoting inclusive entrepreneurship is evident in the success stories of entrepreneurs with disabilities who have thrived under its support. These success stories inspire others and demonstrate that entrepreneurship knows no boundaries. By providing opportunities, skills, and resources, the Foundation has empowered individuals with disabilities to transform their lives, contribute to their communities, and drive economic growth in Africa.
Inclusive entrepreneurship is a powerful catalyst for social and economic change in Africa, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to creating opportunities for people with disabilities. By providing comprehensive support mechanisms, advocating for their rights, and highlighting their potential, the Foundation is driving a transformative shift towards a more inclusive and prosperous Africa. As the Foundation continues to empower entrepreneurs with disabilities, it is paving the way for a future where everyone, regardless of ability, can fully participate in and benefit from Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In this section, we highlight a couple of Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs who are thriving with disabilities and creating impact in their communities:
Abayomi Soetan is an entrepreneur operating in the Agricultural sector with more interest in Agricultural processing and Food packaging.
In an interview with the Foundation, he mentioned that through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, he has gained valuable insights which will greatly benefit his business. He has also learned the importance of perseverance and continuously adapting his business plans to ensure the survival, profitability, and growth of his enterprise.
Additionally, he has developed effective record-keeping practices using an Excel format and recognized the significance of organizing receipts and invoices. He has also acquired knowledge in digital marketing and plan to invest more in e-commerce, leveraging platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to expand their market reach and increase sales opportunities.
Following the receipt of the seed capital, he has been able to rent a bigger space for his business, purchase some processing equipment and employed two staff to handle activities such as yam and cassava peeling, as well as packaging food products.
Aanuoluwa Omoleye is a thriving entrepreneur with a hearing impairment, who is creating great impact in her society. She is the founder of AbleBooks Africa which aims to produce several varieties of illustrated story/picture books for African (especially Nigerian) children with disabilities in nursery, primary and secondary schools.
The books would portray children with disabilities as the main characters and provide a sense of belonging that regular story/picture books do not offer. This idea will solve representation issues and incorrect portrayal in the educational system while enabling the children to relate to each story. These books would be in several varieties and would cater to diverse categories of disabilities, especially deaf/hard of hearing, physically challenged, blind, neurodivergent children, and children with albinism.
According to her, the seed capital will enable acquire the resources to bring her enterprise from zero to something, as well as gain credibility and create more opportunities for growth and exposure.