Africa faces a range of pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges, from poverty and inequality to youth unemployment, climate change and environmental degradation. These challenges require innovative solutions, and young people in Africa are well-positioned to provide them. Youth-led innovation has the capacity to drive economic growth and development, create jobs, and improve the lives of people across the continent.
The potential for youth-led innovation to address pressing social, economic and environmental challenges in Africa is immense. With over 60% of the African population below the age of 25, the continent is home to a vibrant and dynamic youth population that is increasingly turning to entrepreneurship and innovation to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing their communities and the world at large.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) recognizes the potential of youth-led innovation to address social, economic, and environmental challenges in Africa. Since the launch of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEFEP), the Foundation has empowered over 18,000 African entrepreneurs across the continent, providing funding, training, and mentorship to help them launch and grow their businesses.
One of the keyways that the Foundation is promoting youth-led innovation in Africa is through its flagship programme, the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEFEP). It is a 10-year, $100 million initiative that provides funding, training, mentorship, and networking opportunities to young entrepreneurs across Africa. Over the years, the Foundation has empowered over 16,400 youth between the ages of 18 and 36, which accounts for about 91% of the entrepreneurs who have been supported since the launch of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.
TEFEP has been highly successful in promoting youth-led innovation in Africa. The programme has helped to create over 400,000 direct and indirect jobs across the continent, with about $2.3 billion generated in revenue by TEF-funded businesses since 2015. The programme has also helped to address a range of social and environmental challenges in Africa, with participants launching businesses that address issues such as access to healthcare, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture.
One example of a youth-led innovation supported by the Foundation is the TJL Signature, a sustainability fashion accessory brand founded by a Nigerian, Temitayo Johnson Laleye who first applied to the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme at the age of 17. During her first two applications, she was not selected. Upon the third application, she was selected as a beneficiary of the 2021 cohort.
The training from the programme has helped her to streamline and include sustainability practices in her business. Some of her fashion accessories such as earrings are made from recycled products like zips, cartons etc.
Another example of a youth-led innovation supported by the TEF is BanaPads founded in 2010 by a Ugandan entrepreneur, Richard Bbaale. It is a company that uses banana pseudo stem wastes, which are usually left to rot after harvesting, to make sanitary towels.
BanaPads is an award-winning social enterprise registered in Uganda and Tanzania to manufacture affordable and eco-friendly (100% biodegradable) sanitary pads to keep village girls in school and create jobs for local women.
The pads are also collected to be used as manure and this means that the waste that goes to the local landfill will be reduced since the banana pseudo-stem is a recyclable product.
ShopMeAway is another business funded by the Foundation in 2015 which was founded by Racine Sarr. He understood that one of the many ways small businesses can grow is through cross-continental trade. Racine Sarr is a Senegalese who is at the forefront of Africa’s growing e-commerce sector. His enterprise, ‘ShopMeAway’ is a home-grown platform for people to import and export from other continents.
For Racine, connecting products to users is a way to support local businesses and encourage diversity across supply chains. With products from the USA, Europe, China, Africa, and Latin America, Shop Me Away provides users with several options to suit their unique and individual needs. While it makes shopping easier, it also provides cheaper shipping rates to further support cross-continental e-commerce. Every day, Racine’s mission is to give Africans the opportunity to buy whatever they need from anywhere in the world at a fair price and with a decent shipment cost.
Palesa Moloi is another beneficiary of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme with an innovative mind. She is the founder of ParkUpp, a mobile parking application that helps users find parking off-street and on-street, and also pay for their parking tickets.
These are some of the numerous youth-led innovative businesses empowered by the Foundation over the years, who are breaking grounds in their various business sectors, addressing social, economic and environmental challenges.
Youth-led innovation has the potential to drive economic growth and development, create jobs and improve the lives of people across the continent. The Tony Elumelu Foundation is playing a critical role in promoting youth-led innovation across the continent, providing funding, training, mentorship, and networking opportunities to young entrepreneurs. As TEF and other well-meaning organizations continue to support youth-led innovation in Africa, they will undoubtedly play a key role in driving progress and promoting sustainable development across the continent.