“There is a better way to invest in Africa for a sustainable future that creates value for all.”
- Tony O. Elumelu, C.F.R.

2023 Tony Elumelu Annual Letter

It is now more than three years since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the devastating suffering it unleashed on the world and mostly in developing economies. Recovery in Africa continues to progress at a very slow pace. Even with an increased conversation on the need to scale support for Africa, the region’s socioeconomic situation continues to dwindle even faster, national economic growth is stalled, households struggle, and livelihood is greatly hampered.

At The Tony Elumelu Foundation, we continue to double down on our commitment to our mission of empowering young African Entrepreneurs by building their business development capacity, providing access to capital, ensuring increased financial inclusion, and driving stakeholder engagement across the continent. Through our transformative action, we are creating the right ecosystem for sustainable businesses, driving poverty eradication, catalysing jobs creation, and ensuring women’s economic inclusion in all 54 African countries. When we launched the flagship Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme in 2015, just about 20,000 young women and men across the African continent applied for our promise to receive funding, mentorship, training, and access to global networks and markets. Nine years on, we have seen over 2000% increase from the application figures in 2015, receiving over 400,000 applications in 2022 alone! This figure has risen dramatically each year, as we open up applications for our annual flagship Entrepreneurship Programme. This reinforces the key fact that now more than ever, entrepreneurship is on the rise and more importantly, there is no better time to invest in African entrepreneurs than now.

Getting More From Africa Through Informed Research And Tailored Intervention.

“My Vision For The Foundation Is To Unlock The Obstacles That African Entrepreneurs Face, So That They, Rather Than Aid Agencies Or Governments Will Spur The Continent’s Transformation”- Tony O. Elumelu, C.F.R.

In furtherance of our commitment to contribute more effectively to the African entrepreneurship ecosystem, The Tony Elumelu Foundation engaged a third-party development consulting firm to provide an independent Assessment of our impact across Africa.

Their report is a significant milestone for the Tony Elumelu Foundation, as it presents a rigorous independent impact evaluation of an impressive scale to compare quantitative results of our Entrepreneurship Programme beneficiaries relative to a similar group of non-beneficiaries: more than 4,000 young Africans and businesses supported through our Entrepreneurship Programme were surveyed in total. Statistical analysis was complemented by key informant interviews from the board, leadership, team members, beneficiaries, as well as partners of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, among other stakeholders, enabling a 360-degree comprehensive evaluation of key processes and illuminating the interactions among the Foundation’s many moving parts. Indeed, the evaluation clearly shows the value of the The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme’s strategic partnerships with leading development institutions, including the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States Government via the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), The Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), The French Development Agency (AFD), The German Development Finance Institution (DEG), The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), The African Development Bank (AfDB), and Google, among others.

Assessing impact is a key part of the Foundation’s strategy, and this independent evaluation makes a clear case for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme’s relevance and effectiveness in incubating and accelerating new and existing businesses in Africa. Overwhelmingly, a significant number of beneficiaries reported that the training and funding received from the Foundation were significantly impactful in executing bankable business plans to develop and strengthen their business capacities. Despite having an average of two fewer years of operational business than non-beneficiaries, Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme beneficiaries acquired additional investors in their business at more than twice the rate of non-beneficiaries. Beneficiaries’ businesses on average created twice as many jobs as non-beneficiaries’ businesses (13 employees vs. 6.5 employees per business). These significant positive impact indicators translate into more job opportunities for African women and youth: half of all the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme beneficiaries are female, out of which more than half are 18-24 years old.   

The report also found that the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme and its partners are effectively facilitating networking and business partnerships across Africa. Beneficiaries reported they accessed additional mentorship from local professional networks, approximately twice as much as non-beneficiaries. Beneficiaries partnered with at least one other business 50% more than non-beneficiaries. Three out of four beneficiaries have gone on to provide mentorship to non-Programme entrepreneurs in their communities (20% more often than non-beneficiaries). Beneficiaries also provided seed funding to other entrepreneurs 20% more frequently than non-beneficiaries.   

This evaluation identified useful lessons that will contribute to the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s goal of creating 1 million jobs and generating $10 billion in revenue for Africa. Challenges to small businesses on the continent remain formidable and vary across countries and regions. Access to finance remains a widespread and pernicious challenge for entrepreneurs and will remain a primary focus for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

In addition to the profound impact of our work in all 54 African countries, we continue to contribute to the improved quality of local and international programmes and interventions through our thought leadership, backed by a robust learning agenda that effectively captures the nuances of the African entrepreneurship ecosystem. We can proudly say we know how best to support entrepreneurship in Africa.

Shaping the Agenda for Entrepreneurship by Assessing the Contribution of Supported Businesses to the Sustainable Development

In a world constantly seeking solutions to its most pressing challenges, the role of entrepreneurship has emerged as a formidable force for change. As we embark on this journey of reflection and exploration, we find ourselves standing at the crossroads of innovation and impact, where the aspirations of entrepreneurs intersect with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Entrepreneurship has emerged as a potent force for driving economic growth, social change, and sustainable development across the globe. As nations grapple with the complexities of achieving the SDGs by 2030, innovative approaches are required to accelerate progress. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme stands at the forefront of this transformative movement, leveraging the dynamism of entrepreneurship to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals encompass a broad spectrum of objectives, ranging from poverty eradication to gender equality and quality education. Against this backdrop, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme has emerged as a beacon of hope, channelling its resources towards fostering a new generation of African business leaders who are not only driving economic prosperity, but are also actively contributing to the achievement of these vital goals.

At the heart of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship programme lies a multifaceted approach that combines business management training, seed capital funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities. This approach is rooted in the understanding that Africa’s sustainable development requires more than just economic growth, it necessitates a holistic transformation that empowers individuals, lifts communities, and creates a ripple effect of positive change.

As we delve into the intricate tapestry of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme’s impact on specific SDGs, we witness a symphony of success stories and tangible outcomes. From alleviating poverty and promoting gender equality to facilitating access to education and fostering decent work, the program’s multifaceted contributions underscore its role as a catalyst of change.

Igniting Economic Empowerment

At the heart of the SDGs lies the noble goal of ending poverty in all its forms. The TEF entrepreneurship programme has proven to be a pillar of optimism, illuminating pathways out of poverty for countless individuals. A resounding 87% of our funded beneficiaries attest to the programme’s life-changing impact, citing improved capacity to provide for their families. Remarkably, 76% report that their business now serves as the primary or sole source of income, underscoring the profound influence of entrepreneurship in poverty reduction. The economic engine of TEF-supported businesses is equally impressive, with 80% generating revenue and substantial profits. This success reverberates across borders, as our entrepreneurs, in 22 of the 54 countries represented, achieve profits on average 22 times the national per capita income of the respective country. This surge in economic prosperity extends to employees, with fair wages lifting them beyond the clutches of poverty. By cultivating thriving enterprises, we not only uplift individuals but also radiate ripples of prosperity that touch the lives of our employees.
Knowledge as Currency

Quality education is the cornerstone of development. Our programme is not only a catalyst for business growth but a robust educational platform, equipping entrepreneurs with the tools they need to thrive in their businesses. A strong majority (96%) of beneficiaries credit the programme with imparting vital skills for business start-ups, and 97% acknowledge its role in sustaining and scaling enterprises. Seed funding and business success have paved the way for further education. An astounding 76% of beneficiaries and 46% of their family members have been empowered to pursue learning opportunities previously beyond their grasp. Through entrepreneurship, doors to education swing open, facilitating lifelong learning for a brighter tomorrow.
Nurturing Women’s Empowerment

Our commitment to gender equality is unwavering. By championing women entrepreneurs, we have forged a formidable force for change. Partnerships with Google and European Union (EU) through the WE4A programme have resulted in nearly 40% of beneficiaries being women entrepreneurs. Empowering these visionary leaders is our honour, as evidenced by 85% of female beneficiaries assuming leadership roles in their businesses. TEF-supported businesses transcend barriers, employing over half of their workforce as women. This isn’t about numbers; it’s about empowerment. Our female beneficiaries stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, demonstrating equal proficiency in business ownership, revenue generation, and profit making. By defying stereotypes and breaking glass ceilings, we inch closer to a world where every woman and girl can seize their full potential.
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
Nurturing a Thriving Ecosystem

The melody of economic growth echoes through the successes of TEF-supported entrepreneurs. With an astonishing 84% of beneficiaries realizing their business dreams, compared to non-beneficiaries, the programme has proven to be a fertile ground for launching enterprises. The journey doesn’t stop here; 91% of funded entrepreneurs still own their businesses, while 44% have birthed additional ventures, signalling an ecosystem pulsating with innovation. Sustained economic growth is a reality, as 80% of beneficiaries continue to generate revenue and make substantial profits. The scale of reported impact is staggering. Our entrepreneurs are not merely business owners; they are harbingers of sustainable growth, weaving a network of prosperity that transcends borders.
Forging Pathways for Equity

In a world riddled with inequalities, our programme emerges as a champion of change. With the transformational power of training and funding, entrepreneurs from all corners of Africa are breaking barriers and reshaping destinies. Our commitment to equality is evident with 39% of beneficiaries being women and 23% living with disabilities. Through entrepreneurship, these voices rise, contributing to the reduction of income disparities. Our beneficiaries pay it forward, sowing seeds of change by funding fellow entrepreneurs and giving back to their communities. Yet, challenges remain. Adequate funding is crucial for sustaining these impacts, a call to action that beckons governments, institutions, and visionaries to join hands and fuel the flames of progress.

As we reflect on the achievements and lessons of the past, let us look ahead with unwavering determination. The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme is more than a platform, it is a catalyst for transformation and a driving force behind the realization of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Together, we stand on the premise of a better world, shaped by the tenacity and innovation of entrepreneurs who dare to dream and pursue change.

Extensive Support to the Development of Fragile Communities:
Fostering Resilience and Renewal

TEF’s Entrepreneurship Programme transcends conventional aid paradigms, encapsulating a profound belief in the transformative potential of individuals within fragile communities. The essence of this program lies in Africapitalism – an ideology championed by its founder, Tony Elumelu – where the private sector becomes a key element in shaping economic prosperity and driving social progress. Through its entrepreneurship program, TEF empowers these communities to transcend adversity, refine narratives, and forge a trajectory of self-determined growth. 

Central to TEF’s approach is an all-encompassing ecosystem of support that extends far beyond grants. From mentorship that nurtures budding aspirations to rigorous training on business management, and networking opportunities that transcend borders, TEF fosters an environment where entrepreneurial spirit flourishes. This holistic approach transforms entrepreneurship from a transactional endeavour into a powerful force of community-wide transformation, penetrating every facet of existence and nurturing a sense of shared ownership over destiny. TEF’s Entrepreneurship Programme becomes a lighthouse within conflict-afflicted African countries, illuminating a path towards reconciliation, stability, and progress. By empowering individuals to harness their innate potential, TEF redefines the narratives of these nations. The businesses that emerge from this hotbed of invention are more than mere economic ventures; they serve as catalysts for change, sparking a cycle of progress that reverberates across communities and ignites a spirit of resilience. TEF has empowered over 11,000 new and existing entrepreneurs in 19 fragile African countries. From Burkina Faso to Mali, these entrepreneurs represent not just a statistic, but a transformational force that resonates within the heart of each conflict-affected nation. The foundation has strategically engaged in partnerships with international organizations to empower entrepreneurs within fragile and vulnerable communities. Notably, a transformational collaboration was forged with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to empower 200 entrepreneurs in the northeast and Niger Delta regions of Nigeria, aimed to create economic opportunities in these conflict-affected regions. Recognizing the vital role entrepreneurship plays in driving transformation, TEF and ICRC sought to empower individuals affected by conflict by fostering independence through income-generating activities and small businesses. Also in 2019, the foundation partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in a $5 million intervention pilot programme to train, mentor and fund 2000 entrepreneurs in the vulnerable and under-served communities in Sahel countries. The programme continues to show remarkable outcomes, indicating substantial positive shifts in transitioning from informal to formal business structures. Since 2019, the partnership has gone on to fund over 5000 entrepreneurs in these regions who have gone on to add over 42,000 direct jobs and generated over $1.2 Billion in added revenue to their economies. Likewise, immediate communities have experienced enhanced security and engagement due to increased interactions and contributions from empowered entrepreneurs. These innovative partnerships showcased the potential for entrepreneurial empowerment to drive resilience and positive change in even the most challenging environments.

Entrepreneurship Development for Women and Special Groups:
Prioritising Inclusivity and Equality

Entrepreneurship has emerged as a powerful force for economic growth and poverty alleviation across the globe. However, while entrepreneurship holds immense potential for driving development, its benefits have not always been equally accessible to all segments of society. Historically, women and special groups, including individuals with disabilities, have faced barriers that hinder their participation in entrepreneurial activities, perpetuating gender and social inequalities.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation, the leading champion of entrepreneurship in Africa, has recognized the significance of fostering an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem. In partnership with organizations like Sightsavers, TEF has embarked on initiatives to support entrepreneurs from marginalized backgrounds, contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and broader targets of economic growth and poverty reduction. Empowering Women: A Catalyst for Inclusive Entrepreneurship African Women entrepreneurs are a force to be reckoned with. They bring a unique perspective, innovative ideas, and a tenacity that contributes to the dynamism of the business world. However, women have historically faced systemic barriers that limit their access to resources, financing, and opportunities. Addressing these challenges and empowering women to become successful entrepreneurs is not just a matter of social justice—it is an economic imperative with far-reaching implications. The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s commitment to women’s economic inclusion and empowerment is evident through its strategic collaborations and funding allocations. Through partnerships with Google and European Union through the Women Entrepreneurship for Africa ((WE4A) programme, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has channelled resources exclusively to African women entrepreneurs, recognizing their immense potential as engines of economic growth. As a result, 39% of beneficiaries funded by TEF and its partners are women entrepreneurs, a significant step towards gender parity in entrepreneurship. The Tony Elumelu Foundation impact assessment reveals compelling outcomes among its female beneficiaries. Notably, 85% of these women report being the main decision-makers in their businesses, showcasing their leadership and ability to drive business success. Moreover, female beneficiaries are on par with their male counterparts in terms of business ownership, revenue generation, and profitability. This parity not only underscores the program’s success in empowering women but also emphasizes the vital role women play in sustainable economic development. Inclusive Entrepreneurship: Empowering Individuals with Disabilities Inclusive entrepreneurship embodies the principle that every individual should have an equitable chance to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and make meaningful contributions to their communities. This approach emphasizes breaking down barriers and dismantling systemic obstacles that have traditionally hindered certain groups from fully participating in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the untapped potential within the disabled community. The convergence of technology, changing attitudes, and a deeper understanding of accessibility have paved the way for a more inclusive entrepreneurial landscape. Organizations and initiatives are arising that seek to empower individuals with disabilities to not only become self-reliant but also to actively drive economic progress. One shining example of efforts to promote inclusive entrepreneurship is the partnership between the Tony Elumelu Foundation and Sightsavers, aimed at supporting 20 entrepreneurs living with disabilities in Nigeria. This partnership not only provides financial backing but also includes critical components such as Business Management training, mentorship, and networking opportunities. By enabling these entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas into viable businesses, the initiative showcases the immense potential that exists within this segment of the population. The impact of inclusive entrepreneurship on individuals with disabilities is profound. As seen through the lens of the TEFxSightsavers partnership, the results are indicative of a brighter future. The entrepreneurs supported reported increased confidence and improved skills, enabling them to actively participate in economic activities. The initiative has helped break down barriers, enhancing access to formal financial services and fostering financial independence. Empowering women and individuals with disabilities through inclusive entrepreneurship produces a more equitable future. The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s commitment serves as a model, inspiring a movement where diverse aspirations thrive. By integrating a gender lens in non-profit investments, we ensure equal opportunities for women, contributing to impactful change. As we move forward, let’s embrace inclusivity and gender equality, dismantling barriers and fostering a world where every individual shines in a thriving economy. This shared vision sets the stage for a brighter, more diverse, and prosperous tomorrow, leaving no one behind.

Expanding Our Support for African Development:
Prioritising Inclusivity and Equality

As the flagship Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme nears the end of its 10-year lifespan, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the organization’s remarkable accomplishments. Building on this success and its robust delivery process, the Tony Elumelu Foundation will deepen its commitment to reach across sectors and geographies to identify and support young African entrepreneurs, targeting female empowerment and growth in fragile states, through its soon-to-be-launched Coalition for African Entrepreneurs. 

The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Coalition for African Entrepreneurs aims to catalyse a further 100,000 young African entrepreneurs and small businesses, focussing on fragile states, women entrepreneurs, and green entrepreneurship. The Coalition is open to development agencies, the global private sector, philanthropic organisations, and governments to collaborate in empowering Africa’s next generation, particularly in the green economy. 


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