A lot of people have expressed their admiration for Tony Elumelu and Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) for the opportunities they give to Africans to make their dreams a reality. A lot of people may think that all that TEF does is to give grants to entrepreneurs to start up or expand their businesses, but this foundation does more than that. A lot of people may think that all that TEF does is to give grants to entrepreneurs to start up or expand their businesses, but this foundation does more than that. I will explain this along the line.
I, on my own, admire Tony Elumelu because of the influence TEF has on African youths. I could remember so well my own experience as a TEF applicant and the changes that I had right after that. I was actually among the applicants in the maiden edition of this empowerment programme. I heard about the foundation through my younger sister, who strongly believes I have a lot to offer. I was sceptical about it because I knew about YouWin and the calibre of people that won the grant (during the Goodluck period). So I told myself, “Who are you to compete for something like this?” Well, to get my sister off my back, I went into the registration portal and almost ran back to my village (Lol). If you have ever opened this portal you will understand what I’m saying. Their scrutiny was just too much. But I wasn’t going anywhere because I had my darling sister waiting on me like a guillotine over my neck (sometimes we need people to push us, trust me). So I had to pass through this thorough examination, and I don’t regret doing that.
The first thing this exercise did was getting me to think of the problems in the society that I could solve. I found out that there are so many things that needed attention but I don’t really have the necessary expertise to handle them. The ones I could handle aren’t within my immediate environment (I was in Nassarawa State then). So, I turned my attention to the farmers whose produce were either wasting or were being stolen because of lack of storage facilities and shortage of middlemen. I applied to be an African food items exporter (yes o, this small me dreaming of how to compete with Golden Penny and Dangote). I didn’t get the grant, but it was such an interesting exercise, really. Everyone needs to try it.
Like I noted earlier, TEF does so much for African youths. It is not just about the grant, there is something else about that foundation that needs to be pointed out. While filling the application form, I was less than 30 years old but I felt some heavy responsibilities placed on my tender shoulders. I kept asking myself, “What if you get this grant, can you actually do all these?” Somehow, I told myself that there is no way someone will release this sort of money to me without giving me some kind of trainings and supervision. Anyway, based on my experience with the registration exercise, I can reliably state that TEF has been able to do the following for the African youths irrespective of whether they won the grants or not:
1. Access to Funds: A lot of African youths have very wonderful ideas that are killed by lack of funds. But TEF has given them hope. Though not all can get access to the grants, it’s worth dreaming of. Believing that one day you will have someone that will sponsor your dream fuels the desire to dream bigger.
2. Development of Critical Thinking Skills: With TEF most African youths are beginning to sharpen their thinking skills. When I was trying to fill out the application form, my mind was going haywire trying to find what to go for and how to make it work. This is not an opportunity that easily comes to youths around here.
3. Leadership Training: TEF encourages youths to go for things that will create more jobs. When a youth starts to think of himself as an employer, he will be compelled to develop his leadership skill. Being a boss can only happen if one is a leader.
4. Development of Problem Solving Skills: The type of businesses that are encouraged by TEF are those that solve problems existing in the African communities. These applicants have to identity the needs in their societies and then think of feasible ways of providing them.
5. Development of Entrepreneurial Skills: TEF makes it known that it is not just enough to set up a business. That business has to make profits, expand and, if possible, grow some branches. In other words, as applicants are thinking of businesses to register for, they have to think of how to make them profitable.
6. Equal Opportunities for All: I couldn’t remember TEF awarding grants based on tribe, religion, age (minimum of 18 years and no maximum age), or education level. This is one thing that appeals to me so much about that foundation. So, the youths know that all they need to do is have something that meets the demands of the foundation – be an African, business is located in Africa, be innovative, bring business that will create jobs and solve problems.
7. Mentoring: TEF knows that these youths may not be able to manage the funds if given to them immediately or even given as loans. So it gives out grants after the entrepreneurs have been trained. The good thing about grants is that the beneficiaries will be supervised by their benefactors until a certain period of time. This way, some mistakes that these youths could have made will be averted through expert advices from TEF. The hope of having mentors keeps a lot of people going.
Well, recently, I couldn’t help wondering so many ‘what ifs’. For example, “What if we have so many Tony Elumelus that will give us many TEFs in Nigeria, or even Africa?” “What if about one hundred thousand youths were empowered every year through this type of foundation?” “What if the rich Nigerians decide to give back to the society through a programme like TEF?”
Alright, I know Nigerian banks put up adverts every now and then about sponsoring SMEs, but do Nigerians really trust their banks? A lot of Nigerians see banks as Draculas that are out to suck their victims dry. They don’t believe any bank will help you unless it wants something big in return. So, let our banks give our young inventors and entrepreneurs the reasons to trust them before I will count them among our hopes.
Anyway, I believe Nigeria is blessed with a lot of people who can do for Nigerians what Tony Elumelu is doing for Africans today. Some of them do, I believe, but it is usually within their native communities and religious organisations. If these people can be encouraged to come out and reach out to all Nigerians, just as Elumelu does (even though he considers Africa as a whole), their impacts will be much felt. If they are already doing that, more publicity should be created so that everyone will know about it.
I equally believe that one doesn’t have to be rich before one can perform feats like this. Entrepreneurs can also come in here. They can partner with young innovative minds. This will then be like a business partnership – you know, the I-have-the-capital-you-have-the-expertise kind of partnership. I know that a lot of arrangements like this are on-going within the country, but there are so many youths out there who don’t have anyone to tell them about it. So, I’ll suggest that these entrepreneurs should publicise their intentions and that social media platform should be created as a meeting point for inventors and investors only.
So, I’ll say, we need many Tony Elumelus in Nigeria. I can’t just imagine what it will be like if more than one hundred thousand youths are empowered every year. This isn’t impossible. All we need is just more and more Tony Elumelus and Tony Elumelu Foundations.