The Tony Elumelu Foundation: An Empowering Journey Towards Entrepreneurial Impact

Today is a proud day for me and the entire team at the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) and Heirs Holdings (HH).

Harvard Business School (HBS) launched its case study on the work of TEF, documenting our 14 years of impact, across all 54 countries in Africa. Titled “The Tony Elumelu Foundation: Democratizing Luck Across Africa”, the case study was led by HBS Professor, Paul Gompers, and was taught in class today for the first time, to a select group of students at HBS.

When Awele and I envisioned TEF, we had two ambitions:

1. to democratise luck – which played an important role in the successes I have achieved today; and

2. to see Africapitalism in action – the philosophy that the private sector, including entrepreneurs, has an absolutely central role to play in developing Africa.

We set out to empower young Africans, at scale, through entrepreneurship and made a US$100 million commitment to identify, mentor, train, and fund 10,000 young Africans, in 10 years with $5,000 seed funding. Nearly 10 years later, we have empowered nearly 20,000 entrepreneurs, with seed capital – doubling our original goal, while reaching digitally over 1.5 million entrepreneurs across Africa. We have done more – we have created a philanthropic institution in Africa, staffed by Africans, that has changed the debate about development and shown new pathways. We have invested in impact measurement; we have deployed convening power and we have become advocates. We have been joined by great partners UNDP, EU, Google, AfDB, etc.

As I sat in class today, listening to the case study being taught, and our impact across Africa discussed and internalized by the HBS students, what struck me most was the journey to where we are now.

Not many people know that TEF started in 2010, or that our flagship TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, which was launched in 2014, was not our first initiative – we tried out and tested 12 different programmes, experimenting to build the right programme that addressed our mission to give economic hope and opportunity to young Africans by empowering them through entrepreneurship. Like any entrepreneur, we pivoted, reassessed, learnt and here we are today.

Education is a bedrock of what we do – I was lucky enough to study at Harvard and core to TEF is our curriculum, our mini MBA, created for the operating environment, that very tough operating environment, that I know our entrepreneurs experience. It was moving to know that our strengths, but also our pivots, our challenges, will inform and help others. For me TEF, is not just a catalyst for young entrepreneurs, it is a catalyst for others in Africa, it is a call to those who have succeeded, to give back, to spread their luck.

I am also filled with gratitude for the journey, for the amazing team members who helped bring the vision to life, and to our thousands of young entrepreneurs, who continue to be the best ambassadors one could ask for as they increase job creation, drive poverty alleviation, and ensure inclusive economic empowerment in Africa.

And to my wife, Awele, you rock and are the absolute best co-founder.

Thank you HBS for telling this story. To every African entrepreneur, embrace your journey, document as much as you can, because one day, you will look back and be grateful for every moment of it.


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