Tony Elumelu @54: Celebrating an Africapitalist

Tony Elumelu

By Ruth Olurounbi

“Africapitalism is the nexus between the ability of the private sector to create value and the government’s creation of a business-friendly environment.” – Tony Elumelu

In their article Creating Shared Value, Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer wrote: “Shared value could reshape capitalism and its relationship to society. It could also drive the next wave of innovation and productivity growth in the global economy as it opens managers’ eyes to immense human needs that must be met, large new markets to be served, and the internal costs of social deficits, as well as the competitive advantages available from addressing them.”

The duo, conceding in the January-February 2011 issue that their understanding of shared value is still in its genesis, recommended that “attaining it will require managers to develop new skills and knowledge and governments to learn how to regulate in ways that enable shared value, rather than work against it.”


That same year, one Nigerian entrepreneur found a way to reshape capitalism through a philosophy known as Africapitalism – the point where “philanthropy and business meet.”
And that to him is what shared value is all about.

“Shared value is a priority to me as the Chairman of Heirs Holdings because I believe that economic prosperity and social wealth must go hand in hand for maximum impact. Success cannot be measured purely in economic terms, and our investment activities are not strictly driven by profitability – though our ultimate responsibility to our shareholders remains creating economic value for them.
We believe that a shared value approach accomplishes this mandate as it sets the stage for continued wealth creation over the long term,” Elumelu said in an interview.

Some people, in trying to figure out the essence of Elumelu’s philanthropism, have asked “What does Tony Elumelu want?”
And in their answers, they listed “fame,” “politics,” “happiness and good health”, among others, as what could possibly drive Elumelu towards globetrotting, business and wealth creation.
One could add one more to the plethora of answers out there and that one answer would be “legacy.”

Next generation of business

This is evident in the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF)’s activities, which revolve around developing the next generation of business leaders for Africa, building the networks and developing the framework for enhancing the competitiveness of African economies, identifying impact investing opportunities and research work aimed at developing an enabling environment for African entrepreneurs.
One could argue that the TEF – Africa’s biggest philanthropic organization – is focusing on promoting entrepreneurship as the catalyst for the continent’s socio-economic development.

Entrepreneurship, to Elumelu, “is the cornerstone to African development and the key to local value creation in Africa.” And as he said, he is committed to ensuring that “Africa’s next generation of entrepreneurs have the platform they need to turn their entrepreneurial aspirations into sustainable businesses that will drive economic growth and job creation across Africa.”

Of this commitment, thousands African entrepreneurs have found a catalyst to actualizing their dreams. For many of them, Elumelu gives a new meaning to Lupita Nyong’o’s charge: “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
This seems particularly true for the new intake for the foundation’s entrepreneurship program for 2017.

Last week – on March 22 2017 (Elumelu’s 54th birthday) – another set of 1,000 African entrepreneurs were selected for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.
In his relentless pursuit of Africa’s development by Africans, Elumelu is using Africapitalism – a call for a new kind of capitalism as a business model for which young entrepreneurs can buy into developing their continent.
Africapitalism is “a version in which Africa leapfrogs other models, creating a more broad-based and sustainable economy,” to develop and grow itself and this is a vision Elumelu believes in.

No one can develop Africa except Africans

“My philosophy for how we will solve these and many of Africa’s other problems is rooted in the belief that no one can develop Africa except Africans. Building the capacity of the African private sector, as well as creating the enabling environment for business, will drive truly sustainable development – this is why I preach Africapitalism, which calls on the private sector, national governments and development agencies to work together to achieve long-term impact that creates economic prosperity and social wealth for all,” Elumelu said in an interview.

When asked 3 years ago what his foundation is doing to promote Africa, his answer is something the world has come to know him for: “The Tony Elumelu Foundation supports entrepreneurship across Africa through programs that develop the leadership skills of young entrepreneurs, making impact investments that support the growth of budding African businesses, and by sponsoring research that provides critical insights into the environment in which African entrepreneurs operate.
The foundation is also very involved in creating a better enabling environment for business in Africa. We have done a lot to draw attention to the fact that there may be a new way of engaging in philanthropy in Africa that has less to do with charitable aid and more to do with impact investment for the future. Furthermore, by establishing a Foundation with global standards and ambitions, we have helped changed the conversation around Africa’s development – placing Africans and African donors firmly at the center.”

In his book, Screw Business as Usual, Richard Branson basically said businesses could reshape the world and possibly save it if their leaders would consciously set out to “do good” instead of focusing on the bottom line alone. This kind of philosophy, “doing good is good for business” or corporate philanthropy policy, if you will, looks like it is working well for a billionaire who is relentlessly passionate equipping thousands of African entrepreneurs to do business in a sustainable ways. And that for him is entrepreneurship.

In the African Business Magazine’s May 2014 Issue, it was estimated that if one in every African living in the diaspora invests US$1,000 in their respective country of birth in a given year, the continent could raise US$3 billion for development financing in that year.

One man – Elumelu – is investing US$100 million in the course of 10 years into the continent. This translates to 10,000 businesses which will be created across Africa, generating 1,000,000 new jobs and contributing at least US$10 billion in annual revenue to the African economy.
And that is a legacy worth pursuing.