Center Stage: The Voice of The Project Economy

Building Africa’s Entrepreneurs

September 01, 2020 PMI Season 1 Episode 11
Center Stage: The Voice of The Project Economy
Building Africa’s Entrepreneurs
Show Notes Transcript

Believing that Africa’s economic development lies in the lands of the private sector, the Tony Eluemelu Foundation (TEF) is training, mentoring and funding entrepreneurs across all 54 African countries to transform the continent.  TEF recognizes that project management makes ideas reality and is a key contributor to achieving the Foundation’s goal of one billion in economic growth and one million jobs across Africa within 10 years.

Join this inspirational discussion with TEF Chief Executive Officer Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu and PMI Chief Operating Officer Joe Cahill as they explore TEF’s efforts to unleash the power of African entrepreneurship.  They cover a range of topics from channelling passion to drive business success, improving access to knowledge and skills, leveraging technology, and mentoring. They inspire listeners to embrace this vision for transforming African communities and improving quality of life.

Learn more about Tony Elumelu Foundation and the partnership with PMI at:

JOE CAHILL: Hi everyone. It’s my pleasure to be here today with Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, the Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa’s leading philanthropic organization.  Ifeyinwa holds the distinction of being the first African to hold this position of CEO. She is a lawyer and a passionate advocate of the transformative power of entrepreneurship as key to the economic development of Africa. As CEO, she steers the foundation’s positioning, partnership and engagement with a wider development ecosystem as TEF launches into its next stage of scale, expanded impact and intelligent mining of its proprietary data on African entrepreneurship.

Welcome to Center Stage, Ifeyinwa.

IFEYINWA UGOCHUKWU: Thank you so much for having me, Joe.

CAHILL: It’s my pleasure, happy to have you. So I’m sitting here in the United States and you’re in Lagos.

UGOCHUKWU: Yes, I am. 

CAHILL: I’m really looking forward to talking about how you’re building entrepreneurs in Africa. Let’s just get into it.

UGOCHUKWU: Thank you, Joe. I like to say that that is one of the benefits of the remote working is that we are able to connect much easier than before regardless of what continent we are on.

CAHILL: You’re right. We’d probably be talking about a flight…


CAHILL: This speeds things up for sure. The Tony Elumelu Foundation, or Tony Elumelu himself, is an African investor and a philanthropist. He started the foundation that bears his name to create a new generation of entrepreneurs in Africa. So spend some time here to tell the audience about the foundation’s mission and activities.

UGOCHUKWU: Thank you so much for that question, it’s a great opener, Joe. So Mr. Elumelu is a firm believer in the economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which he actually coined. And that is the economic philosophy that states that Africa’s economic development lies primarily in the hands of the private sector, that it is a private sector that will create economic prosperity and of course working together with the public sector as well as development partners both within the continent and outside the continent. 

But that unlike the traditional belief that it was government’s role to create jobs, it is actually something that lies squarely with private sector. And private sector, through strategic long-term investments and the ethos that one can do good while doing well, is what will lead the African continent to prosperity. And he is an example of just that. 

Without going into his history as a business man, he started off as a young manager in a bank and has grown to be one of the leading business owners as well as philanthropists on the African continent with interests in the banking sector, with UBA, United Bank of Africa, one of the foremost banks in Africa with a presence in over 20 countries, to interests in hospitality, oil and gas, the health sector. And these are sectors that have changed the terrain of business not just in Nigeria but across Africa.

And it was in the bid to give back, to create opportunities... Because he believes that it is because of the... He wants to institutionalize luck and democratize opportunity because someone believed in him and that is why he was able to get where he is. And so in 2010, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation and recognized that entrepreneurship was the one key catalyst for growth and prosperity on the continent.

And after a series of individual programs, fellowships, all the foundation’s activities was distilled in one program and that is our flagship entrepreneurship program called the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program. In 2015, Mr. Elumelu made a $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor and fund 10,000 African entrepreneurs across all 54 African countries over the next ten years. These 10,000 entrepreneurs in our minds would go on to develop and generate additional income to the tune of a billion dollars over the same period of time, as well as create a million jobs on the continent.

So as of last year, we were five years into this commitment and we have trained, mentored and funded just over 9,000 entrepreneurs. So we’re hitting the finish - 

CAHILL: Wow, you’re well ahead.

UGOCHUKWU: Yes, well ahead, well ahead of schedule. And that’s because of the sheer demand for this program. The first year saw - 

CAHILL: I can only imagine.

UGOCHUKWU: Yes. The first year saw 20,000 applications from across Africa. Fast forward, five years later, in 2019, we had 216,000 applications to the program.

CAHILL: Oh my lord.

UGOCHUKWU: And that is for 1,000 slots because the commitment was to select 1,000 every year. The 1,000 entrepreneurs would be trained by our proprietary 12-week online training program that has been likened to a mini-MBA, and they would also be mentored. We have mentors across the globe who are committed to supporting entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial journey as well as funding. 

Because we firmly believe that training and funding are two sides of the same coin. And it is only when you have the funding that you can get your foot in the door and start your entrepreneurial journey. And often times it is that bottom of the pyramid that is the very hardest to raise capital, especially in a continent where most people do not necessarily have friends or family that they can borrow $5,000 to start their business. And so every entrepreneur that successfully completes our training and mentoring program gets a non-returnable seed capital funding of $5,000 from the foundation’s endowment. 

CAHILL: It’s really interesting because, just looking at economic development organizations... most of the funding goes to large, hard-asset type projects, correct?


CAHILL: And you are just highlighting... when you said the bottom of the pyramid on this training and funding, it’s often overlooked?

UGOCHUKWU: Absolutely. In fact, it’s nonexistent, if you think about it because it’s too risky for venture capitalists, and banks definitely are not looking at that level because they want you to show a proven track record. So often times a lot of young Africans who are very talented and creative, have ideas stuck in their head that they are never ever able to translate because of the lack of capital. 

And that is the gap that we are committed to bridge across the continent. We believe that every young African who has a dream should have the opportunity to realize that dream with the training and with the mentoring, of course, because the two go hand in hand.

CAHILL: That’s quite a… I’m just commenting on how ambitious the goal is of the program and the demand lens that you’ve given us, how much demand, ten times the demand or twenty times the demand for what you are actually rolling out, it’s amazing.

UGOCHUKWU: Absolutely. So within the first couple of years, we also went through a crisis because we felt are we creating hope or are we dashing hope? How can we give out this hope to so many entrepreneurs, budding entrepreneurs, and then at the end of the day we are selecting just 1,000. 

But that is the reason why we then opened the entrepreneurship program up to partners. So we decided that what we should commit to doing is to be able to give this opportunity to many more entrepreneurs. And it also came at a time when we were completely dedicated through advocacy, to put entrepreneurship, especially African entrepreneurship, on the global agenda. 

Most developed nations in the world, from the United States to Germany to Japan, it is the small and medium enterprises that produce 70 to 80 percent of the jobs. So everyone knows that the lifeline of any economy is the small and medium enterprises, they are the job creators. But Africa’s unemployment problem is primarily because there is such an under-development in our SME sector. 

And so we are advocating to development organizations that gone is the era of aid. Africa doesn’t need a hand out, it needs a hand up. What we need to be doing is investing in human capital, investing in entrepreneurship. Because when you teach a man how to fish you solve his problems permanently as opposed to when you give him fish. So our proposition to the major development organizations was that we need to start prioritizing putting capital in the hands of young African entrepreneurs who would then go forward and take all of Africa’s problems, turn them into business opportunities and solve those problems through the businesses that they develop with this capital and this training.

CAHILL: I love the sound of that. It rings into my ear in terms of what my orientation is in terms of solving problems and certainly what PMI does, we’re in the middle of taking those ideas to reality, so it really, really sounds like an ambitious goal but I think it’s something that makes sense. It makes sense that that’s the path forward. 

Let me ask you, you mentioned 54 countries in Africa and you’re touching each one of those countries. What are the different flavors of entrepreneurship that you’re seeing across Africa? Are there any themes over the last couple of years that you’ve seen?

UGOCHUKWU: First of all, our program is sector agnostic, so we do not dictate what sector applies to the program. But I think for us, because we have access to vast amounts of data it’s been very comforting to see that agriculture makes up 30 percent of the entrepreneurs that not only apply but that we end up funding. And that is quite remarkable, especially in a country like Nigeria, where 20-30 years ago barely anyone in the urban regions were in agriculture, it was just something subsistence that the rural people engaged in. 

So for us, seeing the explosion of youth interest in agriculture shows that we are really experiencing a renaissance on the continent. Because once we are able to harness not just our human capital but our natural resources, then we can very well be on our way to eradicating poverty and ensuring that Africa’s burgeoning youth population is an asset to the world and not a liability. 

And so from agriculture, which is the highest ranking sector at 30 percent, we have fashion, we’ve got retail, technology, and when we say technology we mean fin-tech and the like. But I have to say that for us, we use that term loosely because every single entrepreneur is encouraged to leverage technology in one form or another in their business regardless of the sector they are in. We also have quite a number of entrepreneurs in education, manufacturing, media and entertainment, as well as health care, tourism, hospitality, and professional services.

So it’s been really amazing to just watch the journey and the growth of young entrepreneurs as they innovate, as they create and they see the problems in Africa, like I said, as a business opportunity and proffer innovative solutions to solve those problems.

CAHILL: So when you work with these entrepreneurs, what are some of the unique opportunities and challenges that they face in growing their businesses within Africa? What do they see and how do you see them as being unique and what types of programs does the foundation match up to those challenges and opportunities?

UGOCHUKWU: I think the very essence of our program took all the challenges that we identified that young people in Africa would face, and we created a program out of that. And I always say to our young entrepreneurs that if you can succeed as an entrepreneur in Africa, you can succeed anywhere because... Because of the under-development and the infrastructure gaps in our continent, the odds are stacked up against you. 

In many countries, you still have to provide your own electricity, your own security, your own water, sometimes even your own roads. So not just your bottom line is eroded, but also the... For us it’s we let our entrepreneurs know that resilience is key. See no obstacles, look at everything not as an obstacle but as a stepping stone and focus on the solution. That is the first thing that we teach entrepreneurs. 

The second challenge obviously that most entrepreneurs face, apart from the general infrastructure gaps is access to capital. Africa faces, in terms of, if you match entrepreneur for entrepreneur in each continent, the Africa entrepreneur has almost a 90-percent less chance of accessing the capital they need not just to start their business but to grow their business. And that is why we are committed to putting capital in the hands of young African entrepreneurs. Because that is the fuel that they need to turn their ideas into reality.

And so we start at the bottom because we know that’s where the need is. But beyond the initial seed capital that we give, we work with ecosystem players, we work with VCs and angel investors to ensure that our existing alumni have access to second-stage capital. And that is why we developed, which we are building to be the largest online platform for African entrepreneurs. As of today we have a million subscribers. And it’s a platform that is supposed to bring the African entrepreneurship ecosystem to the world.

And one of the problems that global investors have is the lack of access to data and information. And we want to bridge that gap. We want to make sure that global investors are able to access real-time data on entrepreneurs, on businesses, on sectors, in order to make informed investment decisions. 

And of course finally - training. What we really need to do in Africa is to revolutionize and rethink our educational system. We cannot be educating our young for the world 50 years ago, the world that their grandparents grew up in. The future of work must be center stage. We must understand the changing terrain, and train and educate young Africans for the world 50 years from now, the world that they will be living and working in. And that is why capacity building, upskilling and technology training is critical to the work that we do in the foundation and that’s the basis of our training. 

And we want to see this sort of training available in every secondary school across the continent. It shouldn’t just be when you’re out of school or you’re looking to start a business, it’s something that the entrepreneurial mindset should be entrenched in every young African because that is that can-do spirit, that resilient spirit, that creative spirit to make a success, whether you are in a career or building a business.

CAHILL: I’m glad you mentioned technology. PMI has research that we do, it’s called Pulse of the Profession, and recently we focused a study on artificial intelligence, other disruptive technologies, data analysis, block chain, things of that nature. We know, we realize, as you do, that these technologies enable entrepreneurs to gain market advantage or even challenge traditional businesses. 

So how are these disruptive technologies taking hold among the entrepreneurs that you’re engaged with? And how are they obtaining those digital skills and keeping up with that in terms of themselves and then their teams to maximize their impact? 

UGOCHUKWU: Great question. And I think I’ll start with “charity begins at home” and talking about how we are optimizing these technologies. So at the foundation, we realize that data is everything. And with the large amount of data that we have been collecting over the last years, we knew that we needed to be able to mine this data in order to have prescriptive and predictive analysis for the market insights that we have been privileged to gather through the data that we have. 

And so just last year, we launched an Inspire project, which is a project to automate our systems and processes at the foundation in order to leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to offer a better service, not just to entrepreneurs, like I said, but the entire ecosystem, including global investors who are looking to do business in Africa. And so we know the importance of technology and so do our entrepreneurs.

We have entrepreneurs who, though they are in agriculture, they have leveraged drone technology in order to increase yields and spot what is going on in their farms. We have entrepreneurs who use 3D printing to make prosthetics for artificial limbs and breast cancer survivors. 

And so we know that entrepreneurs across Africa are waking up to the importance of technology, the importance of AI and machine learning. And coding, whilst we’re not offering coding directly in our syllabus, but we emphasize the importance of coding, it is the language of tomorrow, it’s like, in the next 30 years if you can’t code it’s like not being able to read today. 

So we are working with partners across the ecosystem to offer training to entrepreneurs who require this training in order to be able to be disruptive. Because it is clear, in the world of today it’s either you’re disrupting or you’re being disrupted. And I think that Africans understand. And the sheer challenges that we are facing on the continent creates that disruptive mindset in terms of the way you do business. 

CAHILL: And the great thing about the technology is it can really help leapfrog fro the position that you’re in, you don’t have to walk through all the steps and stages that you would have to 10, 20, 30 years ago. We can really just jump forward to the future, which is really exciting.

UGOCHUKWU: Exactly, yeah. Case in point, 20-30 years ago, there were maybe in Nigeria, if we are lucky, 20,000 landlines and that was it for a country of over 100 million people. So, fast forward 20 years later, the last I checked it was about 170-something million mobile subscribers.

CAHILL: Million, yeah.

UGOCHUKWU: So we completely leapfrogged the landlines to mobile technology. And this is what makes Africa the first in mobile money on the globe because all Africans transact their everyday lives on their phones. So that is an example of what technology can do. And so we are hoping to see this in every other sector, particularly electricity. Perhaps we can leapfrog traditional grids to renewable energy. Let’s see. [laughs] 

CAHILL: This is great. You mentioned that TEF believe in entrepreneurship for sure and then the importance of the private sector in terms of the development of Africa, and particularly in terms of getting social and economic outcomes. 

You also mentioned the importance of turning ideas into reality. This is core to PMI’s brand and to what we call the Project Economy. So how is the foundation helping entrepreneurs mature their project management and even agility skills?

UGOCHUKWU: The Tony Elumelu Foundation has been consistent right from the beginning. Our mission is simple, we are empowering African entrepreneurs to catalyze Africa’s socioeconomic growth. And we set out to do this, as I said, by launching what you call, and many call, the most ambitious but certainly the largest private sector-led entrepreneurship program. 

And that is part of the reason why we engage in partnerships such as the one we’ve engaged with, with PMI, to bring project management training to our entrepreneurs, which I think we are in the fourth week. It has been amazingly well received. And because project management, for every entrepreneur is simply the art of taking your idea and translating it into reality. It’s that result-oriented, execution-focused approach to the work that you do. And quite frankly there is no better partner than PMI to be able to bring this knowledge, this expertise and this wealth of experience to entrepreneurs who can then leverage that learning in order to emulate the same.

CAHILL: Yeah, so our partnership together is new and we are really excited about it because it’s got a lot of application, certainly in Africa and beyond. And one of those things that goes beyond is setting up this global network of mentors that you discussed earlier and tying it into our partnership so that we can support African entrepreneurs from Africa and also from around the world. So what do project leaders within PMI, what do they have to offer the entrepreneurs in Africa?

UGOCHUKWU: I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the changes we are bringing to the program... because we’ve always said we wanted to fund every entrepreneur we train, we now realize that we were... you know, out of 216,000 last year, we selected 3,000. And so 213,000 people went away empty handed. 

And we just thought, you know what, it doesn’t have to be that way. Why don’t we train and mentor 20-30 percent of the people that apply? So that would be, in this case, 60-odd-thousand people that we would train and mentor. And with that training and with that mentoring they have much better chances of being able to raise the capital, even if it’s not from the foundation, but from other third parties. 

So the PMI partnership with the foundation with its hundreds of thousands of members across the globe... French speaking, Portuguese speaking, Arabic speaking... would be such an amazing resource for mentors to our entrepreneurs to bring their wealth of experience, to bring their passion and dedication, to basically walk with these entrepreneurs through their learning and to be a sounding board, a mirror, people who have gone and made a success of their careers, as well as of course the PMI project management experience and expertise. 

That for us is the icing on the cake as far as a PMI partnership, is to be able to have access to hundreds of thousands of mentors who will play this role for our entrepreneurs, that is very much needed, especially now as we are scaling up the number of entrepreneurs that we will be training and mentoring in the coming year.

CAHILL: Yes that’s a great example of how you’re expanding your impact through partnership, in this case with PMI. So we are in the early days of the partnership as we did mention. What kind of response are you getting so far from the community of entrepreneurs?

UGOCHUKWU: They’ve been extremely enthusiastic. They love the training. I think a lot of the facilitators will find that there are lots of questions being thrown at them and I think most especially is... We decided to break it up as a six-part series and it happens every two weeks. And it’s interesting to see that each week the numbers are rising but then you have repeat because we have data to show the people who are coming. And we’re talking thousands of entrepreneurs across all 54 African countries are able to take advantage of the learning through these trainings. And we will be giving them a certificate at the end of the day. And they are simply excited. 

And for me, the exciting part is to track the impact on their businesses after this training is completed, which we will be doing. So that is something that both PMI and TEF can be proud of, to show a tangible impact on number of jobs created or an increase in revenue from the learnings through these trainings.

CAHILL: Let me take it up just one level on the whole topic of partnership. I believe firmly in it just from a PMI perspective, and you have identified here the importance of the impact that you can have through partnership. When you look at the foundation at the highest of levels regarding partnership, you have a partnership with the EU and elsewhere, what kind of a multiple do you think you can get on impact over time? 

UGOCHUKWU: I think it’s exponential. Just to give you an example, on average the entrepreneurs that go through our training, mentoring and funding program, 65 percent of them are still in business after two years.

CAHILL: That’s amazing.

UGOCHUKWU: And this is almost double the average for startups in Africa. But most importantly for me is the fact that all our entrepreneurs are able to create a minimum of five jobs either directly or indirectly. Many have gone on to create hundreds of jobs. We have an entrepreneur in Malawi who has a factory, and when he did our training he was a one-man business. Today he has in his employ over 350 Malawians. And so that is just one example.

So for us the impact is exponential. And if we are seeing this impact with just 9,000 entrepreneurs, imagine what we would see when we’ve trained and funded 100,000 or a million entrepreneurs. So that just shows us that the one catalyst to economic development, job creation and poverty eradication is entrepreneurship. 


UGOCHUKWU:  And the same can be seen in China, that is what changes the Chinese story.  In the 1970s China was poorer than Nigeria. Today you can’t compare. China is almost the second largest economy in the world. And that is because of entrepreneurship, giving each man the opportunity, the training and the opportunity to chart his path in life, build his own business, build his own wealth and of course impact the community - create jobs. 

So that for us is critical. And partnerships is the only way. I always say that in this sector there is no such thing as competition, it’s only collaboration. It’s only working together that we will see the impact that we want to see. Public sector, private sector, development organizations as well as institutions as yourselves coming together all hands on deck, leveraging each other’s strengths. We do not have to recreate the wheel, we need to come together each bringing his own strength, putting it together, only then will we see the impact that we need to see.

And like you said, I think it’s exponential. So I wouldn’t even say 10X or 20X, I think it’s exponential. 

CAHILL: It’s really interesting the comment you’re making around just entrepreneurship, which is at the core of all this, that it is an ecosystem builder. It is by its very nature exponential. And I think that is very, very powerful that the foundation was able to identify that and is actually able to push that with all the programs.

So let me ask you a little bit about some skills, not just project management skills. But PMI talks about the importance of what we call power skills, which are generally soft skills such as creativity, collaborative leadership, the ability to persuade. In the African context, and as a business leader yourself, how can leaders find people with these skills and then also how did these leaders continue to develop their people either through the foundation or otherwise?

UGOCHUKWU: I find that very interesting. The skills of the future are actually not technical, they are behavioral, especially with the advent of artificial intelligence. There is this fear that, oh computers are coming over to take over our jobs, but actually no, because computers will never have compassion, they will never have emotional intelligence. So these are the skills that we need to see developed today.

Yes, of course there will always be need for engineers, designers and technical people to fix things but we are now realizing that these skills can be bought and learned and even computers sometimes have it. So it’s these power skills that you talk of that take the effort. And that is essential for the world that we are going to be living in and that we are living in.

CAHILL: Correct.

UGOCHUKWU: Just to give an example, the executive chairman of Starbucks, Mr. Schultz, once said hiring people is an art, not a science and resumes cannot tell you whether someone will fit into a company culture. So this astute observation sums up the importance of assessing a job seeker for their power skills and not just for what’s on the paper. 

And so my question is, how do you actually assess something that is so intangible? I believe that leaders can assess this first of all by also connecting to your own intuition and also being in touch with that part of you. So it’s through professionalism, body language, problem solving skills and a general awareness and connectivity. You have to be connected to your humanity, to your environment. And an ability to work well with diverse groups of individuals as well as under pressure, even in stressful circumstances.

So it is a really interesting area and I think that it’s so important to emphasize that power skills is really the difference between surviving and adapting in our fast, ever-changing world, and becoming extinct. 

CAHILL: Let me switch a little bit into success measures. You have made it clear that resilience, access to capital and training are the key pillars or the three legs of the stool in order for successful entrepreneurs in Africa, and I would say elsewhere as well. For the companies, the startups, the small companies that you have worked with that have gained some traction, how are they tracking their performance and how are they using that information to help scale their organizations?

UGOCHUKWU: That is such a great question and I have to tell you that that is one challenge that we are trying to overcome and teach our entrepreneurs. Small and medium enterprises don’t often see the big picture, they often are concerned with the day-to-day running of the business, that they don’t realize that where you are today, how you track, how you report determines where you go tomorrow. 

And so whereas the more sophisticated companies understand balance sheets and the fact that you’ve got to have your P&L, your cash flows, your balance sheet has to be on pointe at all times not just when you start looking for financing. And so this financial literacy is something that we have continued to emphasize in our training and to teach our entrepreneurs. From day one you must ensure that your business looks just as good in your financial reporting as it does in actuality.

And so what we have found is that we have run several courses outside of our main training program with partners to show entrepreneurs just how their financial reporting and their book keeping is able to influence their ability to raise second-stage financing. So this is absolutely critical. It is a critical skill that young SMEs have to have because until you’ve walked that road of trying to raise finance you don’t quite understand what is needed and that is what we’re trying to teach them before they get to that stage.

So it’s early years but we are seeing entrepreneurs beginning to understand the importance of keeping your books like you are a multi-national Fortune 500 even if you are turning over less than $50,000 a year. 

CAHILL: Your comments are actually illustrating again the importance of the ecosystem - my words - the ecosystem that is built through entrepreneurship. And right now you are talking about the importance of the second round of funding. It makes me think about how the foundation is going to... is tracking their performance as it gets more and more beyond the initial program. Because you really want to measure that, the jobs, you want to measure the economic development, the revenue in the companies.

UGOCHUKWU: Absolutely.

CAHILL: It gets more and more difficult to do that. How do you view that and how do you view those challenges and what are you going to do to address some of those?

UGOCHUKWU: So monitoring and evaluation is one of the major pillars of the foundation from day one. We know that impact assessment is as important as the entrepreneurship program itself. We want to track not just the successes but the failures as well because there are lessons to be learned from what’s not gone well and so that you can teach others who are coming behind them. 

And so what we do with that is we’ve partnered with PwC for instance where we are releasing an impact assessment report for 2020 in conjunction with PricewaterhouseCoopers. And that shows how important impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation is for us, because its only in tracking that we can really see the economic and demographic dividend that we are reaping and the return on investment in the African entrepreneurship ecosystem. So MME is absolutely critical to the foundation and not just for what we do, but also we try to pass that quality onto entrepreneurs through due diligence, bookkeeping and having your financials always on pointe. 

CAHILL: So there is great value in the data that you are collecting through the whole process. It’s amazing that you’re really... not only is there a core program but you are really executing against the data analysis, research, feeding it back into the ecosystem to make it better. I mean, that’s fantastic.

UGOCHUKWU: Yes, absolutely. Thank you.

CAHILL: So we’re getting close to the end here. I just wanted to ask you more of a personal question in terms of what is your greatest source of inspiration, maybe from your  youth or even from when you were a young professional, that really influences what you do today for the foundation?

UGOCHUKWU: I don’t think I would pinpoint on one. I think that I have been inspired my whole life and I have been fortunate to always be passionate about what I am doing. So I coming from being a lawyer by training to being an entrepreneur. So I ran a successful franchise from the U.K. and so I understand what it means to be an entrepreneur, I understand what it means to start a business and to watch it grow and to be an employer of people. 

And I think that experience, especially working with people, because I had over 1,000 distributors in the business I ran, and especially women distributors, it showed me the power that entrepreneurship had to give a woman, and by extension her children and her family and her community, the financial freedom that meant the difference between having money to go to the hospital when her children were sick or giving her children a good education or having... being able to put food on the table.

And what struck me through those years was that children only suffer when their mothers are poor. You would never find a woman entrepreneur who was doing well and her children lacked. So all the infant mortality, all the lack of education, 90 percent of the suffering that we see on the continent has its root cause in poverty. And so what inspired me to go full time into development is the realization that if we can solve the problem of poverty, we would solve the problem, 90 percent of the problems on the continent. 

And we see that every day when we hear the testimonials from our entrepreneurs and the difference that this opportunity, this $5,000 has made in their lives, in their families, in their communities, the impact it has made on the people they employ, the people that supply them. It has transformed entire communities. So that for me is what inspires me is the power that entrepreneurship has to uplift entire peoples and give them their dignity and give them a quality of life. That is my inspiration.

CAHILL: And that transfers to others. With this program and with the approach, the foundation is truly, truly inspiring others in the same vein by spreading the word and spreading the stories of success.

UGOCHUKWU: Absolutely.

CAHILL: That’s fantastic. In closing I just want to ask, for those that are inspired by what the foundation’s vision is and what they have heard here today, and they actually want to be a part of what you’re doing, how can they help and support, how can they be engaged?

UGOCHUKWU: I think the most pressing need, especially for the PMI community, would be to sign up as mentors to the Tony Elumelu Foundation entrepreneurship program. Because what we understand is that the mentoring is a critical pillar to the program, coupled with the training and the funding. And it takes that one-on-one engagement. It doesn’t take that much time. The commitment is two hours a week and it sometimes is the difference between and SME surviving or not.

So for us it’s signing up to be mentors. And of course for development organizations or other organizations that want to find alternative ways to spend their CSR... again putting money in the hands of entrepreneurs has really proven to be an exponential way to eradicate poverty and to stem the tide of illegal migration on the content. Because what we have found is that if people realize that they have opportunity, they have economic opportunity in their own continent, they don’t feel the need to go looking for it elsewhere. So access to funding is a key way in which others, partners, can partner with us to catalyze economic development on the continent. 

CAHILL: I am actually inspired to sign up to be a mentor.

UGOCHUKWU: Awesome. 

CAHILL: I may not be the best project manager in the world but I have quite a long background of entrepreneurship myself so I could serve in that function. 


CAHILL: And I also have a financial background so I can help and I hope that others will do the same.

UGOCHUKWU: I hope so too. I hope so too. Thank you so, so, so much, this has been... I didn’t even see the time go by. 

CAHILL: I appreciate your time, thank you so much for your time, particularly for your insight and for telling our audience about what you do, what inspires you and what the foundation is doing for Africa.

UGOCHUKWU: Thank you so much. It has been an absolute pleasure.