Potency of ‘empowerment’ for economic growth, job creation
Though empowerment, as a word, has been used by all and sundry at various times, it embodies heavy message that Nigeria and the global community want to see materialise.
In the face of global growth uncertainty, unequal resource endowment and development and poor allocation of public wealth, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries, leading to a rise in inequality and youth unemployment, empowerment has become more meaningful, as well as a strategic lexicon.
Currently, Nigeria’s unemployment figure, according to National Bureau of Statistics, is put at about 23 per cent, a development that has seen a large number of the youth population not being actively engaged in economic activity.
But effective empowerment transcends the giving of alms and involves impactful training and possibly, retraining, creating access to entrepreneurial funds and grants that hitherto were out of the reach of budding talents, with latent ideas wasting in the streets.
The numerous intervention schemes notwithstanding, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has put the existing financing gap in the small business segment of the economy at $158 billion (N48 trillion).
According to the apex bank, the quest for inclusive economic growth and development would remain elusive if the ease of access to finance by this key industry is not given prominence, as its dilemma was already translating to weaker results.
There are more than 17.5 million micro, small and medium enterprises, adjudged vulnerable, despite being the catalyst of the nation’s economic growth, but are faced with the most commonly cited challenge of financing bottlenecks. There is, indeed, need for empowerment.
For Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) the future of Africa is in the hands of the youth and they can only take hold of that future if empowered.
While the recently concluded 2019 TEF Entrepreneurship Forum was the fifth edition, since 2015, the foundation has committed $100 million to identify, train, mentor and fund 10,000 African entrepreneurs over 10 years.
At the forum, more than 5,000 participants from 54 African countries, including representatives of the 7,521 beneficiaries and 60 speakers across three continents converged at the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs. It had 150 SME owners from 20 African countries that exhibited their products at the UBA Marketplace.
Still at the forum, five African Presidents and thousands of young African entrepreneurs converged at the most influential gathering in the African entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The empowerment discourse centered on job creation and youths and how best to tackle the assessed economic challenge.
There is no gainsay that TEF has been at the forefront of advocating entrepreneurship as the catalyst for the economic transformation of Africa.
The 60 global speakers from the public and private sectors across three continents participated in interactive masterclasses, plenary sessions and debates geared towards generating ideas and defining concrete steps Africa must take to empower its youth and accelerate the continent’s development.
Also, guests interacted directly with young budding entrepreneurs from the 20 African UBA-present countries, who exhibited their innovative products and solutions at the UBA Marketplace.
As the topical issue of empowerment in relation to charting the way forward towards the eradication of poverty in Africa through job creation and support for entrepreneurship was moderated by American journalist, Fareed Zakaria, African leaders in public sector also bared their minds.
Besides, the forum ended with a tour of the UBA Marketplace, where entrepreneurs across the continent exhibited their products, with a pitching competition that saw the winner walk away with $5,000 grant from the United Bank for Africa (UBA).
The Founder of TEF and convener of the forum, Tony Elumelu, reiterated the urgency in creating jobs on the continent to catalyse Africa’s development.
“Extremism is a product of poverty and joblessness. Poverty anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere. If our leaders understand the reason and rationale for our youths to succeed, they will do everything they can to support them,” he said.
He reiterated the role of technology as a key enabler in accelerating development, citing TEFConnect, the digital networking platform for African entrepreneurs launched by the Foundation in 2018.
“With over 500,000 registered users, the hub provides a platform for entrepreneurs to network and forge business partnerships regardless of their location.
“Life is not just about the riches, but about humanity, touching lives and leaving a good legacy. That is what makes someone happy.
“When I see African youths and what they go through- having grown up in Nigeria and seeing the enthusiasm of the youths, I’m touched. And being able to play a role to see these young ones be happy is what makes me happy and that’s why we are doing this.
“We want to ensure that the narrative is good. We need to give young Africans the opportunities. Train them, create funds for them, mentor them but much more, the enabling environment must be right.
“The truth is we need to do a lot more as a continent. Through TEF, we are showing in our little ways that there’s a way you can help to touch lives and ensure that people are independent. It is all of these that can create a new narrative for Africa that the world can see,” he said.
Giving the keynote speech, Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, said the impact of the Tony Elumelu Foundation was that of a resounding empowerment across the continent.
“By birthing this particular intervention, Tony Elumelu, has compelled us to focus on what really matters, our youth and their dreams. The message to Africa’s emerging business giants is a clear one: How and what can you contribute, like Tony Elumelu, to empowering the next generation, helping them to realize their own dreams?”, he said.
But the Chief Executive Officer of UBA, Kennedy Uzoka, said the financial institution was committed to bridging the funding gaps affecting SME’s sector in Africa, especially as TEF vision aligns with the bank’s goal.
“We bank a lot of customers across the geographies, but we have discovered that there is a gap, which an enterprise like UBA should cover and that gap is how to bring the buyer and the seller, people who want to exchange goods, not significantly different from what Ali Baba has done, but UBA is taking charge now by bringing the customers together.
“We are trying also to give back to the economy where we we get money from and you know we have UBA foundation, through which we support education, enterprise and of course environment because we believe that we should give out,” he said.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) endorsed TEF initiative, saying that the entrepreneurship programme aligns with the goals of the bank, under its “Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy”, aimed at supporting African countries to create 25 million jobs and empower 50 million young people by 2025.
“We are increasingly working with initiatives that boost entrepreneurship on the continent. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme is one of the key entrepreneurship initiatives on the continent, which the Bank seeks to collaborate with,” the bank’s President, Akinwunmi Adesina, said.
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