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Why Elumelu went to France

“We need the world to pay attention to Africa so that young Africans are not disenfranchised and left behind in this new technology era,” Mr Elumelu said in Paris, France

Mr Elumelu attended the 'Tech for Good' summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France
Mr Elumelu attended the ‘Tech for Good’ summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France

Ever passionate about the rise of Africa, Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu was recently in France to pitch, as he has done many times, the viability of Africa to some of the world’s deepest pockets.

Mr Elumelu, one of Africa’s greatest investors and entrepreneurs himself, spoke at French President Emmanuel Macron’s flagship initiative, Tech for Good summit, which held at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

The summit aims to encourage global tech leaders to think about how new technologies can contribute to the common good, in areas such as education and health.

This year’s edition had, in attendance, the likes of Chairman of Alibaba, Jack Ma, Ken Hu of Huawei, IBM boss Virginia Rometty, and Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi.

World leaders such as Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain, Justin Trudeau and Theresa May, Irish politician, Leo Varadkar and former United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, were also at the summit, which gained commitments from 45 tech giants to double the number of women on their management boards to 30 percent by 2022.

Elumelu challenges world leaders

In his speech at the summit, Mr Elumelu acknowledged the power of technology to drive economic transformation and development. “Technology is our new reality and it offers a world of opportunity and promise,” he said.

He also noted that Africa cannot be left behind. “Africa needs this type of gathering – we are a continent with over 60% of its people under the age of 30 – they need economic opportunities, they need hope,” he said.

Continuing, Mr Elumelu, said “we need the world to pay attention to Africa so that young Africans are not disenfranchised and left behind in this new technology era. We need the world to pay attention to the plight of young Africans so that issues of migration can be addressed in a more fundamental way – by tackling the root cause which is a lack of economic hope. We must address these issues holistically to fight poverty which as we all know is a threat to everyone everywhere.”

Mr Elumelu then challenged the leaders present at the Paris summit to “train and invest in young Africans, and to make capital investments on the continent that will ensure that tech is truly for all. Tech is for good but we must make sure it is for all. These commitments will make the world a more equitable and inclusive place.”

He equally urged them to “prioritise tech for all on the African continent” even as they gather at the next G7 and G20 summits.

Living by example

Mr Elumelu’s call for increased investment and focus on Africa is a reflection of his own legacy. In 2015, he committed $100 million of his own money to identify, train, mentor and fund 10,000 African entrepreneurs over a ten year period.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme has been described as the “largest African philanthropic initiative committed to empowering African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship on the continent.”

“The private sector must be the core driver of Africa’s economic transformation, but this sector cannot attain its full potential if entrepreneurs are left behind,” Mr Elumelu said in a press statement announcing entries into the 2019 cohort of the programme.

After four years, the entrepreneurship has been so successful that it has attracted the support of other international organisations willing to invest in African entrepreneurs.

This year, in addition to the program’s 1,000 entrepreneurs selected annually, The United Nations Development Programme sponsored an additional 745; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) paid for 180; and the African Development Bank (AfDB) sponsored another 1,000 entrepreneurs.

Also, Mr Elumelu is the driver of the Africapitalism philosophy, which holds that the private sector, supported by good government reforms and support, has the capacity to transform Africa.

Last year, he was named one of the most influential philanthropist in the world by a UK-based digital platform.

Elumelu stands for gender balance

In Paris, Mr Elumelu wasn’t just asking for more investment into Africa. He was also calling for the use of technology to “bridge the gender divide in today’s fast evolving workspace, drive a more inclusive work environment and accelerate innovations that will further simplify our lives and make us more efficient.”

Mr Elumelu with Ms. Theresa May
Mr Elumelu with Ms. Theresa May

Mr Elumelu, who co-signed the gender diversity pact with other global corporate leaders on behalf of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), only five percent of CEOs of major groups in Africa are women. “These numbers are staggeringly low,” he said.

However, he was quick to point out the gender balance gains made by some of the companies he has major stakes in.

“In our group, we walk the walk – in UBA, we are currently leading in diversity across the 20 African countries we operate in, as well as in the UK, USA and France, he said. ”31 percent of senior/executive management positions group-wide are held by women, with nearly 30 percent female representation on the boards within the UBA Group – we have female regional CEOs, and some critical functions are female-led – because we appoint on merit – and merit alone. Last September, we announced the appointment of four new directors at UBA, two of which – by no coincidence — were women, bringing the total female representation on our Board to 30%.”

He also noted that similar appointments have been “made at Transcorp Plc, with the appointment of a female CEO for the Hotels and two female Non-Executive directors.  At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we currently have 50% female representation on the board, and a remarkable 100% representation in our Senior Management!  

“Yet, we remain committed to achieving an even higher representation of women broadly in leadership, including representation on Board and Management Committees within the Group. In our flagship Entrepreneurship Programme, we have seen a dramatic increase in the applications from women-run businesses, from 25% in 2015 to 42% in 2019!” ✚

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