As many African countries grapple with economic uncertainties, resulting in increasing rate of unemployment, business leaders believe that the sure way to reverse the ugly trend is to train future entrepreneurs that will help leapfrog the continent through enterprise and innovation. David Audu reports on Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, concept as one of the components of such social enterprise initiatives.
As global unemployment rate soars, with the International Labour Organisation, ILO, projecting that an estimated 212 million people may be jobless by 2019, most countries are adopting remedial policy measures to avert the looming crisis and by so doing, mitigating the socio-economic damages to their economies.
Conscious of the negative effects of burgeoning unemployment in their domains, political leaders, businessmen and other development experts are consensual in their views that entrepreneurship, particularly among the youth population, remain the key to guaranteeing the future of the countries and people and laying enduring foundation for their real social, economic and political transformation. They agreed that the only way to achieve this lofty dream is to increase the number of entrepreneurs so as to minimise the increasing rush for formal, white collar jobs by young school leavers and giving them the right orientation about entrepreneurship and its potential for their self fulfilment. Besides, the new emphasis on entrepreneurship development assumes that entrepreneurs will in turn provide employment for others along the value chain. It has also become a known fact that small and medium enterprises are globally regarded as the backbone of any economy. According to experts, when given adequate support, SMEs can spur significant economic growth.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, SMEs have a significant role to play in economic development. According to UNIDO, SMEs form the backbone of the private sector; make up over 90 per cent of enterprises in the world and account for 50 to 60 per cent of employment. “They also play an important role in generating employment and poverty alleviation”, It said. The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, put the total number of SMEs in Nigeria at over 17 million. However, because of some challenges in the economy, a lot of SME operators in the country fi nd it very difficult to effectively play their role. Some of these constraints include competition, infrastructure, taxes, accounting, management, marketing, economic, planning and finance. Also, poor economic conditions, which also imply poor finance and inadequate infrastructure, have been identified as the most crucial limiting factors. Again, poor access to finance at relatively cheap cost is also one of the most crucial problems hindering SMEs to have significant contribution to national output in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that Nigeria as a nation, since attaining independence in 1960 has tried out various economic policies in a bid to achieve meaningful economic development. Most of these policies, some analysts say, are centrally planned and government dominated. The resultant impact of this excessive government domination of the economy left much to be desired leading to massive divestment in the 1990’s by the government. This was done under the economic policy of “privatisation and commercialisation”. The shift of emphasis thus created a challenge of building capable, dynamic and resourceful entrepreneurs to take the baton of economic revitalisation from government. These entrepreneurs incidentally have to fulfi l this onerous task through the establishment of business that could mainly be classified as small and medium scale in nature. However, over the years the task of creating a sustainable environment for SMEs to thrive was a difficult one, and for obvious reasons. One, the dwindling state of the economy has made it difficult for people to save and thereby little capital accumulation for investment. Further, the private sector was long undeveloped making experienced entrepreneur and small business managers scarce. Today, there is a growing consensus among policy makers, academia, industrialists and economic planners, that the development of local entrepreneur and encouragement of the establishment of small and medium scale business is the only penance to our economic growth. With this reality in view, a number of private organisations and individuals have taken it upon themselves to provide the necessary impetus to encourage young people to embrace entrepreneurship.
One current example among others is the chairman of Heirs Holding Mr. Tony Elumelu whose foundation, Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, TEEP, which in its current drive towards this end has earmarked about $100m as grants to about 1000 young people from Nigeria and other African countries to train and mentor in various entrepreneurship projects. According to Elumelu, “African destiny lies with us African to realise”. The project, though with an African wide focus, has about 50 per cent participants coming from Nigeria. Launched in December 2014, the TEEP project is a $100m initiative to discover and support 10,000 African entrepreneurs over the next decade, with a target of creating one million new jobs and $10bn in additional gross domestic product contribution to African economy by the end of the programme. Economic analysts have described the programme as the first of such initiative to be launched by an African philanthropic organisation targeting the entrepreneurial space designed to empower the next generation of Africans entrepreneurs. Areas of focus by the programme include agriculture with 30 per cent participants; commerce and retail have nine per cent, while education and training have equally nine per cent each respectively.
Other areas include ICT, eight per cent, manufacturing, eight per cent, while healthcare and fashion have five and four per cent each. Energy, power and construction have three per cent; waste management, transportation, financial services, tourism and hospitality have two per cent each. While the programme covered 51 African countries, 49 per cent are from Nigeria followed by Kenya with 16 per cent; Uganda, four per cent; Ghana 3.6 per cent and South Africa with 3.2 per cent. At the TEEP boot camp in Otta, Ogun State last year attended by dignitaries and government officials, the need to harness Africa potentials through creating conducive environment and empowerment for Africa entrepreneurs to thrive was highlighted. Vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, underlined the need for African leaders to pay attention to developing entrepreneurs to move the continent forward. Restating the plight of Africa as a continent, which he stand in the throes of poverty and disease, and having the highest ratio of unemployment, and therefore the need for concerted efforts to pull it out, adding that entrepreneurship and handwork are the instrument of growth and development. He enjoined all to embrace integrity, rule of law, transparency and self discipline to entrench enduring business ethics in Nigeria and on the continent in generals. He charged the aspiring entrepreneurs to embrace the spirit of trust, integrity, and consistency, reminding that enduring success comes from respect for the rule of law and commitment to set objectives He commended the Heirs Holdings for initiating the programme, noting that “economies cannot be developed without social entrepreneurs like Tony Elumelu”.
He said Elumelu invoked the daring spirit successful enterprise by investing substantially in the ideas of entrepreneurship of the young Africans. By doing this he is shaping the future of the continent as he empower them to embrace entrepreneur to enable them direct the economic affairs of the continent in the coming years. He said government on its part will continue to provide enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive Acting United States Consul General, DI Gilbert likened the gathering to African Union meeting in Nigeria and described it as the ‘future Africa’. She said it is education that gives people the working tool that will make them productive. Asking how we can do things differently? She charged the beneficiaries to look for a creative new way of doing things to add value to society.
To African leaders and business men, she reminded them of the potentials that lie in Africa. “With 30 per cent of your population under 30, the energy is there and therefore the need for you to get going through right economic initiatives such what the Elumelu foundation has done”. Guest of the occasion, Prime Minister of the Republic of Benin, Lionel Zinzou, lauded the initiative while describing every effort to boost entrepreneur in Africa as the urgent thing the continent requires for growth and development. He said every country in Africa and indeed Africa as a whole need innovative idea which young talents who are beneficiaries of the TEEP project will bring Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who was at the event urged the beneficiaries of the programme to convert their ideas into work that will make Africa proud. Speaking on what government can do to encourage entrepreneurs, he said only government through workable policies and good legislation can provide the level of trust that is required for successful entrepreneurship.
“Nothing is possible without a functional government. No matter how rich you are, without a minimal functional government to provide the basics such as road, power and other infrastructure you are lost.” He therefore urged the federal government on the need “to take a pragmatic approach to policy redemption and investment in Africa”. He noted that Africa with it large population stands at a great advantage if it leverage on the huge demographic dividend but will be a disaster if it fail to do so, while urging African political leaders to boost their economies through appropriate policies and legislation that will encourage entrepreneurship. Managing director Bank of Industries, BOI, Mr. Rasheed Olaoluwa, noted the impact the programme will have on the continent and Nigeria in particular. He said the bank will work with the candidate to help them evolve successful business that will enable them be employers of labour in the future. Explaining further his vision for Africa’s entrepreneurship project, Elumelu noted that only the present Africans can develop the continent for the future, stressing that “Africa needs multiple successful private sector business to make its mark on the world stage”. Advising the young entrepreneurs, Elumelu urged them to imbibe the spirit of hard work, discipline and the need to think long term in their vision. The entrepreneurs would receive $5000 seed capital each to enable them start their dream projects.