Harambean Way – A Decade of Impact

Harambe Alliance Portrait

Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance (HEA) is a network of highly educated young African entrepreneurial leaders. HEA was founded in 2007 by the dynamic and charismatic Okendo Lewis-Gayle, to support high impact ventures across Africa, driving Africa’s prosperity through values and innovation.

Since then, each year a cadre of young African innovators gather around a rosewood table in the shadow of Mount Washington Bretton Woods, to sign the Harambe Declaration – a solemn pledge “to work together as one” to build Africa’s future.

Today, the declaration is what unites some 300 Harambeans in the Alliance. On the 6th  and 7th of April 2019, I had the opportunity to meet the 2019 cohort of Harambe Innovators and to witness the signing of the declaration in the Gold Room at Bretton Woods, the very room in which the historic Bretton Woods Agreements were ratified in 1944 which led to creation of the World Bank.

Okendo Lewis Gayle reiterated the pledge to the gathering, which included past alumni and funding partners “to accept our individual responsibility in the realisation of Africa’s potential. It is a personal pledge not to Harambe, but to Africa. If decades from now Africa’s potential is not achieved, the dream of our generation not fulfilled, Harambeans accept to share in the blame, and acknowledge that conscience, not courts, will enforce the moral dictates of our individual and collective commitment”.

It was an honour to be invited to sign the pledge and with the signing, to continue my commitment to working with African innovators. Like the Tony Elumelu Foundation of which I was the CEO from 2014 to April 2019, the Harambe Declaration places great faith in the transformative power of young African innovators: “There exists a large number of skilled, creative and innovative minds…. eager to take their turn at Africa’s helm…. yearning for a peaceful and prosperous Africa”.

During the four-day Harambe Bretton Woods Symposium, I engaged with these creative minds from across Africa and I am confident that these Harambeans are key to Africa’s prosperity.

You can read the full Harambean Declaration in the book titled Harambeans: Ordinary People, Doing Extraordinary Things, along with a collection of stories – stories of sacrifice, leadership, and vision.

The stories examine the lives of young African entrepreneurial leaders in the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance (Harambeans), who have chosen to leverage their skills, networks, and education to address the needs of their communities. Three core values are the distinctive traits of Harambeans:

Servant Leadership – an innate desire to put their skills, networks, and education at the service of their communities. It is an admirable willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to unlock Africa’s potential, an instinctive embrace of the age old principle-to whom much is given, much is expected in return. This commitment can be seen in the work of Harambeans like Oluseun Onigbinde (H2015) who set up BudgIT in 2011, a digital solution that makes public data accessible to Nigerians and enable government accountability. BudgIT was an early recipient of a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation and has engaged over 2 million Nigerians through the platform since its inception.

Deliberate Audacity – an unapologetic choice to face challenges. One example is the work of Adetayo Bamiduro and his team at MAX NG, an uber like moto-taxi company in Nigeria. If you have lived in Nigeria, as I did for five years, you will know that Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest road fatalities in the world. The state of transport infrastructure in Nigeria is unsafe, expensive, and time consuming, which inhibits the growth and productivity of Nigerian citizens. To mitigate safety risks, MAX owns and leases its fleet of vehicles, providing its drivers with adequate training, licensing, and financial stability. MAX is an example of local solution to a local problem. To date, MAX NG have completed over 300,000 trips and have a network of over 500 drivers. They are using mobile technology and digital financial services to transform and power mobility in Africa. With deliberate audacity, MAX NG are now scaling this solution across west Africa.

Enduring Optimism – a sanguine attitude that sees every challenge as an opportunity. It is an optimism that refuses to yield to the overpowering despair of impregnable challenges. An example of an Harambeans enduring optimism is Eyitemi Pope. She took on the challenge to tackle the African stereotypes through the creation of Ayiba Magazine, African telling their own stories and her venture Girls Trip, a travel experience focussed on female empowerment in Africa. She is living proof of what it means when they say, “when you educate a girl, you educate a nation”.

Over the past five years of service at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, empowering over 7000 African entrepreneurs through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, I have witnessed these three qualities in action amongst Africa’s emerging entrepreneurs.

Their inspiring tales reveal the values propelling the emerging generation of young African leaders and suggest that while their ventures may bend to the inescapable whims of the entrepreneurial process, their values endure and will continue to find expression in the lifework of these young leaders. The entrepreneurial journey is long and hard and in those moments of hardship, the commitment to the core values of servant leadership, deliberate audacity and enduring optimism will persist.

Okendo Lewis-Gayle is part of Africa’s historical diaspora. He was born in Costa Rica, raised in Italy, and educated in the United States and Taiwan, and recently graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the inaugural Schwarzman Founder in Residence at Tsinghua University in China and has served as Africa Advisor to the Vatican, Rhodes Scholars, and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Starting in 2007, in partnership with Fortune 500 companies and Ivy League universities, Okendo has overseen the development of HEA’s diverse ecosystem of opportunities aimed at supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of young African professionals with mentors, feasibility study grants, scholarships, pro bono legal services and access to angel and venture capital.

For nearly a decade, Okendo has interacted with African professionals in over 30 campuses around the world and worked closely with the over 300 Harambeans, who represent 33 African countries and are graduates of leading universities in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, institutions such as Harvard, HEC Paris, Oxford, Stanford, Tsinghua, and the University of Cape Town.

These young leaders, known as Harambeans, are translating the lofty principles of the Harambe Declaration into the concrete gains of their social and business ventures across Africa – efforts which have been recognized by the Economist, Forbes, Vanity Fair, China Daily among others. It was an honour and privilege to be invited to the annual Harambean Bretton Woods Symposium, to address the 2019 cohort on the Art of Networking and to witness the signing of the Harambe Declaration in Bretton Woods. I look forward to supporting the young Harambean innovators as they transform Africa.