Empowering the African Youth

Breezing through the notorious Lagos traffic in a high-speed motorcade is one of the many things I have adjusted to since arriving in Lagos. On Wednesday 16th November 2016, the reason for a gridlock-free journey was to arrive with plenty of time to inspire and empower the future generation. Along with my colleagues from UBA and HH, we accompanied the founder of TEF, Tony Elumelu, to give the 1ST Distinguished Lecture at Lagos State University, or LASU as it is more commonly known.

The hall was packed to capacity with students and faculty members, dignitaries from the worlds of commerce and representatives from Lagos State Government. In a keynote addressed entitled “Entrepreneurship: The Challenges and Opportunities for Nigeria’s Future Leaders” Mr. Elumelu delivered a message of encouragement and illustrated clearly why the younger generation needs to not only embrace entrepreneurship, and maximize the full potential of their educational career, but also take charge of their personal destiny. “When people are knowledgeable, they do great things in their community and  they do great things for mankind.” This was part of the opening remarks made by Mr. Elumelu, however, sensing that the audience was excited to be in the company of a true African success story, he abandoned his prepared speech and drew upon his personal entrepreneurial journey to illustrate the challenges that entrepreneurs face and the tools required to overcome them. Candidly, he spoke of an academic record that while not 1st Class Honours stellar, allowed him to understand the benefit of a strong work ethic and a singular vision.

“The only way to sustainable success is hard work.” In an era that promotes the myth of instant success and riches this was a sobering thought and an important one to share with the young students, many of them entrepreneurs in the making, the bedrock on which Africa’s future successes will be built upon. During a vibrant and highly interactive Q&A session many of the students revealed themselves to be entrepreneurs already; among the plethora we heard from a baker who was seeking 20 million Naira investment, a Popcorn vendor who had been frustrated by the rising costs of sugar and a potential TEF Entrepreneur who had applied twice to the programme and failed to be selected! At each turn Elumelu gave practical and incisive advice, drawing upon his extensive knowledge and expertise. At the reception held after the event, I had the pleasure of conversing with the Vice Chancellor, Professor Lanre Fagbohun.

We spoke about how LASU has chosen to take a path of encouraging students to consider a dynamic approach to their future careers, and perceive themselves as future employers rather than employees. The Centre For Entrepreneurial Studies, founded in 2011 is part of this targeted drive, and TEF is excited to champion such activities amongst our own networks and partners. It all goes back to the genesis of the foundation and its commitment to creating an entrepreneurial class that transforms Africa through commerce and trade. There is no doubt in my own mind that the integrated approach involving academia, the private sector and government is essential to creating the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Nigeria and across Africa. The future belongs to the students and those younger than them and thus the utmost must continue to be done to equip them, empower them and engender change.

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