Obama Foundation Summit, Chicago

On 31st October, I had the honour to accompany Mr Tony O. Elumelu to the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. Entrepreneurs, artists, journalists, poets, educators, actors, writers, community organisers, investors, policy makers, curators, and member of the Royal family all gathered to move the “world forward”. In his opening remarks, President Obama described the Summit as a “Collective Conversation to share ideas, sharpen your skills, formulate big plans, and create lasting relationships”.

Everyone has a story in them which is sacred, he told a gathering of over 500, young people and collectively we have the power to make a difference.

The Obama Foundation is a hub, a venue, a network, a place where young people can meet, share, and learn from each other; a platform for young people to thrive, grow and scale up what they are doing locally, because there is not a problem “you cannot solve”, he told the audience.

We shared the Tony Elumelu Foundation story of empowering African Entrepreneurs and welcomed the enthusiasm and support we received to help us achieve and scale our ambition to grow the next generation of African entrepreneurs.

At the Foundation, we are committed to driving the economic transformation of Africa, through structured support to the continents entrepreneurs. In 2015, the Tony O. Elumelu, Founder Tony Elumelu Foundation, committed $100m to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs over ten years. Since 2015, we have supported 3000 Africa start-ups with training, mentoring, funding, and membership to Africa’s largest network of entrepreneurs. We are equipping our entrepreneurs with the skills, networks, mindset, and values they need to succeed as the next generation of business owners. They are creating innovative and disruptive solutions to solving some of the continent’s most challenging problems. Our goal is to create over a million jobs and US$10billion of entrepreneurially driven wealth.

Last month, we organised a similar gathering in Lagos, Nigeria, of over 1,500 African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries and united the ecosystem players, including investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and policy makers at the TEF Entrepreneurship Forum. This gathering resulted in an exchange of ideas and inspiration unlike anything I have seen in my travels throughout the world. The energy level defies description.

The Foundation is catalysing the African entrepreneurship ecosystem and strengthening the pathways for the entrepreneurs, building new partnerships. We invite all those gathered at the Obama Foundation Summit, with social, cultural, and business interests in Africa, to leverage on our network, our ecosystem, and our knowledge of the diversity of Africa to actively reach young people who are making a difference in their communities and countries to join us as we transform Africa through entrepreneurship.

Following a one on one meeting with President Obama, our Founder gave a commitment to forging partnerships with the Obama Foundation as they develop their agenda for Africa.

At the Obama Foundation Summit, I learned so much about how people from around the world are actively driving progress in their own communities. Here are some of favourite moments:

Theaster Gates @theastergates, conceptual artist from Chicago with his feet firmly planted in what he calls Black Space, showed us how he is transforming the raw material of urban neighbourhoods into radically reimagined vessels of opportunity in communities. Consider his recycling of the 90,000 trees, the bricks he gathered from the demolition of a church for the regeneration of a community on the South side in Chicago.

Whitney Kimball Coe, shared her story of rural Athens and what rural community can teach us about life in a rural community. Find your community and join it, commit to practice of life in a community and stay within sight and sound of each other she told the audience.  I reflected on my own life, born in rural Punjab, migrated to the UK at the age of 10, shaped by my Father, community organiser in the Indian community and trade union activist, I dedicated my life to be an agent for change in London where I have lived most of my life and telling untold stories, giving voice to the voiceless through film.

In 10th April 2014, at the age of 58, the universe conspired to bring Mr Tony O. Elumelu and I together. 14 days later, I found myself sitting in the offices of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, in Lagos, to help operationalise his vision to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs!

Three years on, I am still in Lagos and deeply grateful for the opportunity to commit to working in a community which is far from the one I was born into and grew up. Find your passion and purpose and follow it.

Heather McGhee @hmcghee, President of Demos, a public policy organisation, working for an America where all people have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy because as she told the audience of young civic leaders, “our democracy has become as unequal as our economy”.

Just 1% of the population funds the elections, this donor class has different policy priorities. “Who is an American? The demographic changes are the breaking of America, No, they are the making of it”.

At the end of the Summit, President Obama asked everyone to fill out commitment cards to reinforce the lessons and goals we are taking home with us.

My Commitment: Through the Tony Elumelu Foundation, my commitment is to continue to help change the African narrative globally, change the mindsets and champion entrepreneurship in Africa for social and economic prosperity. To support Mr Tony O. Elumelu’s vision that Africa’s transformation can and should be driven by Africans. I invite the civic leaders gathered at the Obama Summit to join us as we transform Africa.

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