The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is to bankroll Africa’s largest coronavirus pandemic economic recovery response plan in 2021.
Announcing the formal opening of the 2021 TEF Entrepreneurship Programme Application Portal on Friday, the Chief Executive of the Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, said no fewer than 3,400 beneficiaries would emerge at the end of the selection process this year.
Apart from 1,000 applicants to be drawn from the 2020 edition of the programme, about 2,400 others are to be selected at the end of the 2021 selection process.
Ms Ugochukwu said the majority of the beneficiaries to be selected this year would-be entrepreneurs of the women-owned small and medium enterprise (SMEs) devastated by the impact of GOVID-19.
More opportunities to women
With this year’s intervention to give priority attention to the recovery of SMEs and young African businesses, Ms Ugochukwu said the decision to give more opportunities to women was because they constituted the bulk of those most affected by the impact of COVID-19.
“Women, who make up the majority of the informal sector in Africa, have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Most of their businesses are SMEs.
“That is why we (TEF) have decided with our partners, the EU, to provide the needed support, in terms of funding and access to capital to help women-owned businesses across Africa to survive the challenges posed by the pandemic,” Ms Ugochukwu said.
She said shortly after the closure of the 2020 application process, the COVID-19 lockdown set in to disrupt the continuation of the programme, with most countries under strict lockdown conditions.
Under such a condition, most of the entrepreneurs who needed to go to schools, offices and business centres to access the internet to take the programme, were unable to do so and had to be suspended.
SMEs as heart of Africa’s economy
With the huge economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Africa, Ms Ugochukwu said SMEs, which make up the heart of the continent’s economic enterprises, were mostly affected.
These enterprises, she noted, do not have the shock absorbers like the bigger organisations to contend with the crisis, adding that it has never been more urgent than now to deepen and expand the work the Foundation has been doing in empowering young entrepreneurs.
Opening the application portal on January 1, 2021, he said, marks a new beginning of recovery and helping Africa to take its place in the global stage as a strong striving economy led by the SMEs which are the largest generators of jobs in the continent.
With the understanding of the development organizations in the 2021 programme that Africa was crucial for the world economic recovery process after the COVID-19 pandemic, the TEF CEO said more beneficiaries be trained this year than ever before.”
The Foundation, she said, would be working with the European Union, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and other partnerships to fund and train the beneficiaries.
“The Foundation has put out a call to action to all development organizations, African and foreign governments to expand and scale up the work we have been doing to empower African entrepreneurs in capacity building and the much-needed funding.
“We do not want to lose the gains made over the last 10 years during which entrepreneurship has been put in the global agenda.
“Most governments know that the SMEs are the one that would create the jobs needed to catalyze economic growth across the continent.
“Now is the time to ensure we catalyze the economic recovery for SMEs hit hard in the wake of the pandemic to enable them keep their heads above the waters.
Now is the time to teach the entrepreneurs the importance of resilience, creativity and education, ensuring that regardless of the challenges, they can look within the community and environment to identify the problems that need solutions and solve them,” she said.
2021 application process
The 2021 application, process, she explained, was different from previous years, where a business plan would be required with the application and those selected would be trained and funded.
While the Foundation continues to build its commitment to train over 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, by partnering with global organizations, it also wants to ensure that many more organizations are able to have the opportunity to get the training and the capacity building they need to prepare to be business owners and job creators.
Under the 2021 process, which would be automatic based on an automated application system, applicants would be distributed into different training segments of beginners, intermediate or advanced they are considered qualified for.
The selection of applicants would be based on a series of business competency questions and segmented assessment.
After their training and mentoring, applicants would be expected to develop their business plan, while top performers would be selected to go for the final stage for the pitching competition to be run throughout Africa.
“It is after the pitching competition that a panel of judges, validated by the Deloitte and PWC would then select those who responded in 2020 and 2021,” Ms Ugochukwu said.
Entrepreneurs need capital more
Emphasizing the strategic importance of capital to the SMEs, Ms Ugochukwu said one area development organizations and governments need to bridge was the gap in accessing capital.
The stall in businesses as a result of the lockdowns and the impact on foreign exchange and tourism, she said took a toll on the activities of the SMEs in Africa, hence the need for governments and development organizations to put down capital to fund the African entrepreneurs.
“We need to move away from entrepreneurship training interventions focus so much resources on training and capacity-building without putting capital in the hands of entrepreneurs.
“The SMEs are the ones to create jobs through economic activities to stimulate the economy and bring the much-needed growth Africa need to pull out of recession as a result of the impact of COVID-19,” she said.
The 2021 edition of the programme is the 7th since Mr Elumelu launched a $1billion commitment to identify, train and nurture 10,000 young and enterprising entrepreneurs across the 54 African countries over ten years.
Since Tony Elumelu Foundation was founded in 2010, about 9000 young African entrepreneurs have been trained and mentored under the programme, which would provide $5000 seed capital to every successful applicant to start business.
PWC in conjunction with the Foundation has just completed an impact assessment report on the programme to be published in the first quarter of the new year to mark the tenth year of the programme.