Positive Leadership

Democratizing Opportunity (with Tony Elumelu)

March 29, 2023 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 5 Episode 6
Democratizing Opportunity (with Tony Elumelu)
Positive Leadership
More Info
Positive Leadership
Democratizing Opportunity (with Tony Elumelu)
Mar 29, 2023 Season 5 Episode 6
Jean-Philippe Courtois

Can democratizing opportunity uplift an entire continent?

Tony O. Elumelu, the brilliant investor and philanthropist, is committed to showing Africa that it can.

In the latest episode of the Positive Leadership podcast, JP learns how Tony is shaping Africapitalism as a springboard for wider economic prosperity.

Subscribe now to JP's free monthly newsletter "Positive Leadership and You" on LinkedIn to transform your positive impact today: https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/positive-leadership-you-6970390170017669121/

Show Notes Transcript

Can democratizing opportunity uplift an entire continent?

Tony O. Elumelu, the brilliant investor and philanthropist, is committed to showing Africa that it can.

In the latest episode of the Positive Leadership podcast, JP learns how Tony is shaping Africapitalism as a springboard for wider economic prosperity.

Subscribe now to JP's free monthly newsletter "Positive Leadership and You" on LinkedIn to transform your positive impact today: https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/positive-leadership-you-6970390170017669121/

JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Hello, I’m Jean-Philippe Cortois, and this is Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, as a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen.


TONY ELUMELU:  I want to encourage young Africans. I want them to understand that hard work, entrepreneurship, resilience, discipline, sacrificing today for a better tomorrow are pathways to sustainable progress and prosperity. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  For decades, the World Bank, and other institutions believe that major investments in infrastructure would jumpstart economies and drive progress in Africa. Now, we know that, although direct investments are important, they may not be as important as impactful entrepreneurs who are purpose-driven and socially aware of their environment. These entrepreneurs can relate to the principle of Africapitalism, the economic philosophy developed by my guest today, Tony Elumelu. Born in the central Nigerian city of Jos in 1963, Tony rose from modest beginnings to become one of Africa’s most successful businessman, leading the United Bank of Africa from a single country banking group to a pan-African bank with subsidiaries in 20 African countries, France, US, and the UK. Since then, he’s been leveraging his philanthropy platform, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, to turn the African landscape into an investment tapestry, pledging $100 million of his own money to provide training, mentorship, and funding for at least 1,000 young African entrepreneurs every year. I was really excited to speak to Tony and to find out more about his leadership journey and his mission to transform African society by creating jobs and eliminating poverty. Delighted to have you on the podcast, Tony, and looking forward to this discussion together.


TONY ELUMELU:  Thank you very much.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  So over 18,000 people from 54 African nations have already taken part in your entrepreneurial program, and calls for this year’s program are open I think until the end of March. So tell me, Tony, are you excited to see what this new round of applications will bring?


TONY ELUMELU:  Yes, every year we advertise, we create awareness for young Africans who are energetic, who are intelligent, who are ambitious, who want to succeed to apply, and this year the application, as you said, has opened. I’m looking forward, again, to seeing us select another batch of successful 1,000 African entrepreneurs.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  What are the trends you see, from an entrepreneurship standpoint? Which sectors of the economy across Africa are being the most represented? And what type of economic and social value has been created through such entrepreneurship?


TONY ELUMELU:  I would say that we’ve seen a lot of interest, people, young African entrepreneurs in the area of agriculture. Over 30% of our applicants come from that sector. And, by the way, every year we have close to 400,000 young applicants from across the 54 African countries.




TONY ELUMELU:  Yeah, the foundation supports young Africans in all 54 African countries, and it’s totally sector agnostic, but agricultural leads. Another sector that leads – comes next to agriculture is ICT, information technology, and then we see people in education sector and then fashion and entertainment, so these are the top four that we see.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  And do you see different shapes of dynamics between north Africa, western Africa, eastern Africa, sub-Saharan African, central African? Are there a few countries you see really accelerating the entrepreneurship motion?


TONY ELUMELU:  No, you’re spot on. I see two features. First is people from eastern Africa, east Africa, they are more stronger in ICT. In north Africa, central Africa, west Africa, you see quite a lot of agriculture, and then in west Africa you see strong interest in fashion and entertainment, so we’ve seen that, but we want to increase the participation of people from north Africa, and what we are doing now is our outreach program advertisement, we try to advertise in Arabic also, so it can reach more of them, because we want to see a lot more interest, especially the female young African entrepreneurs from that part of the world, we want to see them show more interest in what we do at the foundation.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Tony’s foundation is the leading champion of entrepreneurship in Africa today, and 400,000 applicants a year for its prime is pretty mind-blowing. Last year, almost 70% of the beneficiaries were women. In one of the key learning points for the young entrepreneurs, Tony told me his realization and belief, we must have an inclusive agenda that brings women into the fold. It is something that Tony himself understood from an early age, because the first entrepreneur he ever knew was his mother, who managed several small businesses whilst he was growing up. And I want to ask you about a quote I saw where you describe entrepreneurship as being part of your DNA. Your mom, your mother was an entrepreneur, if I understand well. So what did you learn from her growing up and how did that shape the person you went on to become yourself?


TONY ELUMELU:  I learned a couple of things. First is the hard work, because, you know, she was extremely industrious, very hard working, and she imbibed that in us, and I have come to realize that that is a clear path to success, especially enable success, hard work, hard work, hard work, and then that culture, that discipline of saving and not consuming everything that you produce, and I think those are the bedrock of foundations of entrepreneurship, and of course we also learned—I learned about resilience and tenacity, staying focused, being resilient, and being hungry for success. If you’re hard working, you’re hungry, you’re tenacious, you’re disciplined, and you save, you succeed as an entrepreneur.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  That sounds simple. I know it’s not that simple.


TONY ELUMELU:  I know what you mean.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  But those are great ingredients to become I think a relentless entrepreneur in your life, whatever you want to achieve, actually. So, Tony, I love actually it. I was actually just recording a couple of days ago another episode with someone you may know, Mellody Hobson in the US. You know Mellody Hobson is a chairwoman of Starbucks, and she is the co-CEO of Ariel Investments, which has actually launched $1.4 billion African American minority investment owned companies in the US recently, which is pretty amazing and has been really supporting. And, when I asked her the same question, we had some similar responses, so it looks like those are great ingredients for success, and but we’ll come back to that later, a genuine passion as well for financial inclusion, but I will ask you the question a bit later on what does it mean, of course, in the context of Africa, which is a bit different than the US or Europe, for sure. Now coming back to you, Tony, you were the youngest branch manager at the Allstates Trust Bank, and you had a very fast rise to the very top of the bank. You then become I think the country’s youngest banking CEO when you established Standard Trust Bank, and back in 2005, you made history when you led the biggest merger I sub-Saharan Africa at the time, combining Standard Trust Bank with the older and more established United Bank of Africa, transforming from a single country bank to a pan-African institution with operation I think in more than 20 countries in Africa and offices in Paris, London, New York, and Dubai. And, as I said, you’ve been also driving financial inclusion, not just in Africa, even across European countries, so what have been your key learning when it comes to enabling that financial access to millions of people with very different prospects, of course, in Africa versus Europe? And enabling people who could never afford, in a way, you know, either thinking about spending money, earning money, or saving money, so what is your approach you’ve been taking, Tony? What is it working that you’ve seen that can scale across many of those countries?


TONY ELUMELU:  I think I’d like to share five major points, I would call success factors in this drive. But if you live in Africa, you understand that payment systems are critical for economic development. You understand that access to finance is very difficult, and so coming from that background and given also the fact that the number of people who had bank accounts as a percentage of the population was almost insignificant, so we set out to democratize access to banking, access to financial services, and five things drove that experience. First is what I call leadership. Two is purpose. Third one is technology, leveraging technology. Fourth is people, and fifth is process, and, by the way, not in any other affair important, but they are equally important, so leadership, I think we provided the right kind of leadership. We shared a vision, what we wanted to accomplish, asked questions, what we needed to put in place the building blocks that would lead to that success, and that helped us to get there, and related to the issue of the purpose, what is the purpose? We defined it broadly, that we want to democratize access to financial services, access to financial services, everyone knew what we wanted to achieve, and we worked towards that. We shared aspirations with the public, so they held us accountable, and we also shared it internally, so everyone was in sync. And then the third is this of the people, we mobilize the right people, we train the right people, we shared a common vision, all of us, we motivated the people. We rewarded people. We sanctioned when necessary and collectively we made it. And of course we realize that all of this, especially democratizing access to banking in Africa at the time was a difficult one that you couldn’t do manually, and so we had to leverage technology. It was so critical in that drive. And finally the process, you know, technology, people, process they tell us, those things are key, and I have seen it in real life. The only thing I have to do is the issue of leadership and purpose is always good for everyone to know the destination. Very, very important. Being purposeful, helped us to a large extent, and so the experience we’ve seen is what we're exporting to other sectors. People who were in dire need of financial services, but didn’t have access, and so we brought that future closer home to them, and they appreciated it.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  That’s a wonderful framework with those five pillars of [INDISCERNIBLE 00:12:28] financial inclusion. If I understand well, Tony, they travel the world as well. It doesn’t stop at the border of the country, but of course I’m sure you are taking into account the very specifics of demographics, of social economics, of one country at a time which you apply across that framework, right, to make it resonate well.


TONY ELUMELU:  Definitely, definitely, definitely. In all the countries we do business, within Africa, for instance, it’s the same thing, access to financial services inclusion, you know, how do you get everyone or how do you leverage technology in the ATM, or we call it ATM, how do you leverage that, how do you leverage cash? How do you simplify the payment system so that people can use it on their telephone devices to make transactions and make payments? Those were the things we were able to put in place in the early ‘20s, 2000s, which helped us to a large extent to achieve the financial inclusion purpose that we set to do.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  No, exciting development you had, for sure. I’d like now to go back to this—to the core of this Africapitalism philosophy. I think reading one of your previous statements, you said Africapitalism means we cannot leave the business of development up to governments, donor countries, and philanthropic organizations alone. The private sector must be involved in the business development, so where did this idea for Africapitalism come from in the first place, Tony?


TONY ELUMELU:  I started from, as I said, from a humble background, you know, and, in my professional career, I’ve done business in many countries. I’ve interacted with different strata of societies. I’ve done business with individuals, with small and miniscule enterprises, with corporations, with governments, with nationals, etcetera, and I came to realize that, indeed, it’s a word of mutual destiny, okay, and that we need all hands on deck to make progress, especially in Africa, and that, you know, you need the private sector to play some role by being at the forefront in bringing private sector knowhow expertise in institutions, providing solutions to what we need in the world, and also you need government also playing its own role, creating the enabling environment that would enable the private sector to—you need donor organizations, you need NGOs, everyone coming together to create a better future for everyone. You need a realization that what is good for the private sector is good for the government and what is good for the government is good for the populace. You needed that intercession, that point where all of this begins to come together, and we have seen even from studies that private sector could be the best allocator of resources in societies, than government, per se, so bringing all of this together was an observing. When we started Standard Trust bank, for instance, we set out to democratize access to financial services, to make money, but we realized that as we’re making money, we’re touching lives in a different way. We’re bringing, creating prosperity not just for ourselves, but for the community, for all the critical stakeholders. We pay taxes, government have more revenue, we provided support for small and miniscule enterprise that could do more businesses.  We supported individuals.  They got better living standard. We rented apartments for properties for businesses. People got paid. So it’s more like hang on, there’s something evolving here that, you know, we can pursue a private sector interest whilst creating a more prosperous environment in society, and we can do that with fairness and equity. We can do that by as you grow your business, you’re creating employment for people. As you create employment for people, you’re creating a better society. In fact, you’re even creating and empowering people economically and increasing their purchasing power. That can help them even do more in terms of buying some of these services that you create. So the idea came from this, okay, you know, why don’t we bring all of this together? Why don’t we bring all of this together and make government begin to see that private sector is not an enemy, and private sector also not to look at government with suspicion. Unless we work together, that intercession where the goal of private sector and the enablement of the public sector begin to create prosperity for everyone is what we seek to achieve.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  In the past five to 10 years, Africa has been conceptualized as the last frontier in the global economy, a place of boneless economic opportunity. And, at the heart of Tony’s Africapitalism philosophy is the idea that that opportunity is not just for investors and entrepreneurs to be successful business, but also for economic growth to solve many of the continent’s more pressing social challenges. Fundamentally, it is a multi-stakeholder approach to development. Today, lots of corporate leaders are having serious conversations about the environment, social, and governance principles, but it seems to me that Tony was already ahead of the curve. Early on in his career, he realized that enabling financial inclusion was part of a broader social mission to end poverty and generate employment. I’d like now to go back to entrepreneurship. Becoming a purpose-driven entrepreneur is hard work, and you mentioned as well before purpose and hard work, and it takes an extraordinary amount of energy and self-motivation, so I’d like to understand your perspective and to what extent is Africapitalism also a call to action for the African youth to become entrepreneurs?


TONY ELUMELU:  You know, what our young ones need in Africa, indeed every part of the world, is positive role models. Two, we need our young ones to understand that the only way, sustainable way to success is hard work. So if people will know that to succeed in life you have to work hard, if people would see good role models around them, all things being equal, they will aspire to be successful. Let’s start with economic opportunities. Create hope, give economic hope for people, share that wealth you have as business leaders who have accumulated so much. If they see and realize as we do that the pathway to Africa’s automate sustainable development and economic transformation does not lie in one person alone, there’s a collective effort of everyone, it they know that their own ideas can help to develop the continent, chances are they’ll be more involved, and collectively we can create that better future that Africa is intending, that future that eliminates poverty, that future that creates employment, and that future that brings our women into the economic activities and affairs of the continent is what we believe that they will emulate philosophy of Africapitalism or more beyond the philosophy from what we practice, from what we do. That is our hope in the future.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  No, I love that philosophy a lot, Tony. I love the values underpinning that philosophy. You’re talking about a number of key values that you already innovated before in terms of hard working, in terms of resiliency, but also a very important point which is core to the positive leadership philosophy is the way people in a way to succeed want and need to have a positive impact on other peoples’ lives, and that’s, in a way, something you talked about in the way you can measure your success is going beyond how much you can create or accumulate. It’s the way you can actually work and put yourself to the service of others. That’s what we call a positive leader, so recently talking about exactly the same perspective, I had the pleasure of speaking to Paul Polman, that you may know is the pharmacy of Unilever, but importance of unlocking the purpose in yourself and in your company and importance of fostering a sense of shared purpose, so back in 2005, you led one of the largest mergers. I referred to that before, in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa, bring together a huge number of people from different places, different cultures, and today you continue to forge connections between companies, investors, and government organizations. How do you ensure that people are fully aligned and positively energized to achieve those goals you set out to accomplish together? What does it take to build that shared purpose?


TONY ELUMELU:  I think three things I would like to share with the listeners. First is it’s always good to have purpose and drive, you know. Two is good to have what I call emotional intelligence, and three is good to focus on legacy, so let me take you one by one. So purpose and drive in everything you’re doing, whether you want to create a better society, you want to run a business better, you want to have a more impactful NGO. Just define your purpose and then push it, drive it. When you define your purpose, you need your followers to align with your purpose. You need to share your purpose with them. You need them to buy into it. I need to drive it consistently. You need to realize that the path to success in every endeavor is not a linear journey. It’s not a straightforward journey, so you have hiccups, up and down. But still focus, still purposeful, and drive, drive it, so that is first thing. The second is emotional intelligence. And leaders must understand that emotional intelligence is not corporate politics. Emotional intelligence is authenticity. It’s about identifying issues that are important to people and putting them on the table and dealing with them and not circumventing or going around them, so that believe, you know in that understanding and sharing in peoples’ emotions, and without turning into politics or diplomacy, helps. And the third point to me is about legacy, you know, most people commit to some of these purposes, ambitions when they know that it’s for a higher objective, when they know that it’s all about making an impact. The world is in need of people who can help make it a better place, and so, if you are involved, anything you do, whether it’s technology area, finance area, philanthropy area, energy area, just have that higher purpose of making the society a better place, and think legacy. Great leaders always think about how history will judge them, how they will be written, how they’ll be remembered, etcetera, and they think beyond self and beyond family, and that, to a large extent, can be infectious.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  So much of what Tony says about how to go about building a shared purpose as a leader and about driving this purpose is deeply aligned with the Positive Leadership philosophy. It starts with you having clarity over your own mission, your own purpose, and building in a positive energy to connect with others at a deep, emotional level. Next comes this idea of legacy, building together the change you want to see in the world. Tony’s an incredible example of positive leadership in action and a real inspiration. Now I’d like to go back to the importance of enabling local communities, and in a country I think dear to your heart, in Nigeria, one in two Nigerians lives with reliable electricity today. On a good day, I think they are getting three, maybe four hours of electricity a day. It’s a huge problem, an enormous burden for small business owners, in particular. Last year I had an opportunity to have Rajiv Shah, you may know the CEO of the Rockefeller Foundation as a guest in my podcast, and he shared with us this super exciting initiative that you know well, the Global Energy Alliance for people on the planet that they launched at Cup 26 one year ago. For all the listeners, this is a $10 billion alliance of philanthropy, local entrepreneurs, governance, technology, policy, financing partners as well to tackle one of the biggest social and economic challenges in the world where nearly all of the world lives in energy poverty, and climate change is making our planet increasingly inhabitable, so I was wondering how you see the role of the alliance and similar initiatives that you may undertake as well, Tony, in delivering green energy to local African communities and an impact they could have in securing inclusive economic growth.


TONY ELUMELU:  Access to electricity is a challenge for so many in many developing countries, especially in Africa and Nigeria in particular, and I commend all initiatives and efforts that will help leapfrog and ensure that will have improved access to electricity. We can’t make progress as a continent, we can’t make congress even as a world in the 21st century when majority of people do not have access to basic electricity. It’s a major issue, and, as an Africapitalist, and this is a clear manifestation of what we preach through the philosophy of Africapitalism, we have invested massively in trying to improve access to electricity on the continent. Our group, Transcorp, Transnational Corporation of Nigeria has invested billions of dollars in creating 2,000 megawatts of electricity capacity. Today we generate about 600, 700 megawatts of electricity on a daily basis. We could do more, but the transmission mechanism is weak in Nigeria and the continent. But we’re able to supply electricity, almost 20% of daily energy requirement in Nigeria and in the neighboring country, Benin Republic today. This is Africapitalism in action, because we are making money from this, but we are happy to bridge a huge gap, access to electricity is a problem for us on the continent. So I hope that through the coalition of the Rockefeller Foundation that my good friend Rajiv, is leading, that we can all come together, but what I say to all is that we need a combination therapy to fix the energy deficit we have on the continent. It’s not just one approach. We need combination. Because where we are coming from is so far, far, far behind that we need to leverage the abundant natural resources on the continent in tackling this biggest challenge of humanity in the 21st century, and which people on the continent do so far from.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Great to hear about some of the initiatives you’ve been undertaking, of course, Tony, across Africa, with your own groups, which is wonderful. And I think, as you said, it’s going to take a multi-pronged approach. I was actually having on the podcast a young entrepreneur called Emmanuel Ekwueme, who’s the CEO of Ice. Ice is a social entrepreneurial that Microsoft is supporting through our initiative called entrepreneurship positive impact, and one strong point he was making in the podcast is, you know, he explained to me that for those interventions to the solutions, you need actually to include the grassroots component at the core, because infrastructure is not there, so, in his case, we were talking about it’s not just about installing solar panels. He actually spends a lot of time training, skilling scientists, AI engineers, and so on to develop grassroots communities to develop economic capabilities on top of electricity coming to the village or the community. So, coming to this point, I’d love to get your point of view on how do you see the role that obviously you’re supporting is your foundation of young African entrepreneurs emerging from your community to create new sustainable business models for Africa to tackle that challenge, on top of the large organization and Rockefeller Foundation, which are needed as well? What does it take?


TONY ELUMELU:  We often say to young Africans that the future of Africa is in their hands. Our role is to capacitize them, to create the economic opportunities for them. Government role and what we do through advocacy to call on government to create the enabling environment that will enable them to succeed, but the real future of our continent is in the hands of our young men and women, and from what I see through the work of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, where we support these young African, 54 African countries, the testimonies we get shows that they identify with their local communities, and they try to come up with creative solutions that address some of the problems they face in their communities, and I say that collectively the development of the continent does not rest in government alone or private sector alone or the successful entrepreneurs, it is all of us.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  All together, yeah.


TONY ELUMELU:  So each and every one of us must play his or her own role towards the economic transformation of the continent, so, yes, I see in our young ones enthusiasm, the commitment, and the excitement to be involved in providing some of the solutions that we need in our local communities to power Africa to the next level.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  So building on that discussion, last year on the podcast I spoke to former venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, that you may know, the great champion of impact investment, but how to establish global standards when it comes to ES&G? He pointed to the work being done by the impact weighted accounts initiative, the Harvard Business School, and some of the frameworks they publish which show how to measure different categories of impact. So my question is, when it comes to Africapitalism again, the discussion is around social value as well, with all that impact per se, so how do we or do you measure that to be a similar global standard? In other words, to kind of connect the African social environmental context of the reality with the kind of the global world reflecting on ESG? Does it matter and how do you measure that?


TONY ELUMELU:  No, it does matter, because ultimately what counts is the impact that we create, and, if we spend resources and we do measure what happens at the end of the day, we might not be able to face a problem. I tell you, I give you an answer, when we set up the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we realized that money was not everything. So even though we committed $100 million towards supporting young African entrepreneurs, we needed to measure, to talk about measurement. How do we know we are making, creating an impact, and we said to creation of jobs that will create over a million jobs on the continent at the end of the 10 year cycle. Today we’re happy that we created over 400,000 jobs on the continent. That’s measurement. That is the impact. We said we needed to teach people how to manage businesses, and so, when we do a sampling of our beneficiaries, we see that they are embracing this, and that’s why they’re able to help their communities. In fact, one of the eligibility criteria for selecting entrepreneurs is the SDG8 goal. We’re saying how, tell us how—


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  You want to address.


TONY ELUMELU:  Yeah, you are addressing. So it’s one of the things we assess. So, to us, the role of creating a better society for all of us, the role of creating a better future is a collective one, not one person alone can do it, and so the impact assessment measurement is critical for success.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  That was super clear. Now let me last couple of questions, Tony, let me go back to you. In 2010, when you retired from the day to day, because you’re obviously not retired, from the day to day running of UBA, okay, you said you wanted to devote the second part of your life to democratizing the luck you had when you were growing up. So tell us about your thought process on that got you to make the decision, right, to kind of shift the next journey of your life and how did it come and why as well.


TONY ELUMELU:  If you know my history, you know that I’m a product of luck, and I’d be failing humanity if I did not democratize this luck and create more access and opportunities for others to follow. I said that from when I left post-graduate school, getting and applying for a job that I was not qualified for, but I wrote, and I said, if given the opportunity, I know what I’m made of, I know I will succeed, and I got that opportunity. That is luck.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Yes, quite. It’s hard work as well. Hard work.


TONY ELUMELU:  And then I started from there growing up, and each time I’ve had obstacles, but I’ve also succeeded, and that’s why when I preach, I say to young people, be lucky, but be hard working. When hard work, preparedness meets luck, you succeed. So, for me, upon retiring as group manager of United Bank for Africa, I said this second phase of my life is like paying it forward. I need to. I need to help to create, because there are more people also in the world, a lot, naturally, of people in the world, who need just a little opportunity to just cross the finishing line that will come make a significant difference in their lives, and you think of how much we buy a suit that we wear. We buy a suit $5,000, $10,000. That $5,000 can be a life changer, can be a game changer for a family, for a community. And if you read the stories of people who have succeeded in life, at time they don’t need more than that. And so I said to myself it’s not about how much I have in my bank account or in my family’s bank account. It is about impact. It is about inconveniencing myself, taking part of the wealth that has been accumulated and sharing it with people in a manner that helps to democratize luck, creates access to more people, in a manner that helps us to jointly create prosperity what it’s intended of. So that economic hope, drive, that passion to share in what I benefitted from is what drove the whole idea of the final Tony Elumelu Foundation. As I look back today and I interact with these young African entrepreneurs who have benefitted from the program, I’m always very happy to hear the testimony, to hear them say how.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Their stories, yeah.


TONY ELUMELU:  How their own life is improving also through the access to capital that they’ve been able to get through the Tony Elumelu Foundation, with the support of our family, plus also the partnership that we fostered with EU, with United Energy Development Program, with ICRC, with Google is wonderful. This we are actually touching Africans where they need help the most.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  13 years ago Tony had a vision to democratize luck, and today that’s coming to fruition. It’s taken a lot of passion, sweat, and hard work, but I know what it gives Tony in return, because I feel the same thing with my foundation. It is joy. It’s a joy to see young people emerging, developing, being proud of themselves, showing what they can do. It is such a wonderful feeling, and that’s what Positive Leadership to me is all about. You know, the mission you’ve said yourself to transform Africa by creating jobs, ending poverty, requires a great deal of positive energy, which you have. I can feel it since the beginning of the discussion. I know it, having met with you once before. And so tell us, how do you generate, how do you built that energy in yourself? What is your secret? Do you have some particular routines every morning when you wake up or during the days? What is Tony’s every day to drive that positive energy and propagate that to your entrepreneurs and all the stakeholders?


TONY ELUMELU:  I think that first is one is at peace and in communion with our creator, god, because I believe so much in god, and I every day I reconcile myself faith with god, realizing that but for god I can’t possibly achieve one tenth of what I achieved, yeah, or have achieved in life. Two is family. I realize that if you do not have a secure, peaceful, happy family, you can’t go far, so my wife, Awele, a medical doctor, my five great daughters and my two boys, we’re happy, you know, together, and they give me a lot of energy and push. And then, thirdly is I try—I realize that health is wealth, and so to try, and I can see even, Eugene, that you’re not far too. I try to make sure that, as much as possible, one leads a healthy life, eats sensibly, exercises, and also just generally finds time to meditate and do my yoga, etcetera, and then I surround myself with great minds, my colleagues and my friends and family, so great minds, you know, they stimulate my mental state. We say we walk together, we’re family, we’re happy, and so the energy comes from these sources, from god, from family, from my health, and from people around my colleagues. And these people or these are my social fabric and spiritual fabric that helped me and keep the energy going.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  And I can feel how strong is that circle of energy for you, Tony, and it’s wonderful to think about the way you connect with spirituality, with family, with the people that are most important matter to you in your life, professional and social life, as well as taking care of yourself, of course, and your physical shape and mental shape as well, so wonderful. Very last question, to finish with, I’d like to finish with your wisdom or the wisdom actually that a young, successful entrepreneur could teach to his European or American fellows. So, in other words, what are the best hidden secrets of young African entrepreneurs that European or American entrepreneurs should learn from, what would that be?


TONY ELUMELU:  I think it is tenacity and hard work, discipline. You know, there are a lot of things that are taken for granted in advanced societies, in developed societies. I mean, in Africa, for example, talk about access to electricity, you know, lack of infrastructure, and you, as an entrepreneur, you succeed in spite of all of these deficiencies. That is resilience. That is hard work. That is discipline, and that is a ruthless commitment to what you want to achieve and say to yourself, in spite of all of this, I will succeed. And it is that drive and push that makes the difference. And that is what I think young African entrepreneurs can share with their counterparts in other parts of the world. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  Great point to end on there from Tony Elumelu. Hard work, resilience, and discipline, three key lessons those of us in the west can take from the example of young African entrepreneurs. I got so much out of this conversation, about the importance of having a clearly defined vision and how to share your aspirations with others effectively. As Tony says, the path to success is not a linear journey, so it’s really important to stay purposeful. Well, with those great words of wisdom, Tony, this will end our discussion. Want to thank you bottom of my heart for a wonderful dialogue, and I could feel that your positivity resonating across all of the listeners across the world and will give a lot more desire for many people to join as well the same vision you have to serve others and to drive positive impact with many different types of stakeholders in your life, so thank you so much, Tony. It was a wonderful dialogue and podcast episode. Thank you.


TONY ELUMELU:  Thank you, Jim. It was also exciting being on this program with you. And thanks for watching too. This is also part of your contribution for humanity. Thank you.


JEAN-PHILIPPE CORTOIS:  You’ve been listening to the Positive Leadership podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Cortois. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, then tell your friends and please do leave us a comment or a rating. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another inspiring conversation with a global leader. Until then, goodbye.