I am writing from Paris, at the grand opening session of MEDEF Summer University 2016, where I’ve just led a lively discussion around the France-Africa relationship alongside Gary Coombe, President/CEO of P&G Europe, and Pierre Gattaz, President of MEDEF.
My contributions to the panel emphasized the need for stronger commercial and business partnerships between France and all of Africa – not just the Francophone region but expanded to Anglophone Africa. The 21st century approach to development prioritizes trade and investment, and France as a longstanding friend of Africa, should be at the forefront of this movement.
Africa’s demographic dividend, its youth bulge, rising middle class, growing GDP/capita, stabilizing macroeconomic environment and increasingly pro-business governments, are important factors that signal a market ripe with investment opportunities and attractive returns.
As an active investor, I make bold to say that there is no other place that offers return on investment higher than in Africa. As Chairman of United Bank for Africa, a bank with a long history of 70 years on the continent, we have aggressively expanded our operations to 1000 branches across 19 African countries, to take advantage of these opportunities. UBA serves 14 million Africans, facilitates trade and payments across the continent, and also supports SMEs – including women and youth – to actualize their economic aspirations.
Similarly, the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, was created to invest in Africa’s most valuable resource – its talented youth. Africa’s entrepreneurs are honest, hardworking and enterprising. The Foundation has committed $100m to empower 10,000 start-ups over a period of ten years.
Through this commitment, we are building economic hope for young Africans as we empower them to achieve their goals. We support entrepreneurs not because we have a lot of money, but because we believe in creating impact and leaving behind a legacy. I invited French small and large businesses to join us to fund, and mentor this new generation of African entrepreneurs by forging partnerships with them. It is true that France has been a long-term ally of Africa, but it is time to deepen this friendship.
Earlier in the year, the French President led a delegation of 50 French business leaders to Nigeria. Shortly after that, I was invited by the French Senate to speak at the Senate House about business investment opportunities in Nigeria. While these events are commendable, today I charged the French government to actively support MEDEF and similar institutions that broaden the scope of trade and economic relations between Africa and France, and identify ways for the French business community to support African entrepreneurs.
In my closing remarks, I advised government officials and policymakers, as well as small business owners all over the world:
Advice for government: Government needs to realize that what is good for private sector is good for society. Private sector is well placed to assist government achieve its mandate. If private sector succeeds, it helps government to create more jobs, enhance security, and improve living standards. A hopeful, employed, and fully engaged citizenry reduces the threat of insecurity, just as general standard of living improves with fuller employment. Unfortunately, it’s taking government a long time to understand this.
The Sustainable Development Goals now recognize the role of the private sector in accomplishing its developmental objectives. Policymakers must strive to create an enabling environment that allows entrepreneurs to succeed. Their success is government’s success.
Advice for entrepreneurs: Dream dreams; dream big, and work seriously to make your dreams happen. You need a combination of discipline, hard work and sacrifice. The journey of entrepreneurship is a long term one whose path is not linear. You will encounter difficulties but you must remain focused; your consistency will help you in the long run to succeed.
At Heirs Holdings, our core values “HEIRS” testify to this advice: Hard work, Emotional Intelligence, Integrity, Resilience and Synergy. In business, especially as entrepreneurs, you must be extremely resilient to succeed.
The world economy is going through difficult times, but continue to think big, do not be constrained by today’s challenges. When you encounter short term difficulties, stay on.