African Presidents and global leaders promoted job creation and youth empowerment at the 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Forum held in Abuja. The forum was an opportunity for the TEF founder, Tony Elumelu, and other speakers to reinforce the gains of entrepreneurship on the continent. It was also an opportunity for over 150 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) owners across 20 African countries to exhibit their products and services at the UBA Marketplace, writes COLLINS NWEZE.Abuja, Nigerias seat of power, was agog recently with the fifth edition of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Forum.More than 5,000 participants and 60 speakers across three continents converged for the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs, many of them visiting the FCT for the first time.At the meeting were also 150 SME owners from 20 African countries, who exhibited their products and services at the UBAMarketplace.Five African presidents and thousands of young entrepreneurs were there at the most influential gathering in the African entrepreneurship ecosystem. Job creation and youth empowerment dominated discussions at the two-day forum held on July 26 and 27, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.TEF has been at the forefront of advocating for entrepreneurship as the catalyst for the economic transformation of Africa. The group sees entrepreneurship development as a sure route to wealth creation and economic growth. Besides reducing poverty, it remains the fastest avenue to create jobs and promote Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).The event attracted representatives of the 7,521 beneficiaries of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme in 54 African countries.More than 60 speakers from the public and private sectors across three continents participated in the interactive masterclasses, plenary sessions and debates geared towards generating ideas and defining concrete steps Africa must take to empower its youth and accelerate the continents development.Speaking at the forum, founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Tony Elumelu reiterated the urgency to create jobs on the continent to catalyse Africas development.He said: Extremism is a product of poverty and joblessness. Poverty anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere. If our leaders understand the reason and rationale for our youths to succeed, they will do everything they can to support them.Elumelu also reiterated the role of technology as a key enabler in accelerating development, citing TEFConnect, the digital networking platform for African entrepreneurs launched by the Tony Elumelu Foundation in 2018. With over 500,000 registered users, the hub provides a platform for entrepreneurs to network and forge business partnerships regardless of their location.Giving the keynote speech, Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, commented on the impact of the Tony Elumelu Foundation: By birthing this particular intervention, Tony Elumelu has compelled us to focus on what really matters,our youths and their dreams. The message to Africas emerging business giants is a clear one: How and what can you contribute, like Tony Elumelu, to empowering the next generation, helping them to realise their own dreams'The forum ended with a tour of the UBA Marketplace, where entrepreneurs across the continent exhibited their products, as a pitching competition saw the winner walked away with a $5,000 grant from the United Bank for Africa (UBA).Elumelu has continuously highlighted the essence and power of entrepreneurship development in the economy of nations.According to him, economies of great nations thrive on the strength and capabilities of their entrepreneur-driven Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). He said the development patterns across the globe, and Africa in particular, show the dominance of entrepreneurship in resource mobilisation and the emergence of industrial economy.Global leaders presentThe guests interacted directly with young budding entrepreneurs from across the 20 African UBA-present countries who exhibited their innovative products and solutions at the UBA Marketplace, powered by United Bank for Africa (UBA).Moderated by American journalist and host of CNNs show Fareed Zakaria GPS, the Presidential Debates, which formed the highlight of the two-day event, focused on charting the way towards the eradication of poverty in Africa through job creation.The public sector leaders on the panel included Paul Kagame, President, Republic of Rwanda; Macky Sall, President, Republic of Senegal; Flix Tshisekedi, President, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria; and Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister, Republic of Uganda, representing the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni.Healthcare played a dominant role in the conversations as healthcare leaders in the public and private sectors tackled this theme at the plenary session on The Role of Healthcare in Economic Transformation.Speakers on this panel included First Lady, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mrs. Aisha Buhari; First Lady of Guinea Mme. Djena Kaba Cond; First Lady, Mali, Mme. Keta Aminata Maiga; TEF Trustee and founder/CEO, Avon Medical Practice, Dr. Awele Elumelu; Vice President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Gilles Carbonnier; Regional Director ai, UN Women Central and West Africa, Oulimata Sarr and Director General, World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.The UBAMarketplaceThe UBAMarketplace event which took place on the sidelines of the 2019 edition of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum provided the attendees and participants with a huge platform to get everything in one place.Guests and participants were able to network, while being engaged with a series of entertainment, panel sessions, fashion, fun, comedy, relaxation and shopping.The UBA Group Managing Director, Kennedy Uzoka, explained that as a major driver of employment for the youth, the critical role of Small and Medium Scale businesses in the development of any economy cannot be overemphasised.He said: UBA is a bank that is interested in the growth of SMEs as well as youth empowerment and we have done many things in the past in this regard. We have partnered with the Tony Elumelu Foundation to support youths across Africa who we know are the future of our continents economic renaissance.Continuing, Uzoka said: And so today, we are unveiling Wizkid as our brand ambassador to show our unrelenting support for SMEs and to further create a platform for them to thrive.This is a strong collaboration that will help us as an institution to propel our dream of making Africa a truly self-sufficient economy.He said that with the series of events, UBA has touched base with small business owners and will continue to positively affect the lives of entrepreneurs doing business in its countries of operations and beyond. I think everyone realises the fact that we need to prioritise the private sector. We need to encourage entrepreneurship and the African youths. This is the driving factor and the major reason why we are organising an event of this magnitude he said.The TEF has continuously supported entrepreneurs across Africa. At the second edition of the TEF Forum in Lagos, the TEF had made $100 million commitment to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs in 10 years.I salute those hereour ambition is that you become ambassadors for entrepreneurship in Africa. You are a generation of wealth creators who share our commitment to the transformation of Africa, Tony Elumelu said.We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place, Elumelu said.He also announced partnerships with regional institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and others including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in Nigeria and Cte dIvoire Ministry of Entrepreneurship.Other TEF achievementsTEFs efforts have continued to yield positive feedback across Africa. Its founder disclosed that the government has accepted the TEF challenge restated commitment to partner with it to improve the enabling environment for entrepreneurs in the much-neglected, yet growing, creative industries.The government of Cote DIvoire has adopted the TEF model to identify, train mentor and seed thousands more aspiring Ivorien entrepreneurs while ECOWAS will partner with the Foundation to develop a regional strategy to promote entrepreneurship and Africapitalism in the West Africa region.According to Elumelu, the Geneva-based ITC in and the NEPC will work with the Foundation to achieve its goal of helping to connect one million female entrepreneurs to global markets.He said the Coca-Cola has been doing something similar with women on the private sector side by capturing a million women into their global supply chain.Elumelu said: General Electric is providing skills development for African SMEs; and Microsoft is providing $300 million worth of business software to help the TEF entrepreneurs manage their businesses in a systematic and sustainable way.Large corporate bodies, philanthropists and high net-worth individuals stepping up to help fund some of the great ideas that TEF and other organisations are not able to finance.He also urged governments to make the environment conducive for businesses to thrive, introduce private tax relief incentives and create a singles collection point for federal, state and local business taxes. 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