Africa has recorded significant growth in internet penetration in the last 12 months. Statista reported that the continent had around 570 million internet users in 2022, a number that more than doubled compared to 2015. “Nigeria, the most populous African country, concentrates the largest number of users. These amounted to over 100 million in 2022, followed by 76 million in Egypt and 41 million in South Africa,” it wrote.

However, better access to the internet has yet to translate into comparable rises in the use of digital technologies by small businesses in Africa, states a report by IFC-World Bank research. Less than 7 per cent of microenterprises use smartphones and computers for business, while 71 per cent of these small businesses see no need for them.

Interestingly, while most small businesses in Africa are paying little attention to technology, consumers are adjusting more swiftly to the changes brought about by technology. But the failure to leverage technology will only put many businesses at risk of bankruptcy. That has created the need for more African entrepreneurs to adopt the use of technology in their businesses.

Recently, at the second day of the Viva Technology Conference, Europe’s largest tech conference held in Paris from June 14th to 17th, leading African philanthropist and businessman Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings and Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, emphasised the need for African entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses and embrace technology. 

According to Elumelu, startups must embrace technology to succeed and survive and those who would not embrace technology are building their businesses to fail. “I can say that businesses that fail to embrace technology are preparing or planning to fail. And as entrepreneurs, you should be building to last,” Elumelu emphasised. He made this statement during his fireside chat session theme Entrepreneurship in Africa: Africapitalism.

Tony Elumelu at Viva Technology Conference
Tony Elumelu during a fireside chat session with Maurice Lévy, Chairman of Publicis Groupe and co-Founder of Viva Technology at #VivaTech2023.

Since 2011, Tony Elumelu has actively championed the cause of Africapitalism, an economic philosophy founded on the belief that Africa’s private sector (entrepreneurial ecosystem) can transform the continent through long-term investments, creating economic prosperity and social wealth. Meaning, the private sector can and must play a leading role in the continent’s development. Thus, the business of development cannot be left to African governments, donor countries, and philanthropic organizations alone. The private sector must be involved in the business of development. 

“That’s the thing about Africaptalism. It’s no longer about Africa sitting for donor organisations to bring in money to invest in different sectors. But this is us saying we need to develop entrepreneurs, we know how to develop entrepreneurs, so let’s partner to develop more. We have put our monies into it, so come let’s partner to do this,” Elumelu said. So far, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has secured support from globally acclaimed donors like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Google, the United States and the European Commission, to mention a few.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is a Lagos-based and Africa-focused non-profit founded in 2010 by Tony Elumelu and headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. TEF is a pioneer member of the Global Impact Investment Rating System and is the leading champion of entrepreneurship in Africa. Its core objectives are to empower women and men across our continent, catalysing economic growth, drive poverty eradication and ensure job creation.

“We have today supported over 18,000 beneficiaries with a non-refundable capital of $5,000 each, both men and women. Last year, we funded 70% of women-led businesses and 30% of businesses led by men. The reverse used to be the case when we started our foundation,” Elumelu recounted. “That shows a lot. Our women are being encouraged, they are stepping forward and they are doing very well.”

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