The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is one of the largest private philanthropic organizations in the Africa. It was established in 2010 to encourage and empower entrepreneurs, promote thought leadership and create an integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem that drives African entrepreneurship. Since it was founded, the TEF has catalyzed the development of entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa. The annual TEF Entrepreneurship Programme which commits $100 million to training, mentoring and funding of 10,000 African entrepreneurs is the largest business plan competition on the continent.
The seeds that the TEF has sown through the programme are expected to transform the continent –through generating businesses with potential to contribute about $10 billion to stimulate the African economy.
Parminder Vir is CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation. She joined the foundation in April 2014 as Director of Entrepreneurship. She is credited with designing the $100 million entrepreneurship initiative of the foundation. Through Training, mentoring, networking and funding for 10,000 entrepreneurs from Africa, the foundation selects 1000 applications. In 2015, the foundation received 20,000 applications. In 2016, this doubled to 45,000.
Prior to joining the TEF, Vir had enjoyed a 20-year sterling career in film and television production in the United Kingdom working with the BBC Television, Carlton Television and Channel Four. She has also served on numerous boards including the UKTI Asia Task Force, UK India Business Council, Non-Executive Director of Goldcrest Films, Department for Culture, Media and Sports, the UK Film Council and The Indus Entrepreneurs UK. In 2002, she was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to the broadcasting and film industry. In this interview, Vir talks about her transition from the broadcasting and film industry, big philanthropy, and the extent of the foundation’s work with entrepreneurs across the continent. YOU spent two decades working as film and television producer before you joined TEF.
How did you make the transition from media to managing a philanthropic organization?
I made the transition because I was motivated by the founder’s vision, mission and passion for Africa; his economic philosophy of Africapitalism; his desire to institutionalize luck, democratize opportunity and belief in the power of entrepreneurs to create jobs and generate wealth. Innovation and creativity The transition has been successful because the foundation and the programme has given me the opportunity to transfer my skills, share my knowledge and bring experience to a completely new area and a new continent.
You are two years into this now. Tell me your vision; tell me what inspired you to do this?
I am inspired by story telling and Africa is full of the most incredible stories of success, innovation and creativity. I have seen this in the 2000 entrepreneurs who have received training, mentoring and funding through the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme. In the three years, I have lived in Lagos, Nigeria, I have been inspired by the enormous potential I see in Africa especially in the ability of its entrepreneurs to radically change the trajectory of its development. On a more personal level, I feel humbled and consider it a privilege to have the opportunity of working with a visionary business leader and committed philanthropist like Tony Elumelu to help bring to life the largest entrepreneurship programme on the continent.
What are the couple of things that’s become really, critical for TEF to do in the next five years?
In the next five years, our focus is to continue to empower entrepreneurs through capacity development, seed capital, mentoring and networking. To promote thought leadership on entrepreneurship through evidence based research as a guide for policy makers across African governments. Finally, we are determined to create an integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem that promotes African entrepreneurship both online through the TEF Hub and offline through establishing the TEF Entrepreneurs Country Chapters across the 54 African countries.
Can you describe what it’s been like working for TEF and how it’s developed since you started?
Working in Africa and for the Tony Elumelu Foundation has been an honor and an opportunity of a lifetime. Hearing the successful and inspiring stories of the entrepreneurs we are developing is moving. Socio-economic possibilities They are building on our goal of creating an entrepreneurial class across Africa and transforming the socio-economic possibilities of millions of people. Our entrepreneurship programme continues to remain a success as the number of applicants has increased annually and we have been able to meet our target number of beneficiaries.
What is TEF’s’ mission statement under your tenure?
The mission of TEF is to catalyze economic and social development in Africa through entrepreneurship by focusing on three key areas: a) the empowerment of entrepreneurs through capacity development, seed capital, mentoring and networking. b) The promotion of thought leadership on entrepreneurship through advocacy and evidence-based research as a guide for policy makers across African governments c) The creation of an integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem that promotes African entrepreneurship
Do you think TEF has succeeded so far?
Yes, I certainly think so. Through the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship programme, we have selected 2,000 women and men covering all of Africa’s regions – North, East, Southern, Central and West Africa – and all major language blocs – Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone and Arabic Africa. We have provided them with $ 5000 each in seed capital and a 12-week mentorship programme.
What are some of your favourite success stories you’ve worked on since you became CEO, TEF?
There are so many successful and inspirational stories that I have come across by the virtue of my job. We promote the business stories of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs on our website and I encourage your readers to visit our website: www.tonyelumelufoundation.org to read and be inspired. Your readers can also watch the TEF Documentary at: Add Link which chronicles the first year story of the programme launched in 2015. In as much as I would love to talk about all of them, I cannot. So, I will just discuss a few. One of such stories is that of Oduwa Agboneni of Neni’s Autocare. The automobile industry is not an area that one would typically associate with a female, but Oduwa who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Geo-Informatics Technology saw a gap in the auto-care market and decided to fill it. She did not see her gender as a hindrance to entering a male dominated industry, perhaps choosing to live by her own personal mantra and I quote: “Whatever you do, do it with consciousness that something great will come out of it”
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
There are many “proudest moments” but one that stands out is the largest gathering of the 1000 TEF Entrepreneurs in Lagos, Nigeria where we bring together all the selected entrepreneurs for two days of networking, sharing knowledge and building cross border business relationships. Entrepreneurial community On October 28 and 29, the Foundation hosted almost 1,000 women and men from 54 African countries, for the second TEF Entrepreneurship Forum, the largest annual gathering of African entrepreneurs in Lagos, Nigeria. Mr Elumelu challenged all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, multilateral organizations and all individuals who have invested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support the wider African entrepreneurial community. In his own words: We give to empower and break the cycle of dependency. Entrepreneurship is the only path to independence and sustainability.
How would you describe your leadership style and what leadership techniques have you found don’t work for you?
I would be best described as a leader who is bold and very passionate in anything that I do. I have also often been described as a coach. I believe in sharing knowledge, experiences and identifying individual strength and building on it for their own development.