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Wisdom from Tony Elumelu and Other Industry Leaders at Columbia AEF

On April 2nd, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs held their 13th annual African Economic Forum, aimed at connecting home-grown solutions to the continent’s problems. Uzodinma Iweala The forum commenced with an impactful and inspiring

On April 2nd, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs held their 13th annual African Economic Forum, aimed at connecting home-grown solutions to the continent’s problems.

Uzodinma Iweala

The forum commenced with an impactful and inspiring keynote held by Uzodinma Iweala, medical doctor, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Ventures Africa Magazine, as well as author of the acclaimed Beasts of No Nation

“The world doesn’t give a damn about you, unless you make it.”

Iweala offered perspective on what we may or may not be doing as Africans—on the continent and in the diaspora—to advocate for ourselves. In addition, Iweala spoke on the construction of a comprehensive narrative about who we are as Africans. We know that Africa is not a country, but does the world know? We know about our, both literal and figurative, gems and jewels, but how much of that is the world privy to?

Austin Okere

Along the same discourse, keynote speaker, Austin Okere, shared with conference attendees important notes on narrative, leadership, and the ever-changing dynamics of African economies.

Okere is Executive Vice Chairman of Computer Warehouse Group Plc, as well as a member of the World Economic Forum Business Council on Innovation and Intraprenuership.

“It is no longer that the big fish eat the slow fish, but that the fast fish eat the slow fish.”

Okere focused on modern adaptations of well known businesses, i.e, Airbnb vs hotels, and Jumia as Africa’s online mecca of a marketplace.

Elumelu's keynote at Columbia AEF 2016

Guests at Elumelu’s keynote at Columbia AEF

Young African MBA’s

The Young African MBA’s held an intimate and informative panel revolving around the reality of entrepreneurship in the diaspora. The panel offered straightforward information that could touch anyone from any industry, through relevant experiences and examples given by the panelists. When asked to provide some insight on what entrepreneurship books won’t tell you about being an entrepreneur, we were enlightened with the following:

“Funding is a struggle, just as is claiming your value and identity as a woman of color making a difference.”

  1. However hard it is to be a Black/African as a social entrepreneur, it is harder for a Black/African woman. Funding is a struggle, just as is claiming your value and identity as a woman of color making a difference, so be prepared.
  2. Building networks before you start your business is key! It will be easier to sell your ideas once you’ve built a relationship based on shared interests.
  3. There is utility in the struggle for funding, as it causes one to innovate and find ways to succeed without capital; so while you’re consistently reaching out, don’t be discouraged.

Arts and Media Panel

The afternoon panel on Arts and Media transparently delved into what it really means to interact with the parties from whom you need financial support, and the compromise associated with that. As an example, panelists mentioned the struggle of quality filmmaking in most African countries that maintains the integrity of the cultured-origin while utilizing the funds of the western financier, a financier typically more comfortable with a different set of actors and portrayal of Africa. Honestly, this panel’s transparency gave opportunity for private reflection, and a new side of the film industry that sheds light on a vital manifestation of advocating for Africa.

Tony Elumelu

To culminate the illuminating event, the esteemed Tony Elumelu was welcomed as the final keynote speaker, emanating nothing but warmth. Mr. Elumelu is the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp, and the founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation—an institution created to stimulate economic and social development in Africa through entrepreneurship.

“The growth in Africa is not expressed in the growth in our people. It is only expressed in GDP.”

With a constant smile on his face, he shared his ambitions of democratizing hope and economic prosperity in Africa. As he answered the audience’s questions after a concise speech, Tony highlighted the notion of solving Africa’s problems with Africa’s perspective, as well as the benefits of thinking long-term as a business owner. He ended emphatically with the importance of leaving a legacy, both in his own life and as his advice to the ambitious and determined forum attendees.

After the wealth of purposeful messages and all the connections made, there is great hope that next year’s African Economic Forum will focus on the collaboration and growth of the rooted home-grown solutions.

Nkem Chukwumerije
New York, NY – Nkem is an inquisitive and enthusiastic believer who’s always looking for inspiration. She thrives in discomfort and believes the journey is worth the destination. Follow her on Instagram @nkemster & Twitter @nkemistry
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