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African Foundation Promotes Private Sector’s Role in Development

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Ricci Shryock

In 1997, Nigerian Tony Elumelu and his business partners bought an unsuccessful bank for five million dollars. Eleven years later, they had built it into a multi-billion dollar business, with 20,000 employees spread throughout Africa.

This is the story that the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Dr. Wiebe Boer, wants to tell his colleagues at an international philanthropy conference in Washington this week.

“The way we look at it is, look, the best way that Africa can develop, it has be private-sector driven,” said Boer. “With that five million, look at what it got you?”

He said he plans to emphasize the importance of what foundation creator Tony Elumelu calls, “Africapitalism,” which he defines as “the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that create economic prosperity and social wealth.”

But Boer added the public sector plays a crucial role in creating policy that breeds a business-friendly environment.

And he said his group is also trying to shine a spotlight on the importance of African partners in building up the continent.

“We’re trying to raise the profile of Africa indigenous philanthropy as a way to encourage other high net-worth Africans to consider setting up these kinds of philanthropies as well,” said Boer.

Boer said Nigeria is in prime position for this type of integrated public-private investment to have a major impact. “Nigeria has so underperformed for so long and just has so much potential that that’s really where growth is going to be driven from.”

Boer is attending the annual three-day conference of the Global Philanthropy Forum, which aims to create a community of internationally-focused donors and investors.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation was created in 2010 and works to identify and address systemic challenges that inhibit African entrepreneurs.

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