The Group Chairman, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Tony O. Elumelu has said that the Coronavirus pandemic has presented a perfect opportunity for foreign investors to invest in Africa, owing to the huge opportunities that are inherent in the African economy.
“This is the time to invest. Africa is a land of opportunities; There is huge population and there is now the realisation by African leaders who are creating an enabling environment to encourage these investments,” Elumelu said on Thursday, while speaking at a virtual session organised by the TIME 100 Talks on the theme, ‘Empowering Entrepreneurs’.
TIME100 Talks, an initiative of TIME magazine, is a new live event series that convenes leaders from every field to spotlight solutions to urgent global problems and encourage cross-disciplinary action. Bill Gates, Founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Senator, Tammy Duckworth were other thought leaders who also spoke in sessions at the event.
While pointing out that the African continent is well positioned to emerge into a strong digital economy, Elumelu said, there is now more macro-economic stability than ever before, especially given that the young African is energetic, restless and has the ambition to succeed, in the face of difficult circumstances.
“Challenges exist in Africa, but we have huge returns on investments. There is huge population and there is realisation by African leaders who are now creating an enabling environment to encourage investments into Africa. There is no better time to make the multi-million dollar bet I made in Africa, than the times we live in now,” he said in a chat with Kimberly Dozier, a Time Correspondent who moderated the session.
Speaking on the effect that the pandemic has had on the operations of UBA in the last few months, Elumelu noted that there has been a rapid increase in technological embrace and called for the strengthening of infrastructure, networks and digital platforms to support the growth.
“In banking business this whole digital transformation is heightened further by COVID-19, right now, you have less than 15% of our over 20million bank customers that are transacting in the bank. Most of them now transact online, which is 85% of over 20million customers. That is significant. Before COVID, it was about 65%. UBA is seeing an explosion in its digital platforms. Thankfully, the bank invested significantly in technology, and now, they are investing even more so that they can serve their customers better. So, the digital connectivity technical infrastructure should be strengthened in such a way as to aid this explosion we are seeing,” Elumelu said.
He also spoke on how the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which he founded, has been supporting the growth of its entrepreneurs especially in the tough business climate presented by the ravaging coronavirus pandemic.
“Through the TEF virtual platform called the TEFConnect, we are able to engage our entrepreneurs on a day-to-day basis; get resource speakers from all over the world and ourselves, to talk to them and to train them and let them know how to manage difficult moments like this. And I can say that at-least 72% of our 9,500 beneficiaries are hanging in there, expanding their businesses. You know most SMEs typically die after their first year, but we are seeing a different trend, where beneficiaries of our programme in different countries are contributing towards fighting the virus in their different countries. We are seeing the creation of jobs, the one million jobs we set out to achieve,” he noted.
The TEFConnect Community is a meeting ground where entrepreneurship ecosystem players share information and ask questions on their business activity. Currently one million entrepreneurs are on TEFConnect
Elumelu seized the opportunity to call on all bodies and key sectors such as the private sector, public sector, development agencies like the African Development Bank and other institutions to work together to make a difference, adding that “What the world needs today and Africans, in particular, is hope and that to me is what will make the difference but that hope has to be backed by tangibility, some substance so that we can make it work.”
In his submission, Bill Gates sought for collaboration between the private and public sector to end the pandemic, adding “Every country has to think through the right policies to stop the spread, there is need to speed up the process of getting new drugs and vaccines, we need a global response.”
Senator Duckworth who also emphasised the need for funding for teaching and appreciation for teachers, advocated for more teamwork at all levels to fight the pandemic, said, “What the country needs is a team that will step forward to deal with the crisis. It is very significant for me to be on a national stage for other Asian Americans, because we often are the forgotten minority in this country.”
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