Being remarks delivered by Chude Jideonwo, Executive Director of The Future Project, at the Reception for The Future Awards Africa honourees, hosted by Tony O. Elumelu, CON on Friday, 16 August 2013 

It was in December of 2012 that our Chief Operating Officer and I visited the offices of the African Union Commission to finalize its partnership with our organisation.

In understanding deeply the challenges for youth in he continent, it was a most productive experience. But what most resonated was an hour-long debate with one of the commission’s directors about Africa’s demographic bonus – an issue we are focused on at our origination.

Ever since Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as Managing Director of the World Bank revealed at The Future Awards in 2010 that Nigerians under 30 constitute more than 70 per cent of its population, the youth space has been abuzz. We even parleyed the confidence of those numbers into founding EnoughisEnough Nigeria, getting thousands of young Nigerians on the streets just before the elections, kick starting a tradition of activism and social consciousness amongst a hitherto

disinterested segment of the youth population – professionals, entrepreneurs, creative, celebrities, media influencers.

In May of this year, the United Nations noted that, with 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world.

Many of now us quote these figures like a mantra: they emphasise the potential and energy of the African youth population. But then, as many of us here are aware, there are also sobering questions: What results from poor education, unbalanced economies and the lack of meaningful employment for these huge numbers? What happens if a majority of these numbers are unemployed or unemployable, and end up 30 and 50 years from now with no social security, no savings, no investments, only poverty?

As the British Council noted in its Next Generation report on 2011, “Countries(with a youth bonus) can only collect their dividend if young workers are healthy, adequately educated, and able to find productive employment.”

Urgently, what we need therefore is a series of interventions and engagements that understand keenly the imperative that our huge young population presents, driven by persons, systems and processes with the will, the resources, and the vision.

Two weeks ago, I had written on my personal blog, about 10 of the people who inspire me, including the next president of those United States Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the immortal Steve Jobs. I also mentioned, of course, Tony O. Elumelu, CON; for the power of his vision.

But, you see – and forgive me, for I will be effusive – I spoke not only of his vision in transforming banking in Nigeria and the continent through the United Bank of Africa. Or outdoing himself in re-thinking healthcare through Avon HMO and Avon Hospitals, building infrastructure through Afriland Properties, driving agriculture in Benue through Teragro, creating a pipeline of entrepreneurs in Tanzaniavia the Mtanga Farms, redefining hospitality, energy and other sectors through Transcorp; or powering Africa through the Obama Power Africa Initiative.

I spoke, beyond those, of the foresight in opening up Africa’s economic space, and tracing a line through for the continent’s youth population.

I speak of the 2-year Blair-Elumelu Fellowship, the inauguration of the National Competitiveness Council, creating the East Africa Commodity Exchange, engaging directly with the next generation of business leaders through the African Markets Internship Programme, or the next generation of policy leaders through the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, of vocational trainings in partnership with the Lagos State government; of investment in Nigeria’s technology eco-system through seed-funding of tens of ideas at the Co-Creation Hub in Yaba.

This is not a focus on private wealth, but a thoughtful and deliberate, sustained and sustainable intervention in the public good – from Kigali to Nairobi.

It speaks to a mind focused on the big picture, harnessing the continent’s economic potential, attuned to the possibilities through enterprise, cementing the building blocks of its economy; laying vital cornerstones that link together to build an African economy with a solid foundation, and cutting across demographics to eventually provide a future for millions here and now, and then to come.

I am a believer in this profoundly important vision, and at The Future Project, its depth and its breadth constantly inspire us. Indeed, if I may be so bold, I see important parallels, certainly not in scale, but clearly in direction; between our humble work and the expansive efforts of the this sprawling empire.

And that is why Mr. Elumelu has been a personal hero even before I had the priviledge to meet him and call him mentor, and why this relationship we have formally kicked off today – including the yearly endowment of our prizes – has a special significance for me, and for #TeamRED.

It’s a linking of arms between, on the one hand, an organisation deploying its impressive resources to re-engineer institutions from top-to-bottom, especially through policy and philanthropy; and, on the other hand, a much younger organisation, founded in 2004 by teenagers with a 20-year vision for young Africans, focused on changing society from the bottom-up.

From our humble beginnings in Surulere, Lagos, and over the past 7 editions of The Future Awards Africa, it has now grown to become the continent’s leading youth-driven platform, a multi-million dollar property impacting millions of lives across Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Morocco and South Africa, going continental this year after visiting 23 Nigerian states, drawing institutional support from The African Union Commission, the World Bank, the British Council and the United States Government, hosting two Presidents, and partnering with state and federal governments in its home country.

Beyond those bragging rights and hard-earned institutional support; we are prouder of the practical impact in the lives of millions of young people through our trainings, our symposia, our town hall meetings, and focus on employability and enterprise support.

Today, for one, we are also proud to announce that, in conjunction with our partners at Microsoft, we are massively scaling up our work with The Future

National Enterprise Scheme (TF-ESS) over a 3-year period. In the next few weeks, Microsoft and The Future Project will be launching an expanded and deepened enterprise and employability portal, as well as offline projects; focused on providing jobs and opportunities for young Nigerians across the country, educated or not; in the rural areas or in the urban centres.

We are excited about these interventions because we know that there is no single solution to Africa’s problems. There are only people who understand the imperative of action, and begin to tackle it from their points of strength.  It is this network of engaged and sustained activity that will not just deliver crucial hope, but will also successfully transform our demographic bonus into demographic dividends.

That synergy is what today is about, as we officially kick off a yearly endowment of The Future Awards Africa prizes by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, and as we are grateful for the support from Heirs Holdings.

To that extent, this is not just a relationship, or a partnership between TEF and TFP; but it is a signpost to the future, and a confirmation that, young or old, like TOE – as he is fondly called – says, Africa can be transformed by Africans, for Africans.

So, this evening, I say welcome to our guests from outside Nigeria. I say welcome to this reception honouring Africa’s brightest and best, honourees of The Future Awards Africa, hosted by Tony O. Elumelu.

But more importantly, what I need to say is – welcome to the future. END