INTERVIEW! Why govts need to promote entrepreneurship more than entertainment- A.Y.E President

President Africa's Young Entrepreneurs, Mr
 Summy Smart Francis

The largest entrepreneurship network in the world, Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs unites and empowers young entrepreneurs in Africa to network socially and financially, thereby developing a generation of outstanding entrepreneurs. Their collective intellectual capital develops market-leading businesses and networks, to play a key role in raising African prosperity. A.Y.E business network is also committed to social entrepreneurship, by people who are passionate about addressing a range of social and environmental challenges, and by people inspired by their vision.

In this exclusive interview with BRANDINFO Publisher, Oluwagbenga Bankole, A.Y.E President Mr. Summy Francis Smart talks about all what you need to about 2017 edition of the conference, contributions of entrepreneurs to Nigeria’s GDP and some other typical issues. EXCERPT

Unarguably 2016 edition of the yearly conference was indeed a success. Considering the success, what has been the feedback you have been getting from people, particularly the entrepreneurs who were empowered?

Thank you very much for the question and for having me on this platform. The 2016 edition was quite a success indeed. The turnout was incredible as expected. We were able to achieve the blend of entertainment, entrepreneurship and glamour. A lot of things were actually trending online regarding the success of the event looking it from humor that was projected from the conference.  Most importantly, entrepreneur is about making impact which is the core objective of the programme and it has been a success so far. We are just a year away, we have done a section of the business progressive system. One has happened this quarter, the other one will be happening in the next quarter. We monitor those that were empowered last year and checked how far they are with the business. The first stage of the monitoring is just implementation. That is if they have used the money for what they said they want to use it for. And I can emphatically tell you that 80 percent of those who were given the grant as implemented the fund, according to the report that came to me. Close to 15 percent have not been visited or probably visited but had not being at the venue. It is just logistic issue. We are spread across the country. Sometime we travelled so far to inspect or check on the candidate, but if the candidate is not present or available at the point of his business there is nothing we can do.

The session is still going on for those who are under the mentorship programme. The final section will be held in January. For those who are in for the equipment, all of them have received the equipment. I think the second stage of the PPA is the one that has given us progress report in terms of what has been achieved. Because you don’t expect to fund the person today and get fund tomorrow. We are conducting the second PPA section in February2018. We will be getting more comprehensive report on profit, business expansion and employment opportunities that have been created.

Recently you entered into partnership with Airopay. What is the purpose of the partnership?

We truly entered into partnership with Airopay but unfortunately the partnership is not the one to celebrate. It is not one we can even speak about because we realized that the CEO of Airoplay was actually blabbing in the sense that he allowed us to do a press conference under the camouflage of looking for free and cheap exposure and using the initiative and lives of entrepreneurs to get undeserved publicity. In this case he was pledging sponsorship or signing an MOU to sponsor entrepreneurs meanwhile he was not fulfilling his MOU. The matter is in the hand of our legal partners. We will rather not let it distract our objective and stay focus with our vision rather than chasing after him or going to court. AYE organization is not a company, it is a vision. There are people’s lives involved. It is to raise the hope of entrepreneurs and empower them. We are highly disappointed with Airopay. We hope that they have changed because we discovered that they have been doing that with other companies.

This year’s edition of the conference is around the corner. What should the world expect?

AYE has been known for bigger and better. And that has always being the most challenging factor even from my position as the President of the organization. This is because if you are doing something good people will be looking for something better. People are expecting more empowerment, platform and entertainment from us. In the planning process of this year’s programme, we have looked deep into making sure that we cater for a larger audience and at the same time invite big dignitaries and people that will be of influence to the lives of the entrepreneurs. The world should look forward to see business names and policy makers being present on that day. Our patron and some state governors will be present.

Cuts-in: Can you mention some of them?

We are expecting Mrs. FolorunshoAlakija, Chief OlusegunObasanjo and the owner of Shoprite. This is a powerful one because he is someone a lot of people have been looking forward to meet. Infact a lot of franchise owners have not met with him before. We are also expecting people like AlhajiAtikuAbubakar, Senator Ben Bruce, Peter Obi, Governor of Delta and Borno state among others.

How many entrepreneurs are you empowering this year?

We are looking at empowering 500 entrepreneurs. You know everything depends on number of applications that we receive. Even if we want to do better, we cannot because of that empower any type of entrepreneurs. We will rather empower the 500 best entrepreneurs in the country. It demands some resources and commitments. We are still empowering 500, we intended to expand it before, but after studying applications that came in we decide to still go for 500.

What is the value of entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

I don’t think entrepreneurs are celebrated enough in Nigeria. The governments are yet to understand the value and impact of entrepreneurs in the country. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of every economy. Nigeria has not paid enough attention to entrepreneurs development in the country. We need to increase entrepreneurship education and advocacy.  We need to create more awareness. Programmes like AYE initiative and many others that have to do with entrepreneurship should be supported and given special attention. We just thank God that at least we have penetrate the screens of Nigerians and Africa through the reality show. This is basically because we need to promote entrepreneurship more than entertainment because entertainment will make us laugh, entrepreneurship will add to the country’s GDP. It’s either to choose to laugh or make profit.

What are the policies you want Federal Government to put in place to help entrepreneurship in Nigeria?

They know what to do. I don’t think at this age we are, I will be part of those who will be saying I want the government to do this, or do that. We have launched pass that stage. The government knows its work, they should just do it

What is your advice for entrepreneurs in the country considering the current state of the economy?

My advice to them is that they should let their vision drive them. They should let their passion keep them focus. They should let their destination be in front of them and they should always have it at the back of their mind that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The application of all these will keep them going. And when they keep going, success is inevitable.

Where are you getting support from? Is it from Bank of Industry or commercial banks?

Our support system is very easy. It is a formula that is so easy I give to everyone. The network understands the way the continent function and has decided to create the brand power and brand personality. Our brand power is our network and membership. It is this brand power that makes us to be attractive. You cannot have a network with over 12 million members and not be attractive. You will definitely be attracted to financial institutions or those who need that kind of database to patronize their services.  Our personality is our members patronage. When AYE members are doing something everyone wants to support. Those are the two key things that every corporate organization wants.

We don’t have ask for grant, aid or sponsorship, what we do is barter exchange. We understand that the charitable mind of Africa or Africa corporations is not as expressive as the western world. So we don’t bring you charity, we bring you business. We tell them that if they do what we want this is amount of customers they will get from us. This is amount of awareness they will get on our platforms.

How many members do you have last year compare to now that you have 12million members?

We must say that the rapid growth of our membership was basically between the year 2013 and 2014. And that was when we launched the AYE online platform which we deliberately spread across the continent. The office in Johannesburg, South Africa is a deliberate attempt to spread the campaign. That was what caught the attention of a lot of youth in the continent.

From the last annual report we got the increase from last year to this year across the continent and it was about 435,000 new members. With the introduction of the reality TV show, which is now on nine TV channels, we know the annual report for this year will definitely be higher far more than last year.

When this initiative started, I know that you would have set a goal or some goals for yourself. Have you achieve majority of those goals?

When this initiative started, I didn’t set timelines to the goals. What happens at times that shocks me and a lot of team members is that there are so many things we have written even in the constitution that are now coming to reality even without given them timelines. The reality show was written long time ago. The name, the slogan and how it will be done was written long time ago. The screening exercise, the empowerment programme, the business audition and the mentorship programme among everything was written sometimes ago. A lot of things were written that are still not done. The beauty is that a lot of them have come to reality and this is making me to say that I have achieved my goal. If I look at the list of the thing I have written, I can boldly say that almost 60 percent have been done. Now we are laying down the foundation of the organization.

Moving forward to year 2018, what should we be expecting from AYE?

What you should look out for is a more interesting one. There is a plan to have reality TV show in some countries in Africa. So that the same way you have watch Nigerians we can watch Ghanaians, South Africans and Kenyans pitch their ideas.
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