Ambassador Leonard’s Remarks for the Nigeria Tech Summit

Good morning honorable government representatives, innovators and entrepreneurs, and friends in the media.  I am so pleased to welcome all of you to the 2021 Nigeria Tech Summit.

Nigeria made global headlines for a multitude of reasons this year, but I am proud to see that a significant amount of this coverage focused on how Nigeria is a true leader in the technology and innovation space.

According to business consultant and venture capitalist Maxime Bayen’s (buy-enne) business database Africa: The Big Deal, since the beginning of 2021, Africa-based tech startups have raised more than $2.9 billion.  Nigerian startups, which are creating new products, services, and platforms, raised $1.7 billion of this total or about 60% of it.  Africa boasts a total of seven tech “unicorns,” or companies valued at over $1 billion.  I find it very exciting to note that three of these companies — OPay, Flutterwave, and Interswitch – are born and bred of Nigerian talent.  We firmly believe that Nigeria, with the proper support, has enormous potential to do even more.

At the U.S. Mission in Nigeria, we pride ourselves on building, celebrating, and accelerating entrepreneurship.  Throughout the year we amplify the work of innovation stakeholders by providing exposure, partnerships, training, and conferences like this Nigeria Tech Summit.  The U.S. Mission will continue to do its part to support Nigeria’s burgeoning tech scene and encourage the creation of the enabling environment necessary to foster a sector that will, in turn, launch still more global businesses and contribute to a more prosperous future for all its citizens.

Science, technology, and innovation are cornerstones of the U.S. economy, and the United States has a long-established global expertise and leadership in the digital space.  Strengthening these areas can foster open, transparent governance throughout the world. By implementing capacity-building programs in emerging markets that train young women and men to become science and technology entrepreneurs, our efforts strengthen innovation ecosystems around the world.  These efforts have real economic impacts and propel prosperity in Nigeria, the United States, and beyond.

I am proud of the United States’ many contributions to this necessary transfer of skills and mentoring here in Nigeria.   For example, I began December by traveling to Ife to meet with graduates of the Academy of Women’s Entrepreneurs.  This program combines mentoring and networking opportunities with a curriculum developed by one of the top U.S. business schools:  Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.  We have seen over 550 women entrepreneurs graduate from this program since its inception in 2019.  These women continue to engage each other and share business successes in a wide range of ventures, from book creation to food products, consultancy to artisanal production.  We look forward to mentoring future cohorts.

I also want you to know that our commitment and support to such key populations within Nigeria was not hindered by the pandemic.  We continued to recruit and promote Mandela Washington Fellows.  We were thrilled this October when Vice President Osinbajo took time to engage our most recent cohort of Nigerian fellows, encouraging Nigerian youth to get involved in political processes and effect change in their communities.  More than 250,000 Nigerians engage with the United States through the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI, Network.  Do you know that YALI offers eight free on-line courses related to entrepreneurship?  Just this week, we introduced a new course, “Digital Marketing for Entrepreneurs.”  Targeted to help online businesses, this course addresses personal branding, website design best practices, and development and execution of a digital marketing strategy.  These digital skills have real-world impacts for entrepreneurs and small businesses across sectors.

In addition to training and networking opportunities, I would be remiss if I did not mention important programs that the United States supports to strengthen small businesses through competition and exchange.  In April 2021, USAID Nigeria together with the USAID Exploratory Programs and Innovation Competitions (EPIC) Team launched a COVID-19 Food Security Challenge.   Thirty-two small and medium enterprises from 33 of Nigeria’s states won and received awards totaling $4 million in funding and technical assistance to implement their solutions that improve food security here.    We know that some of the Startups that participated in yesterday’s bootcamp focused on addressing this challenge, and we encourage you to keep reaching.

In 2021, we were also proud to see Nigerians among the eight finalists of the U.S. – Africa Tech Challenge.  For 10 years, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative has empowered science and technology innovators in over 130 emerging economies.  GIST enables U.S. experts and businesses to make direct connections with the most promising global entrepreneurs and innovators.  Nigeria’s Farm Speak and Babymigo (baby me-go) came in the top 25 of this year’s GIST catalyst competition.  Our exchange programs such as Techwomen, Techgirls, and Study of the U.S. Summer Institutes for social entrepreneurs, all include a business and entrepreneurship track.  These are just a few of the many ways we support and promote Nigeria’s vibrant entrepreneurial spirit.

As you know, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Nigeria last month, and during this visit he was struck by Nigeria’s remarkable spirit of innovation.  He was eager to get a firsthand glimpse of some of the incredible innovative work that is being done.  We were excited to highlight a market where cutting-edge, tech-enabled companies such as U.S. medical logistics drone delivery company Zipline and U.S.-supported Nigerian renewably energy firm Havenhill Synergy can push new boundaries and grow.

Of course, just as digital technologies create exciting new opportunities – particularly for a young, entrepreneurial, and innovative population like Nigeria’s – these technologies also introduce new threats and risks of misuse.  As our businesses and indeed our lifestyles increasingly move onto digital platforms, it becomes ever more important to establish an internet that is open, interoperable, secure, and reliable. We know the importance of access to information.  We understand the role that social media plays in the livelihoods of entrepreneurs and the acquisition of talent.  And we have witnessed the disruption that hackers can cause to critical infrastructure, the human costs of ransomware attacks on hospitals, and the consequences when foreign interference undermines democratic processes.  You, armed with the technological know-how and the communication skills to share with civil society, government officers, and the private sector, will be the drivers of solutions and the creators of the tools necessary to prevent such threats and protect unsuspecting citizens and businesses.

I would like to thank the Global Startup Ecosystem for their partnership in powering the Nigeria Tech Summit 2021.  I express our congratulations to the finalists from across Nigeria that applied for and were selected for the annual Startup Lab Bootcamp Accelerator, and I wish you the best of luck in this afternoon’s competition.

I invite you all to engage with the stakeholders in this room, network with the global delegates joining us virtually from across Nigeria and around the world, and amplify the stories shared with you here today.  We appreciate the opportunity to engage with you, learn of your experiences, and find ways to tap and shape new resources.  Technology will continue to ignite change in our world, and we look to our entrepreneurs to leverage the power of its capacity to make a stronger, more secure Nigeria, a more prosperous Africa, and a more interconnected world.

I wish you a most productive afternoon, and a safe and joyous holiday season. Thank you.