The Civic Center, Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue, VI, Lagos
Good afternoon everyone, all protocols observed.
This is an exciting time to be in Nigeria. You had a successful election, historic in that it marks the first democratic transfer of power from one party to another and the first transfer of power from an incumbent president to the opposition in more than 50 years in a largely peaceful and well-organized process. As young people, you played a pivotal role in the outcome. As President Obama’s personal representative to Nigeria, I am here to tell you that the United States remains deeply committed to working with the people of your marvelous country, especially the youth. Before I came to Nigeria, experts told me that Nigeria’s most important resource was oil and gas. I don’t agree. I think Nigeria’s most important resource is young Nigerians!
I am delighted to address such a large group of students from 40 universities across the country. You all deserve a big round of applause for your nomination for the 2015 Enactus National Competition. The fact that you have made this nomination list means that you have worked hard with your team for months to produce successful Enactus projects. Let me congratulate you on your achievements.
I’d like to commend Enactus Nigeria for helping university students to channel their energies to create community development projects that put people’s own ingenuity and talents at the center of improving their livelihoods. The Enactus organization has since 1975 harnessed the talents of university students to explore and develop business acumen, including in the United States. Some of the worldwide board members are American heads of major companies such as The Hershey Company (the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America), Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup, and Walmart. These companies produce products that most youth around the world consume and they are investing in Enactus to build future business leaders. This is a good example of Corporate Social Responsibility. Let me encourage all of you to continue honing your business and entrepreneurial skills so that you don’t end up being a government bureaucrat like me (that’s a joke!).
You are the promise of this great country. Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Your middle class is expected to grow to more than 50 million consumers in the near future. With millions of mobile, surging access to the Internet, and burgeoning entrepreneurs, Nigeria is poised for new prosperity that will unleash more growth. To support this economy, you need to acquire the education and skills required. In this information age, jobs can flow anywhere, and they typically will flow to where workers are literate and highly skilled and online. You government and the private sector must work together to invest in education that support a robust economy. When this happens, Nigerian businesses will be able to increase trade within Africa and the rest of the world.
As President Obama said when he address the African Union recently, “Africa is on the move; a new Africa is emerging.” In the coming decades, the African population will double to some two billion people and many of them will be even younger than you. This could bring tremendous opportunities as these young Africans harness new technologies and ignite new growth and reforms. It’s a demographic edge and advantage – but only if these young people are being trained and can aspire to compete for jobs to further expand the economy. History shows that the nations that do best are the ones that invest in the education on their people. And yes, particularly girls and women who comprise 50 percent or more of the population in your country.
In my travels, I have visited universities and interacted with faculty and students. I have interacted with men and women in our Young African Leaders Initiative and they often tell me they are working hard to change the current paradigm of hopelessness. Nigerians are ardent social and business entrepreneurs. In addition to having full-time jobs, they have NGOs that are involved in giving back to communities, villages, and churches and mosques. College graduates are creating innovative businesses and offering employment opportunities as their businesses gradually grow. Young people are tapping crowd funding (I’ll pretend I know what that is) for start-ups and to grow their businesses. Women are turning to commercial agriculture and offering employment to rural residents. The opportunities are immense but focus, tireless work, and resilience are needed to succeed and you should prepare yourselves.
Over the past three years, the U.S. government has pursued long-term engagement with young African leaders. The Department of State has supported the initiative through a series of high profile engagements with youth leaders.
President Obama’s Spark initiative represents the best work being done by the U.S. Government to advance entrepreneurship around the world. Launched by President Obama in 2009, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) is a preeminent annual gathering that links emerging entrepreneurs from around the world with leaders from business, government, and innovative organizations. GES showcases the latest trends, training, and technology available to emerging or aspiring entrepreneurs, along with providing a powerful platform for policy discussions with government leaders.
Past summits, held in the United States, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Morocco, have inspired numerous initiatives, forged collaborations across countries, and helped to increase economic opportunities, particularly amongst marginalized groups. At the GES in Morocco, a goal was set to generate $1 billion in investment for emerging entrepreneurs around the world. And just one year later, at the Nairobi GES which took place on July 25 and 26, President Obama announced that the goal was surpassed. More than $1 billion in new commitments was secured from banks, foundations, philanthropists who are committed to supporting young entrepreneurs around the world
Another initiative that has helped young innovators is the Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST), which creates a network of entrepreneurs, angel investors, mentors and others to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems in 86 emerging economies across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. GIST empowers young innovators through networking, skills building, mentoring, and access to financing to develop startup solutions that address economic and development challenges. GIST includes an interactive virtual network with online programming, a global annual Technology-Idea (Tech-I) competition, and startup boot camps. Two of your compatriots won top awards at the recent Nairobi GES. And in June in San Francisco, four Nigerian girls (high school students) from Rivers State made us proud by winning the global 2015 Technovation first prize which included $10,000. Their project focuses on health and waste management, an issue that is a major problem in Nigeria.
You hopefully have heard about the African Young Leaders Initiative (YALI). The United States Government is investing in the next generation of African leaders, and has committed significant resources to enhance leadership skills, bolster entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders with one another and the United States. The initiative includes the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which brings 500 of Africa’s most dynamic young leaders to the United States each year for six weeks of leadership training, networking, and mentoring at top U.S. universities. Last week, President Obama doubled the number to 1,000 and added a component for a Young American Leaders Program who will come to Africa to for exchange programs.
Four Regional Leadership Centers being established in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa, as part of YALI, will improve the availability and quality of leadership training programs and professional development opportunities for young African leaders. In addition to in-person training and opportunities, the YALI Network provides more than 140,000 members with virtual resources and vibrant physical spaces that equip young African leaders with the skills and connections they need to improve their communities and their countries.
We have placed special emphasis on women’s empowerment. The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that targets women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa to promote business growth, increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), create better business environments, and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities. Launched in July 2010, the initiative identifies and builds networks of women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa poised to transform their societies by owning, running, and operating small and medium businesses.
The intent of these multi-year initiatives is to advance U.S. understanding of and access to Africa’s youth population and enrich their potential to contribute to economic, political, and social development in Africa. These initiatives are unique because they enjoy high-level U.S. government engagement, a whole-of-government approach, and an emphasis on public/private partnership. So, it is in this spirit that I am here to address you.
Young people are at the heart of many of today’s great strategic challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism to building sustainable democracies. Nigerian youth need to be at the forefront of the movement to ensure that merit and substance are the deciding factors in electoral politics and that good governance becomes the clarion call of accountability. High standards of service and excellence in execution should be your watch words. I encourage you all to fully exploit your creative abilities and to dream big and forge ahead with these dreams for a better and brighter future.
You have been here for two days showcasing your community projects and there will several national winners and one team will emerge to go to the Enactus World Cup competition in Johannesburg, South Africa. You have done well and I want to encourage you to keep up the good work, even if you’re not eventually selected as a finalist. After all, the greatest prize you can have is the satisfaction of a job well done and the pride that you’ve made a positive impact, whether it leads to a prize, or not.
Once again, I congratulate all of you for participating in Enactus. Working in teams to shape your projects and competing with your peers you have acquired valuable skills. You now have the responsibility placed on your shoulders to serve as strong, positive role models for Nigeria and Africa. In five to ten years, you and your peers will be the ones making major decisions in government, business, and civil society. That is a heavy responsibility but also a tremendous opportunity.
Congratulations to you all!