News / Meet Alum Izzy Obeng: TEDx Speaker & Social Entrepreneur

Meet Alum Izzy Obeng: TEDx Speaker & Social Entrepreneur



14 / 06 / 17

Africa is on the brink of an entrepreneurial revolution. One powered by technology and led by the new players in Africa’s development – millennials.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sharing my vision for Africa at a TEDx conference. I stood up on the stage, took a deep breath, and then flashed a picture of my mum and dad on the screen, taken shortly after they arrived in London in April 1986. My parents are laughing at each other, lit up with the optimism and hope of their new life in the UK. And they had a lot of reasons to be hopeful.

It is fair to say that the Africa they were leaving behind wasn’t in great shape – economic growth was sluggish, democracies were still finding their feet and many young people, fed up with a lack of opportunity in their home countries, felt they had no choice but to leave.

But the Africa my parents left behind in 1986 isn’t the Africa that I know today. In this new age of knowledge economies, where entrepreneurs – armed with nothing but laptops – can build successful companies on the backs of binary codes, every single person regardless of background can play a unique role in re-inventing African societies.

Over the last decade, tech entrepreneurs, multinational companies, government agencies, and other civil society groups with an interest in Africa have stepped up their collective efforts to accelerate the growth of local enterprise and re-invigorate the continent – a continent filled to the brim with enterprising young people creating extraordinary things.

Moreover, the number of start-up hubs across Africa has more than doubled in the last year and innovators are building communities of enterprise far beyond the more obvious locations.

The continent is on the brink of an exciting period in its history.

“The signs are everywhere and a new generation of ambitious, globally-minded young people are seizing the challenge.”

There are three key types of millennials in particular who together have collective responsibility for the future of entrepreneurship on the continent. I call them The Globalist, The Returner and The Afropreneur.

‘The Globalist’ 

The first is the globalist. The globalist is foreign born, but has perhaps visited or worked in Africa at some point in the past. They have a passion for driving growth, innovation and investment in a part of the world that needs it most. They offer a wealth of support for Africa’s entrepreneurs, including but not limited to investment in new ventures, connections with contacts in developed economies and much needed leadership development support for the next generation of business leaders.

A great example of The Globalist is Toby Hanington, who co-founded The Baobab Network with Tom Fairburn a couple of years ago. The organisation seeks to address the demand for strategic support amongst Africa’s start up system. These co-founders are pioneers, enabling ambitious entrepreneurs across Africa to take their businesses to the next level.

‘The Returner’

The second key player is what I call The Returner. This player was born in Africa or has a very strong familial connection to the continent. The Returner is truly a citizen of the world and is able to combine the unique insights gained from experience abroad, with a strong understanding of his/her local context. For many, despite the challenges of succeeding back home, the sheer number of untapped markets in their home countries creates a feeling of excitement and opportunity – “you can’t disrupt what doesn’t exist yet”.

Bayo Adelaja is the CEO of Do it Now Now, an organisation that helps members of the Diaspora contribute to the development of local communities in Africa. She is a trailblazer, passionate about harnessing the power of the diaspora to create change.

 ‘The Afropreneur’

And the last player, and the most important, is the Afropreneur. The Afropreneur is a term used to describe the bright, independent and tech-savvy entrepreneurs using creative thinking and innovation to catalyse Africa’s economic development.

The African entrepreneur (Afropreneur) is on the ground every day finding innovative solutions to local problems. They are individuals like Sydney Sam, Creative Director of The Workspace, a brand agency based in Accra, Ghana.

What the Afropreneur needs is access to the funding that will take their business to the next level, the market data that will allow them to make more intelligent decisions, talented team members who will guide their thinking and business advisors who will connect them with the opportunities they need to scale their impact. What the Afropreneur needs is a strong community of globalists and returners…

Because what happens when you combine the Globalist, The Returner and the Afropreneur?

You get The Expert.

And together these Experts will spearhead the growth of enterprise development in Africa.

The future that I see is centred on communities of enterprise throughout the continent led by these new players in Africa’s development. The future that I see is centred on incubators, hubs and accelerators across the continent that allow entrepreneurs to experiment and fail safely. The future that I see is centred on research and thought leadership that lets start-ups know what works and what doesn’t in their local context.

“The future that I see is in an abundance of alternative funding streams so entrepreneurs aren’t saddled with backbreaking high-interest loans.”


Mark Zuckerberg recently said that “the future of the world” will be built on the African continent. And it will be. It will be built by the globalists, the returners and the 200 million potential Afropreneurs across the African continent.

Follow me on LinkedIn for more interesting articles on the African start up scene.

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