Africa is increasingly taking its place on the global stage as a continent of growth and opportunity. Yet critical challenges remain, particularly the need to create a significant number of jobs for the continent’s booming population, and the need to build a cadre of home-grown business leaders able to access global markets and drive growth in a sustainable and inclusive manner. For this reason, African entrepreneurship is central to Africa’s future prosperity. The biggest business opportunities in the coming decade will be created by Africans who start businesses, generate jobs and wealth, and capture growth opportunities.

Across Africa, necessity is the mother of invention. Reusing and recombining is a way of life and, in many cases, the lack of infrastructure, even old infrastructure, gives us a “clean slate” for new solutions. Responding to these challenges, Africa’s entrepreneurs are contributing a host of cutting-edge products and services, enabling them to leap forward in such fields as mobile and information technology, and to develop innovations in agriculture, transportation, healthcare and other vital fields.

But while entrepreneurship is growing rapidly in Africa, entrepreneurs continue to face significant domestic challenges that impede their efforts, including a lack of access to funding, support services, skills training and infrastructure, as well as administrative barriers.

For these reasons, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has recently launched the 10-year $100 million pan-African Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, with the goal of creating and sustaining entrepreneurship in Africa over the long term.

The programme is identifying and supporting the growth of African innovators in both technology and physical businesses. It will build an environment that identifies and cross-pollinates grassroots innovation across Africa, sparking intra-African trade, and accelerating the success of these business ideas. It will also promote the role of African entrepreneurs within the global innovation network and put African innovators front and centre on the global stage.

Our goal through the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme is to identify and grow 10,000 start-ups and young businesses from across Africa over the next 10 years, in turn creating 1,000,000 new jobs and generating $10 billion in new annual revenues across the continent. The application portal was opened on 1 January 2015 and within the first week, it attracted submissions from 49 countries across Africa – demonstrating how connected African entrepreneurs are, as well as the high level of demand for such opportunities.

At the Tony Elumelu Foundation we know that such a programme cannot exist in a vacuum. African entrepreneurs need the same things any business needs – a predictable regulatory environment, reliable and affordable transport and power infrastructure, a healthy, educated and productive talent pool and access to affordable credit. But entrepreneurs are more vulnerable when these things are absent. Countries such as Mauritius, Rwanda and Botswana have shown that it is possible to improve competitiveness swiftly and successfully. The time has come for other governments across Africa to follow their lead and support the development of the next generation of business leaders. African entrepreneurs can change the world; it is time that we give them the platform to do so.

Author: Wiebe Boer is Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation

Image: Pregnant Sudanese businesswoman Shiraz Al-Tayeb Hamid, 28, managing director of her family’s plastics factory, talks to a worker at the plastics factory in Khartoum February 25, 2009, as her sister Sherein, who is a plastics engineer, inspects the shoes. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra