Total's President of Marketing & Services, Momar Nguer, launched the Startupper of the Year Challenge in Africa in 2015. Now, he takes a look back at the second, global round, which attracted some 50,000 participants from around the world.
When it was launched in 2015, the aim of the Startupper of the Year Challenge was to support entrepreneurship in African countries by helping those under 35 develop their ideas or their start-ups created within the previous two years.
For the second Challenge, organized two years later, the scope was extended to include 55 countries worldwide. The aim became to support ideas and projects designed to help eliminate inequality and find positive solutions to social issues.
A new award category — Top Female Entrepreneur — was added the second time around. With women representing nearly 25% of the winners but only 13% of the participants in the first Challenge, the organizers decided to introduce a special award to encourage more female entrepreneurs to take part.
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Oghenekevwe Omotosho and Ogunbanjo Olumide, respectively Top Female Entrepreneur and Grand Regional Winner for Nigeria in the 2019 Startupper of the Year Challenge, share their enthusiasm.
Momar Nguer is president of Total's Marketing & Services business segment, Diversity Council Chair and creator of the Startupper Challenge. He talked to us about the Challenge in general and the takeaways from the latest round.
What motivated you to launch the Startupper Challenge in the first place?
M.N.: Africa has a very young population, and young people have so many ideas. However, they also need support, visibility and a forum to express those ideas. That's what we wanted to offer them when we launched the first Startupper of the Year Challenge in 2015.
Total has been operating in Africa for more than 80 years and is now the most widely represented retail brand on the continent, all countries combined. Thanks to our local presence, we've been able to support the region through change in practical ways. And that's the guarantee we offer when we support a project or initiative.
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What struck you most about the second Challenge?
M.N.: The fact that it was even more popular than the first. We went from 24,000 participants the first time to 50,000 the second time, from all over the world. The result was 28,000 applications for the 2018-2019 Challenge, versus 11,000 in the previous version.
I think the first Challenge attracted a lot of attention. The winners were supported and the projects developed, so that created quite a buzz. In the end, many people were impatient for the next opportunity to participate. In fact, I was asked at the recent award ceremony whether a third Challenge would be organized. I'm happy to announce that the answer is yes.
A Top Female Entrepreneur award category was introduced between the first and second Challenge. As Total's Diversity Council Chair, can you tell us more about this decision?
M.N.: For me, it was a very important decision. Total was the first operator in Africa to have women as service station managers or even as service station workers in more technical trades. This idea of keeping women away from certain activities does not come from Africa. In African culture, women play an important role. This award sends a clear signal that Total places as much importance on initiatives championed by women as those championed by men, and that the achievements of women must also be recognized and rewarded.
During the first Startupper Challenge, only 13% of the applicants were women, even though they accounted for 25% of the winners. We therefore added the Top Female Entrepreneur award the second time around, to encourage more women to take part. As a result, 30% of the eligible applications were entered by women and in certain countries, such as South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius, Niger, Reunion and Zambia, all the winners were women.
Why do you think Nigeria was so well represented in both of the Challenges? Is it an important country for Total?
M.N.: Yes, it is. Total has been present in Nigeria for more than 60 years and we're one of the country's leading providers of products and services. It's also a country in which Total invests heavily; out of the $15 billion to $16 billion invested annually by the Group, Nigeria alone accounts for more than $1 billion.
It's also a country of entrepreneurs. Nigerians generally prefer to work for private sector employers or themselves, rather than for the government. Two factors undoubtedly contribute to this preference — the excellence of the Nigerian education system, particularly at university level, and a domestic market of some 200 million consumers.
More generally, I noticed that the three winners this year are all English speakers. This is a good reflection of the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that often characterizes English-speaking countries in Africa. In French-speaking countries, people tend to expect more from the State.
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What would you like to say to young people in Africa?
M.N.: Go for it! Anything is possible. Come to us with your ideas and we'll help you.
Entrepreneurship is going to enable Africa to move forward. The three winners this year are from the rural sector, which has benefited least from the progress made on the continent over the past decade. I am therefore very happy that we can give them a helping hand to get their projects on the right track. The support they have won will teach them how to pitch to an investor, prepare and present a business plan, and promote their projects in front of various audiences.
That's why, when I launched the Challenge two years ago, I wanted it to be open to all areas of the economy, not just the energy industry, even though that would have been easier for Total. Given our historical roots in Africa, we have a duty to help governments address key issues, including youth employment.
We can be particularly proud of the Challenge's contribution in that regard.