AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The United States set aside a billion dollars last year to help jumpstart small businesses around the world. When President Obama announced this initiative, he said that lifting communities out of poverty serves a national security goal.
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BARACK OBAMA: Poverty alone does not cause terrorism or sectarian violence, but investments in youth entrepreneurship and education are some of the best antidotes that we have to that kind of disorder.
CORNISH: In the White House audience that day was Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu. President Obama invited him because he's giving away a huge chunk of his own fortune to young African entrepreneurs. Reporter Nick Schifrin caught up with Elumelu and two of his proteges - twin brothers in Nigeria.
NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: It's 5 a.m. in Lagos, and the Igwe twins are chopping and sweating in the kitchen. The generator is running because there's no electricity. It's hot, but the twins don't mind. The first thing you notice about the identical 27-year-olds - they're always laughing.
TOBIAS IGWE: (Laughter) For me, it fun. Really, I don't even feel the heat.
SCHIFRIN: Tobias Igwe and his brother, Titus, move fast. Their catering service is called Speed Meals. They have huge hopes. That's the second thing you notice about the twins. They're always dreaming.
TITUS IGWE: By this time next year, we want to be feeding 1,000 people daily. But the next thing, yes, we want to be feeding at least 1 million people in Nigeria every day.
SCHIFRIN: A million people a day - right now it's more like a hundred.
SCHIFRIN: On this day, they cater a beach party. They load nearly a hundred pounds of very spicy chicken into the van and head off.
TITUS IGWE: Some mouths are hungry. Let's go feed them.
SCHIFRIN: The twins have come a long way. When their father died suddenly, they had to drop out of school to support their family. They started a catering business with no capital. But then help came in the form of an angel investor.
TONY ELUMELU: I have always been a dreamer.
SCHIFRIN: A dreamer is how 52-year-old Tony Elumelu describes himself.
ELUMELU: I am hugely optimistic. I think these days, also, the level of despair, the level of hopelessness is too high.
SCHIFRIN: Elumelu became one of Africa's richest men on banking and real estate. He owns conglomerates, hotels, hospitals. The office where interviewed him looks right out of Hollywood. But now he has his eye on his legacy and on lifting Africans out of that despair and hopelessness. He thinks government is ineffective, aid is unsustainable. His solution - private investment. Over the next decade, he's pledged to give 10,000 young entrepreneurs $10,000 each of his own money.
ELUMELU: I consider myself as a comfortable African business leader, but I'm not just content in what I'm keeping for my children. I'm also trying to see that it's spread, that we need to have a Marshall Plan to address this unemployment.
SCHIFRIN: A Marshall Plan to address unemployment. Nigeria is Africa's richest country because of oil, but the economy is not diversified, and unemployment is high. Elumelu hopes to create thousands of small businesses so they hire more workers who can then start their own businesses that hire still more workers like a chain reaction.
ELUMELU: These 10,000 African entrepreneurs should help create employment, should help make sure that prosperity and economic growth touches almost everyone.
SCHIFRIN: Touching almost everyone, in Elumelu's mind, would even help fight Boko Haram, the militant group that recruits young suicide bombers.
ELUMELU: You know, what is important both in society and business is hope. And I'll tell you before. If people have hope for a better tomorrow, they will not kill themselves today.
SCHIFRIN: Elumelu's a hundred-million-dollar investment plan isn't just making spicy chicken and Lagos. He funds hundreds of young entrepreneurs in Nigeria's Northeast where Boko Haram is based and hundreds more across some of Africa's most dangerous areas. He often says that poverty anywhere is a threat everywhere. Reducing that threat might just begin with a few entrepreneurs and a lot of spicy chicken. For NPR News, I'm Nick Schifrin in Lagos.
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