Sub-Saharan Africa is a region of the world confronted with both high unemployment and underemployment, issues that prohibit the move from poverty into wealth. These factors are particularly prevalent among the subcontinent’s young people – in fact, according to The World Bank, 60% of all those unemployed on the continent are youths, and youth unemployment occurs at twice the rate of unemployment among older people.
“The situation requires urgent attention because, if the regional economy is not creating enough jobs for young people ready to enter the labour market, we are setting ourselves up for an even tougher economic future,” says Melissa Mbazo-Ekpenyong, Deputy Director of the Anzisha Prize, an initiative in partnership with African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that is a direct and deliberate response to this challenge.
As much as a decade ago, recognising the urgent need to find a sustainable solution, the African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation partnered to create the Anzisha Prize initiative to fundamentally and significantly increase the number of entrepreneurs in Africa capable of creating new jobs – focussing primarily on very young entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22. Stemming from the belief that key to building a vibrant future for the continent is identifying young entrepreneurs with the potential to become employers themselves and to take African economies forward, the initiative has produced a number of business and entrepreneur successes worth celebrating. While there is a focus on job-generative business initiatives, a common thread has turned out to be the agri-business, agri-tech and general food-producing sector. The result is a positive impact on solving both issues of unemployment and food security.
Take for example, N’guessan Koffi Jacques Olivier from Côte d’Ivoire. The son of a farmer, he founded an agricultural company – the Yaletite Group – and has to date created at least 116 jobs for young people in his country. N’guessan became an Anzisha Prize Fellow in 2016 at the age of 19 with his venture which produces and markets food crops for profit, while creating an education fund to subsidise poor students with disabilities and mobilising youth for agricultural employment.
Another very young entrepreneur worthy of celebration is Benedicte Mundele from the DRC who founded Surprise Tropical – an e-commerce company that delivers fresh foods all over Kinshasa – was featured on CNN in a programme highlighting business innovations tackling Africa’s unique challenges. Having been made a Fellow in 2014 at the age of just 20, she has created 13 jobs, and describes the company as a food system with a mission to promote fresh local food. She is also a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and communication officer of Kuvuna Foundation, a Leadership Institute focused on entrepreneurship.
There are many other similar unsung changemakers on the continent whose businesses do not succeed. Not because their business model was not viable, but largely because of the lack of support and guidance to help the founders scale their businesses to profitability. According to a report by the US Small Business Administration, 30 percent of new businesses may not survive past the first 24 months due to the lack of a mentor while, in contrast, 70 percent of businesses with a mentorship process in place survive longer than five years. And, in research by Sage, 93 percent of startups say mentorship was instrumental to their success.
Speaking at this year’s awards ceremony during October, Mbazo-Ekpenyong said: “Since inception, our programme has aimed to identify, develop and connect high potential, very young entrepreneurs, as well as their parents and teachers, towards creating a supportive ecosystem as well as a pipeline of future, job-generative entrepreneurs.”
Once identified, each Fellow (an average of 20 are selected per year) receives a share of the annually allocated USD100 000 funding, and joins the fellowship programme where they have access to a suite of services that invests in the individual as well as their business.
Thokoza Mjo, Programme Lead, Very Young Entrepreneurs Acceleration, adds: “So far, we have seen 142 Fellows come through the programme, becoming successful business owners and creating hundreds of jobs. Many of our Fellows have gone on to form other companies as well as to win numerous honours and accolades within the international business community.
“These young changemakers that work tirelessly to ensure both the sustainability and prosperity of the African continent inspire us and are well worth remembering and following as they grow from strength to strength.”
Read more about them here.