As the entrepreneurial culture in Africa continues to grow particularly among the young people, it is becoming apparent that the youth demographic which has been touted as one of the main drivers for potential growth on the continent will certainly shape the future of the continent. Despite the challenges that entrepreneurs face in raising capital and operating in difficult situations were infrastructure is inadequate or almost non-existent, many remain motivated by necessity. For most, “being self-sufficient can be a matter of life and death”. The high unemployment levels in Africa have raised the entrepreneurial energy that we have seen over the past decades.
As young people connect with their peers across the globe using technology and sharing ideas, they are becoming more aspirational. Tools that allow connectivity such as mobile phones are now enabling people to share ideas and knowledge as well as meeting people in virtual environments. Many are now going a step further by taking their ideas into the real world and not just limiting themselves to the virtual world of the internet. Tech savvy youth are creating opportunities for themselves in ways that people from previous generations were unable to during their youthful days.
This has no doubt led to the proliferation of tech hubs such as Bongo Hive in Zambia and iHub in Kenya as well as other urban cities across the continent, where young creatives convene. These tech hubs provide incubations spaces where individuals have access to skilled coaches and mentors who are passionate about their chosen sector of business and would like to bring more entrepreneurs into the mainstream economy. Over the past few years, these hubs have provided some form of support to early stage businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. The courage and openness to new ideas amongst young budding entrepreneurs has led to an era of collaboration and innovation which will serve most young entrepreneurs well in the long term.
Many business leaders in Africa are now realising that the answer to high youth unemployment is not just waiting for foreign direct investment. Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu recently committed $100 million to create 10,000 African entrepreneurs in 10 years. While this may sound over ambitious, it is certainly a good step forward. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme is a multi-year programme of training, funding and mentoring, designed to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs.
With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and a young population means more innovative minds. According to the Economic outlook report of 2012, this figure could double by 2045. While a high youth demographic is currently seen as a huge disadvantage due to high unemployment in this particular group, there is hope particularly if the right measures are applied in terms of human resource development to harness it’s full potential.
According the African Development Bank unemployment in the Sub-Sahara region is 6% and the report further states that unemployment amongst young people occurs at a rate “more than twice that of adults”. Creating opportunities for entrepreneurship amongst those that fall within this demographic group will have a positive impact by encouraging more people to aspire to be employers and in turn create more jobs. There is consensus within the development sector that entrepreneurial activities contribute to economic growth and job creation. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report has shown that the level of “early-stage entrepreneurial activity is directly related to per capita income”.
A company such as Omidyar Network is amongst a growing list of institutions providing investments and grants to “socially responsible” organisations in areas of entrepreneurship that have a potential for “large scale impact and exemplify innovation”. The idea behind these types of institutions, is to help nurture a new breed of entrepreneurs as many countries on the continent, endeavour to boost the manufacturing industry and Agribusiness.
There is no doubt, that this has created a buzz amongst many young people with ideas, who face challenges in accessing startup funds during the initial stages of setting up their business ventures. There is also the recognition amongst political leaders in some countries on the continent that the most competitive nations are those that have high levels of entrepreneurial activities.
Countries like Ghana and Zambia, recently introduced programmes aimed at empowering young people with essential skills. The National Youth Policy in and Youth Enterprise Fund introduced in Zambia is aimed at helping stimulate the creation of jobs. In Ghana the national youth service and empowerment programmes were created to equip college graduates with skills to help them find jobs. Questions however, remain as to what impact these initiatives will have on the creation of employment for the youth.
Many analyst are of the view that a multi-sectoral approach by the private sector, government and non-governmental organisations in boosting the morale of young people to pursue entrepreneurship – which we are slowly beginning to see in some regions of the continent – will help reduce the high unemployment levels and lead to sustained economic growth, as new innovative organisations are created to directly affect the economies across the continent. There is optimism that the current generation of young people are shaping the future of Africa.