INSIGHT: How Africa’s Youth are Rising to Meet the Continent’s Socio-economic Challenges

November 6th, 2017

“By 2035 Africa will have the largest youth workforce in the world. It is the young entrepreneurs that will address the employment gap.” – Fred Swaniker, ALA founder

It’s no surprise that “Entrepreneurship and Industrialisation” make up the theme for the 2017 African Economic Outlook, released in May. With an estimated 29 million new entrants to Africa’s labour force every year between 2015 and 2030, the continent’s unemployment statistics are rather grim.

Did you know? African innovation may long have been understated, but it’s a force to be reckoned with, as revealed by the statistics in the 2017 African Economic Outlook:

  • More people start a new business in Africa than in Latin American Countries (19%) or Asia (13%).

  • 20% of new African entrepreneurs are introducing a new product or service.

  • At 22%, Africa’s rate of working-age population starting new businesses, is the highest in the world.

  • Firms with fewer than 20 employees 
and less than 5 years’ experience provide the most jobs in Africa’s formal sector.

Africa’s hope, suggests the report, lies in its entrepreneurs: “Innovative industrialisation strategies for African countries should target Africa’s high-potential entrepreneurs. They create jobs, increase demand for educated labour, bring goods and services to market and contribute to the government tax base.”

This knowledge is not new – in fact, it’s the core belief behind the annual Anzisha Prize, Africa’s largest sponsorship and funding opportunity for young African entrepreneurs.

A partnership between African Leadership Academy (ALA) and Mastercard Foundation, the Anzisha Prize was launched seven years ago to recognise and support the vision of Africa’s young innovators. Every year, 15 finalists are selected from hundreds of emerging pan-African business leaders aged between 15 and 22 years.

Age is but a number

On Tuesday, 15 finalists were honoured at an exclusive gala ceremony where 22-year-old Ibrahima Ben Aziz Konate from Cote D’Ivoire was awarded the top prize. Abraham is the founder of Poultry D’Or, a poultry business that employs 15 people. The $25 000 cash prize, he says, “is the difference that I need to scale my business and show the young people in my community that entrepreneurship is possible, even at a very young age.”

Age is the one of Anzisha’s category requirements questioned and deliberated on every year, noted Josh Adler, Vice President of Global Programmes for ALA. There’s a good reason why Anzisha targets the young. “If we want to address youth unemployment, it’s important to invest in young entrepreneurs,” ALA founder Fred Swaniker said in his keynote address, which not only paid tribute to the finalists but also outlined the principle need for a support system for the young innovators who would go on to play a critical role in providing real solutions to Africa’s socio-economic problems.

The Anzisha fellows certainly do: each finalist has founded a business that responds directly to a social or economic need within their community – despite their age. Runner up Victoria Olimatunde from Nigeria, founded Bizkidz, a board game that teaches students financial literacy. She is only 15 – and was selected from 219 applications from her home country. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Edmund from Tanzania, also a runner-up, founded Green Venture Tanzania, which has created a method of turning recycled plastic materials found on the streets into durable construction blocks.

Selected from 14 countries, nearly half of this year’s Anzisha finalists are young women representing sectors as diverse as clean energy, agriculture, waste recycling and youth empowerment. They, and their fellow finalists, “represent the capacity of African youth, their energy and vision,” Koffi Assouan from MasterCard Foundation, noted in his address to the audience.

Accessing full potential

All Africa’s young men and women need to realize their full potential is access to funding, Assouan asserted, and this point is driven home by the scope and variety of pioneering projects Anzisha supports. “The Anzisha Prize is more than a prize – it is a fellowship that enables you to prosper in the journey of entrepreneurship,” Assouan revealed, explaining that engagement Anzisha fellows does not end when the ceremony is over. Apart form cash prizes, finalists also benefit from ALA’s Youth Entrepreneur Support Unit (YES-U), which provides ongoing consulting and training support in the form of an Anzisha Accelerator boot camp, mentorship and consulting services, travel opportunities to network, and business equipment.

The Anzisha Prize ceremony was a glittering event that highlighted a rallying call for Africa’s youth to unite in meeting her needs, as witnessed by the testimonies of the spirited young finalists and previous winners, and punctuated by Swaniker’s challenge to young entrepreneurs to create one billion jobs for Africa in the next 18 years.

Clearly, it’s a challenge Africa’s youth will have no problem meeting.

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