Build in a Box – BUILDing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Across Africa

July 17th, 2015

Today, half of Africa’s population of almost one billion people is under the age of 25 and it is estimated that by 2040, one in five of the world’s youth will be African. This continent’s richness of youth is both a blessing and a curse. A young population means growing consumer markets, expanding labor forces, enhanced creativity and energy across the continent. At African Leadership Academy (ALA), we continually see evidence that youth is an important propeller of the Africa Rising narrative. Conversely, youth is also notoriously tumultuous. More crimes are committed by young people than any other segment of society, and a larger youth population puts pressure on infrastructure, services, education and jobs delivery. If not properly engaged and utilized, the energy and promise of youth can quickly degenerate into unrest, turmoil and wasted potential. What we see today in much of Africa is unfortunately, just that. The formal employment sector is unable to absorb a significant number of young people. Key African economies such as South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have high unemployment rates among 15 to 22 year olds – a trend that is replicated in many other countries[1] (Brookings Institute, World Bank)

Entrepreneurship has been proven to be a viable employment avenue for young people who have been precluded from entering the formal workplace either through inadequate skills or a lack of experience. It presents an opportunity for wide scale upliftment at a pace faster than the evolution in the formal sector will allow. However, it is incredibly challenging to start and grow a business, much less when you are under the age of 22. The entrepreneurial support ecosystem in Africa is nascent and of greater concern, is that there is very little focus on youth, i.e. those who are greatest in number and on whom the future rests. Recognizing this, ALA has developed and piloted a peer led program called BUILD-in-a-Box Camp which delivers critical entrepreneurial training over three days to youth aged 15 – 22 years across the African continent. Already 188 trainers and 1,200 participants have completed a BUILD-in-a-box camp.

The Academy’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership has developed and tested BUILD, a unique curriculum framework for teaching youth entrepreneurship as a way of fighting unemployment and engaging youth to lead solutions to local problems. Students are first trained to Believe that they have the power to change the world around them, and embrace a mind-set of continual improvement. They then learn to build empathy and Understand the community they intend to serve with an entrepreneurial venture. Young entrepreneurs then Invent a wide range of possible solutions, prototyping and testing their ideas by Listening to feedback from potential customers and other stakeholders. After a process of iteration and improvement, they Deliver impactful new ventures and solutions by mobilizing resources and leveraging networks. BUILD-in-a-box is a portable toolkit that includes everything you need to deliver a workshop based on the BUILD curriculum, anywhere in the world, thereby enabling ALA to directly guide youth beyond its doors and across Africa.

Over the coming months, with the generous support of The MasterCard Foundation and The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, young leaders who have been enrolled in the Academy’s flagship Two Year Program will lead and facilitate 27 BUILD-in-box camps for over 600 of their peers in cities including Port Elizabeth, Nairobi, Harare, Bamanda, Kinshasa, Lagos and Cairo. Through BUILD-in-a-box we hope to ignite the entrepreneurial mindset in participants, leading them to start their own businesses thereby creating employment for themselves and others. The participants of the camps will be drawn from the young unemployed who have the greatest challenges in accessing formal employment. We also hope to establish a growing network of trained BUILD-in-a-box facilitators who will form the bedrock of an ecosystem to support budding entrepreneurs across various cities. BUILD-in-a-box is an African and youth led solution to critical challenge. We believe in the power of youth themselves to ensure that their potential on the continent is realized.

Author: Wadzi Katsidzira

About the Author: Wadzi Katsidzira is the Director of Marketing and Communications at African Leadership Academy. Read full bio here.