Dakar, Yaoundé, Abidjan, Addis Ababa… the young people do not speak the same language, do not have the same culture, but share the same desire: to become entrepreneurs. This desire to create and empower themselves is widely ignored by both local decision-makers and external partners. Before being a quantitative policy, helping youth to become “entrepreneurs of their own destiny” requires an emphatic approach in order to give an understanding of their aspirations, constraints and contradictions. As things stand, it is less a matter of means than of new links whereby youth finally become the focus of concerns. This Africa of tomorrow does not need more but better.

© David Dennis
© David Dennis

Why believe in this African youth?

Surely because its ambition and confidence in the future have reached a level of intensity that is difficult to find elsewhere. This creative joy is fuelled by difficult daily lives and is also strengthened by a sincere patriotism, summed up by the threefold ambition heard so often throughout the continent: “Create for yourself, your family and your country”.

This cultural characteristic is not without impact. It is even essential. The ambition of creating a collective emergence, confidence in a better future, and the desire to share one’s dynamism are all strengths that give a decisive impetus to a business start-up process.

It is always difficult to address the psychological mainsprings as clichés are never far away. However, they do provide us with analysis grids adapted to a constantly changing world. Beyond knowledge and know-how, it is indeed through their specific life skills that African youth stand out.

Not locking oneself within a traditionally effective Cartesianism, but simply in a slow or rigid world, leaving the sequence of elements in order to better adapt to them instead of exhausting oneself in a vain attempt to control them, having a culture of resilience, which fuels an optimism that rises to any challenge… all these cultural components illustrate the behavior of these young African entrepreneurs and predispose them to be better equipped to face a world that has gone from being complicated to complex.

 

Relational and cultural environment needs to be changed

While this positive observation is a sign of optimism for the medium to long term, it should not mask the daily problems faced by these youth dynamics. In Africa, the barriers to entrepreneurial ambition are no doubt more numerous than elsewhere.
African learners and students face the same problems as young people on other continents: a mismatch between a teaching considered to be too theoretical and an expectation from companies for employees to be immediately operational, a lack of awareness or even an ignorance between teachers and economic actors…

In addition to this institutional mismatch, young Africans must also go beyond specific cultural contingencies, which can place a burden on their ambitions. While commending the culture of solidarity that prevails in Africa, its economic impact and effectiveness can be questioned. This is not, of course, about calling into question the very principle of this solidarity, but of actually considering what it means, its direction. Too many young people in Africa still devote too much energy and resources to their elders, whereas the latter, with their experience and their networks, could be a relevant source of support for the ambitions of their descendants.
Consequently, support for young entrepreneurs can only be effective if this objective also becomes a societal ambition and a family reality. A benevolent support for youth from politicians, families, teachers and companies, the recognition of its potential and confidence in its ability are essential for the emergence of a generation of entrepreneurs, which Africa needs for its development.

 

New approach to youth

This potential of young Africans inspired a group of French SMEs and SMIs. With support from the Nord-Pas de Calais Regional Council as part of its Decentralized Economic Cooperation policy, they have set up the “Senegal-West Africa Cluster” in which job creation and business start-ups by young people is the top priority.

The French companies must devote 50% of their time to technical or higher education missions, skills transfers or mentoring for young entrepreneurs. The latter are also tasked with representing the French companies in their absence and as actors in watching out for market opportunities. As for African companies, they build exchanges with stable partners, while finding people with the necessary skills at local level because they have also been trained to meet professional requirements that are too often ignored.

This tripartite relationship holds a whole host of strengths:

  • Complementarity: it is by combining their expertise that French and African countries can reach new markets;
  • Employability: as the learners benefit from the teaching of business leaders, their vocational integration is more effective or their start-up project is strengthened;
  • Sustainability: the involvement of companies in the learning system helps to build their local base and contributes to creating a permanent pool of skills.

The results obtained by the “Senegal-West Africa Cluster” in terms of business start-ups and job creation demonstrate that economic development also – and especially – involves giving greater consideration to issues related to young people’s skills. In addition to raising the awareness of some 350 students and learners, 50 business start-up projects have been supported by about thirty companies in just a few months.

 

New ethic and demanding principles

Taking action to make the entrepreneurial ambitions of young people an economic reality does, however, require respecting certain rules combining moral requirements and practical effectiveness. These principles need to be translated into the following operational recommendations:

  • Put young Africans in contact with SMEs and SMIs which, devoid of any predation or compassion, are seeking to establish themselves in a sustainable and responsible manner.
  • Favor a grassroots approach combining a limited number of voluntary partners who work together for a cluster of projects.
  • Make education actors economic partners. Without in any way undermining academic excellence, giving companies the opportunity of teaching is a simple way to use training to support vocational integration.
  • Develop technical and manual occupations and activities. Too many young people want to become consultants, whereas employment is to be found in improving craft trades, creating small industrial units and developing agriculture. Technical and academic education, which are so frequently placed in opposition, should on the contrary be complementary.
  • Finally, be very selective in the choice of local and external partners. It is by selecting an economic elite with ethics above reproach that young people will receive appropriate support, especially for their business start-up projects.

Involve them rather than help them, advise them rather than support them, get them to join in rather than assist them: these are the rules that need to be followed in order to satisfy this new generation of entrepreneurs. Consequently, helping them “to be entrepreneurs of their own destiny” calls on all public partners, and especially donors, not to only have a quantitative policy gauged in terms of means and funds. Young people have expectations: donors are recognized as “financiers”, but will they manage to become facilitators?

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