Over the past 40 years, the global narrative and outlook on Africa’s potential for economic growth have dramatically changed. Historically, countries in post-independent Africa encountered a range of internal struggles that limited the prospects of creating conducive and stable environments that propelled their citizens towards prosperity. All this sustained a view of a compromised Africa. This warped image of the continent persisted through various forms of media, but by 2010, a new narrative on Africa began to take shape, to the extent that institutions that were dismissive of Africa’s potential suddenly became hopeful.
Today, that hope has evolved into results. From the 2018 top 10 list of the fastest growing economies in the world, six are African. One of the crucial aspects that each of Africa’s 55 countries will have to address in the pursuit of unlocking further economic growth is entrepreneurship. Very young entrepreneurship in particular.
For decades, and in some cases up to the present day, African economies remain stagnant or sluggish based on the actual or perceived lack of human, technical and financial resources geared towards creating an environment that stimulates growth. An environment that invests in its peoples, its entrepreneurs, ensuring that small businesses can be designed, launched, sustained and grown into success stories.
Although Africa as a whole trails regions such as North America, Europe, and Asia on innovation, the continent has a lifeline through harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth. Africa is officially the world’s most youthful continent, with at least 60% of its 1.2 billion residents under the age of 24. In a rapidly aging global society, this population endowment provides Africa with an opportunity to develop and empower its young people to transform their communities and eventually the world as they know it.
This begs the question, who is responsible for creating all the opportunities for the very young African entrepreneur to thrive? Who is responsible for creating and sustaining an entrepreneurial culture? One of the most common answers is: the government in general and policy-makers in particular.
On this basis, the political will of governments and policy-makers is indeed critical in making high-level decisions that benefit the young African entrepreneur and ultimately the economy that he/she participates in. To this end, governments can contribute to the development of an entrepreneurial culture through; the creation of youth development funds at all geographical levels, enhancing youth access to government procurement and financial services, investing in sectors with high job-multiplier effects such as agriculture, and incentivizing the private sector to support entrepreneurship.
In addition to this, through education and skills development, governments need to review their education curricula to prioritize entrepreneurially conducive subjects, and ensure alignment and relevance to the labour market, expand and rebrand TVET; and strengthen student exchange programmes through regional educational institutions.
In reality, governments and policy-makers are only part of the answer to the question raised above. The responsibility of cultivating an entrepreneurial culture also falls on the private sector (as individual entities, networks or through collaborative efforts with the government), parents and arguably the most responsibility is on the shoulders of the young entrepreneur. In a particular order, parents- who must allow their children to explore the option of becoming entrepreneurs, educators-who must enable their students to practice entrepreneurial skills, investors, who must make the bet of investing in them once they have started and finally policy-makers, who must create an enabling environment for all these groups to be effective.
Becoming a successful young entrepreneur in Africa, requires that the individual is committed to improving their own, and other people’s lives in a context-relevant manner.
A successful entrepreneur has to develop the ability to adapt to the environment, identifying and pursuing the opportunities present while navigating and learning from the challenges. Often, as others look around and lament on the lack of a door leading towards an opportunity, the successful entrepreneur gets proactive and builds one.
Time and time again, we are exposed to a diverse group of young Africans from all corners of the continent, defying the odds and delivering successful products and services to national, regional and international clientele. These acts demonstrate a flaw in the narrative that portrays very young African entrepreneurs as powerless actors in a world where external forces distinguish those that succeed from those that fail.
This narrative is a distraction and has no place in today’s interconnected world. Today’s young African entrepreneur has to value the power of constant introspection, harness criticism, accurately assess the world around them, be passionate about personal and professional development, and cultivate a stronger desire to focus on improvement of self and the world around them.