Written by: Daniel Mpala
Africa’s youth could hold the key to the continent’s future — but the continent’s high joblessness makes it critical that more are involved in entrepreneurship.
Yet a report published in the Harvard Business Review and the US National Bureau of Economic Research last year found that the typical successful entrepreneur is middle-aged, with the average age of a winning startup founder in the US at 45-years-old. Not exactly youthful.
It was a report that got many thinking. What then does this mean for Africa’s prospects? Does this mean investing in and supporting youth is a waste of time?
For African Leadership Academy (ALA) vice president for entrepreneurship and executive director of the Anzisha Prize Josh Adler (pictured above) the report sparked off heated discussions and exchanges at his academy.
ALA began to look at its own evidence and work — and that’s how the Anzisha Scenario campaign concept was born.
The Anzisha Scenario imagines a future where students of high potential choose entrepreneurship as a career and then proceed to hire at least three of their peers, and in so doing become role models who inspire other young people to follow in their footsteps.
ALA’s qualitative and quantitative study titled Scenarios for Young African Entrepreneurs explores what the future might hold for very young entrepreneurs on the continent and how entrepreneurship can offer alternatives to drive employment and economic growth in Africa.
Neil Butcher, who authored the study, says the project was initiated late last year to counter misperceptions regarding the role that very young entrepreneurs play in Africa’s economy — and to look at how best to support such entrepreneurs to realise their true potential.
Butcher describes the report as a “work in progress” and says many more stakeholders will be involved as the consultation process progresses.
To date the Anzisha Prize and ALA have hosted workshops with two groups of stakeholders.
The first workshop, which was held in February, aimed to define and formulate possible scenarios for entrepreneurship development, employment growth and conceivable outcomes.
The second workshop, which was held last month, focused on how to realise the Anzisha Scenario. “It sought to explore the Anzisha Scenario in greater detail, including the implications and required inputs to operationalise it,” says Butcher.
Participants included individuals from youth employment accelerators, foundations that provide entrepreneurship support, educators and administrators at African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius and Rwanda, as well as representatives from the African Leadership Xcelerator (ALX) in Kenya.
Butcher believes the paper has relevance for all African countries, but that it’s perhaps too early in the process to know exactly how it will be implemented into policy.
‘Strong buy-in from stakeholders’
For the Anzisha Scenario to become a reality, Butcher believes there needs to be a “strong-buy in” from stakeholders who support very young entrepreneurs — such as governments, funders, foundations and education institutions.
This, he adds, should be accompanied with a strong communications strategy from Anzisha and its partners both during and beyond the conclusion of the paper.
“Critical in this process initially will be the continuing processes of engagement and consultation across the continent that will continue to shape the document itself, so that there is a strong sense of ownership by all involved in its contents,” he says.
‘People are thinking about this issue’
Anzisha Prize project lead Nolizwe Mhlaba says the campaign’s aim is to engage with the youth, educators, parents, investors, incubators, policy makers, and other supporters of young entrepreneurs on the paper.
“This is a conversation we would like to take across the continent. We recognise that while there might be a shared vision for the future of youth employment, the path to get there will likely look different across Africa,” says Mhlaba.
As part of the consultative process of the Anzisha Scenario, another workshop will be held at ALA’s campus in Johannesburg on 16 April.
Following that, the Anzisha Prize plans to hold more consultative engagements in Kenya, Egypt, Senegal, and Madagascar until September.
Mhlaba says “a lot” came out of the February workshop, adding that participants helped shape the conversation and structure of the workshop.
A big highlight of the March workshop, she points out, is the diversity of participants who attended, she says.
“An observation I made was that people are thinking about this issue and asking themselves — and each other — hard questions about the current state of affairs as well as the future,” she says.
The Anzisha Scenario paper will be launched at The Very Young Entrepreneur Education & Acceleration Summit on 15 April in Johannesburg.
Could this see a paradigm shift that will change how Africa views very young entrepreneurs and how it supports them?