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How supporting Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs has built my resilience

Nhlawulo Shikwambane, former Anzisha Prize Coordinater, shares lessons she has learned from her time championing Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs.

A little over two years ago, I walked into the doors of the Anzisha Prize and began my role as the program’s coordinator. Part of my role was to help advance Anzisha’s mission – to fundamentally and significantly increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs in Africa through creating and sharing stories of Africa’s greatest underdogs – our very young entrepreneurs (VYEs).

I’ll admit, when I first heard of the Anzisha Prize and their devotedness to supporting very young entrepreneurs aged between 15 – 22 years, I thought to myself, “How many of them exist? How do we find them? Can 15 – 22-year-olds run  impactful businesses?”

Clearly, I was asking all the wrong questions. Like many of us, I was asking questions based on the limitations of what I thought young people can and cannot do. Today, I realise that it is through supporting the very same group of very young entrepreneurs that I once doubted that I have learned the truest meaning of resilience, dedication, and community.

“As an ecosystem, we can either make or break our VYEs”

Nhlawulo Shikwambane
  1. You are you own limitation

Being an entrepreneur is hard, even with great networks and resources at your fingertips. Can you imagine how much harder it is to be a very young entrepreneur with minimal resources and operating in an environment that doubts your capabilities? I’ve watched how our fellows work themselves tirelessly to build authority in their industries and master their businesses. Having witnessed this for the past 2 years, nothing has made me push myself a little bit more when I felt like giving up. Thank you for teaching me endurance.

  • No man is an island

In Anzisha’s latest report “Unlocking Africa’s Hidden Job Creators”, 19 out of 20 of our 2020 fellows mention that their parents’ support played a critical role in their entrepreneurial journey.

For 2017 Anzisha fellow, Fadwa Moussaif, her parents support led to her success. Fadwa founded IDYR Design which creates fashion and decoration accessories from the textile industry’s waste. When she started at 21, no one took her seriously, her parents stepped in and helped her negotiate where necessary and assured suppliers and customers of her competence.

As an ecosystem, we can either make or break our VYEs. Knowing this has not only made me more conscious in supporting VYEs wherever I go, but has also enhanced my appreciation of the community of people who have always been my pillar.  From parents, siblings, friends, and community members, we have the power to determine the success or failure of our very young entrepreneurs. What will you do with your power?

  • Failure is inevitable – if at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but we need failure and setbacks to grow. I think of fellows such as Cameroon’s Melissa Bime, the founder of Infiuss – an online blood bank and digital supply chain platform. After being rejected for the Anzisha Prize, she applied again, and in 2018 was crowned as the grand prize winner, walking away with USD 25 000 to grow her business.

There is also Daniel Mukisa from Uganda who had to leave his first business only to later build Ridelink – an on-demand e-transport and e-logistics company that employs 25 people.

Working with young entrepreneurs for the past 2 years has brought many new experiences and refreshing perspectives my way. And as my chapter closes today as Anzisha’s coordinator, I want to thank our fellows and every other very young entrepreneur on this continent for teaching and showing me the strength in community, the power of living boldly and taking a bet on yourself, even if at first, you are the only one doing so. You are the leaders Africa needs.

Didi Onwu
Didi Onwu
Didi is a cultural hybrid that is passionate about producing and designing stories that push readers to go beyond the page fold. She has a particular passion for our African stories and is sure to give each story the star treatment it deserves. As an assiduous multi-platform journalist, she is well versed in print, online, radio, and digital communications.

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