Global Entrepreneurship Week: Clearing barriers for young entrepreneurs

These past seven days formed the annual “Global Entrepreneurship Week” and it warms my heart to see that I can run short of fingers and toes when counting young Rwandan entrepreneurs that I know, off head, who are managing active enterprises in various sectors.
 
From agro-processing to manufacturing, technology to hospitality, young entrepreneurs not just in Rwanda, are leading small and medium enterprises and in the process not just employing themselves but also creating jobs for fellow young people.

Mentorship programmes, government-led initiatives like Hanga Umurimo, corporate initiatives such as Bank of Kigali’s Urumuri Initiative as well as non-profit efforts by the likes of MasterCard are collectively, helping nurture a new generation of young entrepreneurs.  

That is not to say it is a bed of roses for these young job creators, far from it. 

Dozens of them open daily, some fail but a handful are succeeding, attracting big money investors, expanding beyond borders and ultimately inspiring others to not give up.

Just the other day, two young female Rwandan entrepreneurs made the country and the young entrepreneurs’ fraternity, proud when they, between themselves, won $165,000, part of the $1, 000, 0000 from Jack Ma’s Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative.

As I wrote this commentary, I thought about that World Bank report which estimates that a billion young people will enter the labour market within the next decade, with 90 per cent of them likely to be living in low income countries yet only 400 million of them will find jobs.

The question that immediately came to mind was, how will the other 600 million young people make a living? Where will they basically find jobs?

Clearly, youth unemployment is the biggest elephant in the room and as we celebrate entrepreneurs, the question of how to create jobs fast enough to match the number of young people joining the labour market, provides the perfect food for thought, for us all.

And it’s not about creating just any jobs. Young people have standards they imagine for the kind of jobs they need to do, to earn a decent living. Often times, people have said young people don’t want the available jobs but that is because, their definition of jobs is different.

So even as we look to entrepreneurship to create jobs, young people need to be heard and involved in shaping the future of work that works for them.

There is a recent and quite useful youth-led study by Restless Development which I would like to suggest to policy makers and other stakeholders in the youth development sector currently researching for solutions to address the world’s deepening youth unemployment.

Launched sometime in March this year, the study set out to find answers to an important question; what does success look like, for young people and what can international development agencies do, to support them reach their living aspirations?

Its findings, among other things, helped shed some light on young people’s entrepreneurial aspirations, but also on aspects they see as barriers limiting their progress while on the entrepreneurship highway to achieve self-employment and creating jobs for others.

One highlight was the fact that young people saw themselves running successful businesses and they have entrepreneurial aspirations in different sectors including in agriculture, a sector that is often said to be unattractive to the youth. 

But there are barriers standing between young people and their aspirations and these are diverse, the most significant of them, being lack of technical business management skills and access to resources such as credit. 

What is more, these barriers are frequently gendered, with young women often seen as having less access to credit than men, such that they may be unintentionally excluded from apparently universal programmes.

However, while securing start-up capital and other challenges were cited as barriers, young people surveyed also prescribed what they saw as solutions to them; securing seed capital from those in their social network, starting with businesses that have low entry costs, and reinvesting profits into new businesses more closely linked to their aspirations.

That simply means that young people are not just good at pointing out barriers. They can also prescribe solutions to their challenges, if involved. So, what is the right way forward?
 
One thing is for sure, youth unemployment, as has been noted by experts, is a hugely complex issue that requires comprehensive, sequenced solutions and numerous actors from a variety of disciplines and sectors to fix. 

However, going by the Restless Development research findings, one clear way forward is to stop “thinking on behalf of young people” and instead, involve them in shaping a future in work that works for them. Don’t help young people; work with them to help themselves.

One important takeaway from the study was made by a young respondent from Zimbabwe: young people know that their governments have no jobs to offer them. In fact, they’ve come to the realisation that they must create employment for themselves and their peers through business enterprise. But beyond getting started, they need supported to keep going; this way, the number of start-ups that die in infancy, can reduce.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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