Five entrepreneurs changing African lives for the better

Five innovative programmes are aiming to diffuse the “ticking time bomb” of Africa’s youth employment crisis

African business and political leaders, including Zambia’s finance minister Alexander Chikwanda, have described Africa’s youth employment challenge as a “ticking time bomb.” They say that the deepening gap between young people’s skills and the needs of employers has been linked to education systems that simply are not up to standard, but also down to a general lack of faith in young people as being capable of making meaningful contributions in a global marketplace, sometimes because of cultural and gender biases.

As a result, young men and women in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to make a living in the insecure informal economy, struggling to overcome myriad barriers to formal employment.

“Many leaders are confident that young people can be activists, innovators and even job creators for their communities.”

Despite these daunting challenges, many leaders see this situation as a great opportunity. They are confident that young people can be activists, innovators and even job creators for their communities.

Here are five ideas from social entrepreneurs under the age of 30 that redefine employment in Africa, while putting young people in charge as changemakers:

1. KadAfrica, Uganda
Helping women entrepreneurs seize market opportunities

Eric Kaduru, 30, is helping thousands of out-of-school girls turn small tracts of unused land into money-making passion fruit farms in Kyenjojo, a small town at the intersection of two major highways in western Uganda. Participating young women each receive a 240-square metre plot (about twice the size of a six-yard box in football) and 45 passion fruit vines to launch their own small-scale agribusiness.

Kaduru, who worked in advertising but turned to agriculture four years ago, offers “intense” technical support to his KadAfrica entrepreneurs, who also get access to a ready market: 70 percent of passion fruit in Uganda is imported, so there’s plenty of appetite among Ugandans for buying locally.

The young women produce anywhere between 220 to 330 pounds of fruit per month on average, which brings in a monthly income of $20 (£13). Some KadAfrica entrepreneurs make as much as $50 (£32) per month, a seriously significant increase from the average $3 (£2) per month the women earned before joining the program, according to a baseline study conducted in early 2014. The extra income is used by young women to either expand their passion fruit farms or launch new ventures such as a nursery school for neighbourhood children.

KadAfrica is gaining attention in Kyenjojo. There are currently 1,200 women on the waiting list who hope to join the programme, and Kaduru is confident he can scale-up the programme to meet the needs of 3,000 young women over the next two years.


2. GiftedMom, Cameroon
Enabling income-generation by closing systemic gaps in health care

GiftedMom is Central Africa’s first mobile health platform, designed to improve the health of pregnant women, new mothers and their children. It saves lives, too.

When founder Alain Nteff, 22, visited a clinic in rural Cameroon, he learned that premature babies were losing their lives due to complications from illnesses such as syphilis, chlamydia, and malaria. The deaths were preventable; the grieving mothers would still have their children had they received proper care during their pregnancies, Nteff claims. He felt he had to take action.

Today, GiftedMom offers a comprehensive suite of services to women and families. In Cameroon, one in five women never see a physician during pregnancy, so GiftedMom’s free SMS services sends reminders about the importance of prenatal care and breastfeeding directly to subscribers’ mobile phones. The platform tracks vaccinations for children and also makes immunisation schedules available to their guardians.

GiftedMom also run mobile campaigns to inform the public, including teenagers, about family planning, contraception techniques, and other reproductive health issues, and field questions from the community.

For support on the ground, the GiftedMom team rely on hundreds of young people, many of whom were training to be doctors at private health science institutes that were shut down by Cameroon’s government in 2013. Of the 200 young persons in the GiftedMom network that have medical skills, eight have been hired full-time by GiftedMom; the others receive support to launch their own community development initiatives while serving their communities as volunteers. Nteff hopes to expand this network to 30,000 young people in 10 countries by 2017.


3. Tiwale Community Based Organization, Malawi
Creating a path from self-sufficiency to ambitious entrepreneurship

In Malawi, a landlocked country powered by agriculture, about 80 percent of the population live in rural areas and more than 60 percent live on less than $1 (65p) per day. Women, in many cases, have it tougher than men. Just 16 percent of girls finish primary school, and many women must deal with challenges such as low socio-economic status, higher than average rates of HIV and AIDS, and one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality.

Ellen Chilemba, a budding entrepreneur since her pre-teen years, is trying to change these difficult circumstances for women in Malawi with her for-profit social enterprise, Tiwale. Chilemba, now 20, and her team have trained 150 women as entrepreneurs, while also offering grants, loans and lessons that can lead to empowerment and independence.

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Tiwale’s Design Project trains women in traditional fabric dye-printing. Some of the revenue from the sale of women’s handiwork is used to fund other programmes offered by the organisation that give women opportunities for self-sufficiency. These programmes include a school grant programme that covers fees, transportation costs, school supplies, and offers a small living stipend, plus the flagship microfinance loan programme.

The microfinance loan programme is essentially a business plan challenge. Innovators with the best ideas receive $70 (£45) interest-free loans to help turn their ambition into action. The loans must be repaid over the course of 10 weeks, but that hasn’t been a problem for any of the more than 30 winners, each of whom successfully launched their own profitable small business: some are earning as much as $7 (£4.50) per day.


4. Twim Academy, Nigeria
Formalising real-world learning in the creative arts

The Twim Academy in Idaban, Nigeria, is a school for media and the creative arts that was founded by Olumide Adeleye, aged 27. Twim Academy opened its doors in 2013 and offers young people, typically 18-35, courses in basic computer skills, photography, video production, web design, and visual effects.

Media and arts students who want to grow their skill set and gain real-world experience can sign up for six-week, certificate-level courses, or earn Twim Academy diplomas in more structured, semester-long classes. Both course types focus on hands-on experience and aim to give students expertise and vocational skills.

“Educational institutions have failed to provide their students the appropriate skills to make them employable.”

“Deficient school curricula and poor teacher training have contributed to the failure of educational institutions to provide their students the appropriate skills to make them employable,” says a Brookings Institute report on Nigeria, a country with more than 11 million unemployed young people.

So far, Twim Academy has provided comprehensive vocational training to more than 100 young people, with graduates going on to become professional photographers, videographers or small business owners. Adeleye plans to open a second academy in Idaban, a 50-acre campus, and to scale-up across the country – with Lagos being a prime location as one of the world’s fastest growing cities.


5. AEPT-Detenus et Entrepreneuriat, Burkina Faso
Getting prisoners back in work

Burkina Faso’s government collapsed under the pressure of protests demanding a change in leadership in October 2014. President Blaise Compaore stepped down one day after the parliament building in the capital city, Ouagadougou, went up in flames, officially ending his 27-year rule.

During Compaore’s governance, major human rights problems included (but were not limited to) the “excessive use for force against civilians, criminal suspects, and detainees,” according to a US State Department report, as well as the abuse of prisoners, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and judicial inefficiency.

In this time of change and transition, Hado Nicaise Sawadogo, 28, had an idea to change the lives of prison inmates in his home country. Since 2011, Sawadogo and his team have offered French literacy courses to inmates in the Ouagadougou Correctional Facility. Now he wants to expand the project to each of the nearly 30 prisons across Burkina Faso, and to introduce entrepreneurship programming to get young men and women back to work. His aim is to reduce the rate of relapse into criminal behavious. His team is just getting started, but AEPT is a project to watch.

First published by Forbes, in partnership with Ashoka