Youth entrepreneurship has the potential of providing the much-needed solution to Africa’s unemployment challenges, and driving economic growth on the continent. Click To Tweet

The road to 2030 – a year set aside by development partners as the deadline for eradicating extreme poverty – looks very much uncertain for many African countries. The confluence of rapid demographic growth, digital transformation, and weak human resource base in recent years presents fresh and critical challenges to Africa’s development dynamics and global competitiveness.

According to the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 13% of the world’s working-age population. By 2030, this number will increase to more than 17%, making many African countries resource-rich, labor-abundant economies. Yet, only about 3 million jobs are created on the continent annually. Many African governments have struggled to translate economic growth into improved sustainable economic opportunity for their citizens. The International Labour Organization records that young people are the most affected segment of people without jobs.

Nevertheless, youth entrepreneurship has the potential of providing the much-needed solution to Africa’s unemployment challenges, and driving economic growth on the continent. Africa’s youth could be in the driving seat of global development in the next decades thereby catalyzing economic growth through entrepreneurship (UNDP).

Historically, entrepreneurship has been a tool for helping people take ownership of their aspirations. Initiatives like Startup India and Make in India helped to spur economic growth and attract Foreign Direct Investment into the Indian economy. According to a study by IDRC Canada, youth entrepreneurship, in particular, is an option to create employment for the youth.


Youth entrepreneurs are more likely to hire fellow youths, are particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends and are active in high growth sectors, amongst others.

In the words of Tony Elumelu, founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, entrepreneurship is the cornerstone to African development and the key to local value creation in Africa. If properly harnessed, Africa’s burgeoning youth population could translate into a dividend for the continent through the creation of enterprises that will not only contribute towards economic growth but also create jobs for their fellow youth (OECD).

However, to properly harness and unlock entrepreneurial potentials of Africa’s youth, the following pieces need to be put in place:

  1. Funding for startups. Although there has been a remarkable improvement in venture capital funding in Africa, undercapitalization is still one of the major reasons why many startups fail. The road to startup funding in Africa is a long one, and 9 out of 10 ventures never make it. With an incredibly skewed ecosystem and lack of local funding pipeline in many African countries, the hope for venture capital funding for startups often lies outside the continent. There is, therefore, a need for more financial instruments to provide the pre-seed and seed capital to early-stage businesses.
  2. Access to market. Without the opportunity to access markets, obtain market-based prices and meet demands, business owners cannot capture economic opportunities on the continent. In spite of the tremendous economic prospects of regional integration, intra-Africa trade has remained horrendously low. It is estimated that intra-African trade costs are around 50% higher than in East Asia, and are the highest of intra-regional costs in any developing region. Not only is there a need for trade and market information to entrepreneurs, but there is also a need for inclusivity. We must create systems, processes, and platforms to connect buyers and sellers from across the continent, as well as minimize post-harvest losses for smallholder farmers. Hopefully, initiatives like the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair will provide the pathways to advancing trade and economic conditions of people across the region. The FAO estimates that on-farm and post-harvest activities account for US$4 billion tons in losses per year. To curb this, the African Development Bank (AfDB) committed to invest US$24 billion in agricultural transformative projects in Africa over the next decade. But that’s not enough, the use of data at the farm and value chain levels could potentially transform African agricultural systems and lead to greater access to markets.
  3. Mentorship and skills development. Despite the media celebration of African business icons like Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiyiwa, Rebecca Enonchong and so on, entrepreneurship on the continent, in practice,  is a long, arduous journey that requires stamina, education, and community support. According to a Venture Capital for Africa survey, of all the different reasons that might cause an African-based business to fail, respondents selected poor execution as chief. This, essentially, means poor entrepreneurship skills. As a Tony Elumelu entrepreneur, I can attest to the transformative power of top-tier mentorship and skills development as prerequisites for entrepreneurial success. Access to entrepreneurship support systems, especially for women and youth in rural areas, could spur more opportunities for innovation on the continent.
  4. A policy with a purpose. Young people often face numerous challenges when trying to establish their businesses. Among these bottlenecks are high banking fees, inadequate youth-friendly products and lack of financial literacy. Governments need to create policies and programs that facilitate an enabling entrepreneurial ecosystem and access to investment stacks to turn ideas into innovations. There is also a need for private sector support in enhancing the capacity of youth development organizations at the local level. And, the financial sector must create special products to serve youth-led startups and provide young people with access to relevant financial services. Rwanda’s Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth (PSDAG), Ghana’s National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP), Nigeria’s N-Power and The Tony Elumelu Foundation serve as case studies for some of the answers we need in creating systems and platforms that turn passion to profit.


The economic case for unlocking the potentials of young people through entrepreneurship is simple: it is one sure way of actualizing the sustainable development goal of eradicating poverty on the continent by 2030. In other words, the biggest business opportunities on the continent in the coming decade will be created by young innovators. The impact of development institutions like the Tony Elumelu Foundation is proof positive that if governments, institutions, and private sector organizations collaborate in “democratizing luck” and setting young people up for entrepreneurial success, the social and economic dividends are tremendous! The future of Africa lies in youth entrepreneurship. Therefore, investment in youth is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do – and the time is now!

About the Author

Tom-Chris✨ #Readyforwork
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the President & Founder of SFAN. He is an education enthusiast, entrepreneurship and career coach, a consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana and an aspiring venture capitalist. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Experts have said that one of the smartest investments you will ever make in your business or career is finding a mentor who believes in you and is willing to help you succeed.

However, whenever we discuss the subject of mentorship with our SFAN community, there are four basic questions we usually receive:

  • Who is a mentor?
  • Why is mentorship important?
  • How do I find a mentor that is right for me, and can I have more than one mentor?
  • How do I get the best from my mentor?

To this effect, we invited two emerging global leaders — Adepeju Jaiyeoba, Founder of Mothers Delivery Kit and Charles Lipenga, Founder/CEO of Maestros Leadership — for December edition of #SFANLiveChat; to give our readers valuable insights into the above questions.

1. Who a mentor is

“A mentor is someone who systematically empowers a person to see the future and believe it can be obtained.”- Charles Lipenga

Before you start your mentorship relationship, it’s important to understand who a mentor is.

Popular literature traces the origin of the word “mentor” to Homer’s epic poem: The Odyssey. In Odyssey, whenever the King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

“Mentors can be in form of supervisors, teachers, pastors, parents; they are there for our guidance, inspiration and/or correction. But, it is very important to understand that the measure of your success is not based on the mighty works your mentors do,” says Charles.

“There’s a favorite definition of a mentor I really love: A mentor is someone whose hindsight you make your own foresight,” Adepeju adds.

2. The importance of mentorship

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect it looking backward.” — Steve Jobs

With mentoring, Adepeju explains, we can learn from the mistakes of others, share experiences, know what loopholes to avoid as we go along and grow into the image fitting our vision or something close. Cheers, encouragement, a little push, some reality check is sometimes all we need.

Speaking from his journey growing his leadership development initiative into an award-winning social enterprise, Charles Lipenga is familiar with the importance and long-term impact of mentorship guidance. “Mentors provide information and knowledge. When I was starting out, I had no idea what was involved in running a business, including making a business plan, budgeting, handling daily operations, making strategic decisions or running a marketing campaign. Mentors can also be the best connectors. Because this person knows your enterprise or you, he/she might know the best organization/opportunity to link you with and when it is best. This comes in really handy.”

3. Finding the right mentor and the benefits of multiple mentors

“Only take advice from someone you are willing to trade places with.”- Darren Hardy

When it comes to finding a mentor that is right for you, Jaiyeoba says, “a number of things could be check listed: Does the person inspire you? Is the person a perceived reflection of who you want to be? Can the person help you grow? Does this person match the growth areas you want?”

Says Lipenga: you have to be crystal clear about your reason for seeking out a mentor. Define what type of help you’re looking for in a mentor; are you looking for someone with similar skills or with a very different skill set who can coach you?

Both speakers agree on the fact that you can have more than one mentor as it helps you garner different perspectives.

“Don’t limit yourself to one mentor. You can establish multiple mentoring relationships with individuals who can help you grow in different aspects of your life; personal, career, business, etc. Think of it as building your own personal board of directors.” Charles underscores.

Research has shown those who have mentors tend to have better career-related outcomes that stem from these mentor functions, it also shows those who receive the greatest benefit have multiple mentors.

4. How to get the best from your mentor

To get the best from a mentor, Adepeju clarifies, the first thing you need to understand is that your mentor is very busy, so be patient and flexible with him or her.

Secondly, you have to be hungry for it. “How bad do you want their advice? What are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?”

Thirdly, you have to make it a value-centered relationship. “No matter how insignificant you think it is, give value.”

Fourthly, don’t take their time for granted. One of the biggest challenges with mentors is finding time to mentor, hence let it be more about relationship building. “Remember, we are all human. Consistently reach out to them to update on your progress. Mentoring is not another ‘job’, it’s about cultivating relationships.”

A mentoring relationship succeeds and is satisfying for both parties when both the mentor and the person being mentored take an active role in developing the relationship.

For Charles, you get what you aim for in a mentor. Therefore, you have to establish goals for the relationship. “Discuss and agree upon the goals of the relationship and what you, personally, are doing to make it a successful venture. Review these goals from time to time to be sure the relationship is working; if not, adjust and refocus.”

“Establish communication methods and frequency of contact from the beginning. Talk with your mentor to determine the channels of communication that will work for both of you. i.e will you meet face to face or communicate mainly through e-mail and the telephone?”

“Manage expectations and build trust. Mentoring takes time and implies sacrifices for both the person being mentored and the mentor. Be respectful of your mentor’s time and the other priorities in her life such as family, travel, and community activities.”

“Finally, always express your gratitude. I like to say, gratitude is the key to doors of more opportunities. Your mentor is likely to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and contacts,” he explains.


As Denzel Washington says, show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living — if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way — a mentor.

The importance of having someone who holds you to higher standards, and helps you reach your full potentials is valueless. Following the tips above can help you locate the right mentor that will give your career a great boast.

While I cannot guarantee it answers all your mentorship questions, what I can guarantee is that if you observe the guidelines carefully, you will not only get the best from your mentorship relationship, you will be in a position to mentor others.

Turning what you love into something that creates opportunities for progress with financial rewards.

Towards the celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016, we launched a monthly Twitter Chat to drive interesting business and career conversations among our followers. The meeting was held on the theme, “turning your passion into a career,” with the following guests:

  1. Carolyne Ekayrisiima, founder of Tanzania’s award-winning Apps and Girls
  2. Raquel Wilson, Communications Teaching Fellow at MEST Africa

Here are 4 takeaways from the brilliant chat:

1. Start by choosing the best of your dreams

Carolyne started her career as a lecturer at Kampala International University before moving on to found Apps and Girls. She recommends that you understand what interests you the most and engage with people that are already in that line of work. This gives you the privilege to ask your “hard” questions and find out what their ideal days might look like.

It has been said that the best way to get good counsel is to ask different questions from the same person and to ask the same question to different people. Different perspectives help you form better arguments in your mind in decision making.

Raquel, on the other hand, thinks that the word “career” seems to suggest that there’s a follow-this-and-have-it-all magic formula when in actual fact there isn’t. She believes that people should have the liberty to create their own formula by dreaming their biggest dreams and creating strategies to grow around it. If you’re a student, she says, you have less weight of responsibilities and time to explore your interests before choosing the one you’d like to commit yourself to for a long term.

Yet, there are certain universal principles for success. Participating from Paris, France, Sha Osei of ShaOseiPR reminded us about one of such principles in her quote of a statement by Her Excellency Ambassador Johanna Odonkor Svanikier: Attitude is key! It opens doors and you are remembered no matter what.


2. Think of non-traditional ways to monetize your passion

Right from childhood, Raquel has the ability to sell things; from newspapers to drinks and food. She explains that to monetize your passion, you have to give yourself room to do different things at the same time. However, she observes, this involves prioritizing. “Time is not right for everything but I don’t pigeonhole myself into this or that.”

Also, Fellowships and grants are other viable tools to scale your passion. To note, the later could be very competitive and not always available.

Carolyne’s sustainable impact secret is to develop a revenue streams for every solution you design. This is very important even if you are not making profits. It’s important that you create a cost/revenue plan into your work whether you’re running a not-for-profit or for-profit company, she says.

3. Passion never fails but Passion alone is not enough

Whereas having passion is very vital for your career, passion is not enough. Carolyne advises that you need to set objective goals; know why you’re doing what you are doing, and have a plan for achieving your goals.

“Business is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Having a team of people who will always have your back can save you a lot of troubles; even if it’s only one person. According to Raquel, the first point to building your team is to share what you’re dreaming of or working on with as many people as possible. Sooner or later someone will see the light and join you.

4. Have a mentor

In her work at MEST Africa, Raquel helps some of the brightest young entrepreneurs in Africa develop compelling stories that help them make their dreams come true. She observes that a lot of young people have grown up being told what they cannot do. In her role, she helps them see what they can accomplish if they put their minds to it.

This is why mentorship is very vital. You need someone who can see the bright future for you. This could be someone whose work you admire, even if you’re not on the same track.

Carolyne’s motivation for building Apps and Girls is to be the role model she couldn’t find to adolescent girls wangling their ways through a “man’s world” of tech. Tweeting from an experience of helping her students develop the confidence to build their dreams, she recommends that your mentor should be someone who understands and believes in your future, work, and life goals; someone you can learn from and someone who can have your back when you fail.

As George Iregi; a participant from Kenya observed, failure can be painful. Yet sometimes, failure brings out the best in us. When the road ahead gets foggy, you need someone who can speak faith into your life and help you create a comeback.

No matter what your dreams are, there’s always someone who’s mastered the process. Reach out to her or him and find out what they did differently. Have a good attitude, be open to opportunities, have people you trust to share the vision with and make it happen! But, be sure to have fun along the way, everything else will be alright 🙂

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Image Credits: Isaiah McClean,  Matty Adame on Unsplash

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