Last month, at the United Nations compound in Nairobi, Kenya, President Obama spoke to an audience of business innovators from 120 countries at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. He spoke there about “the spirit of entrepreneurship” rising in Africa. Dedicated educators across the continent are putting Mr. Obama’s words into practice, by equipping Africa’s next generations of young entrepreneurs with the skills they need to succeed in this burgeoning climate of private sector led growth.
MCE Uganda combines skills and leadership training with coaching and mentorship opportunities to provide vulnerable out-of-school youth guidance and career support. The program uses a variety of initiatives to give students artisan-level apprenticeships, vocational trainings, and other direct experiences with local businesses to develop practical career skills. One of their initiatives, the Business Developing Service, delivers enterprise development training and follow-up support to generate feasible business ideas, develop business plans, and improve business systems. MCE Uganda even organizes an annual Youth Enterprise Fare that showcases youth-led businesses and fosters linkages with youth-focused organizations and provides an invaluable first step for young Ugandans on their journey to self-directed success.
The Spire Program in Kenya plays a unique role connecting university students with local employers for mutually beneficial relationships. Employers are hungry for workers with cutting-edge knowledge and the skills to work well within a team. The Spire project uses innovative learning techniques (online, peer-led, etc) to train students in the professional skills most desired by local businesses, like finance and sales/marketing, or character traits like a willingness to learn from failures and humility. The need for these skilled workers is high enough that employers are willing to invest in the program to provide loans to the students in order to finance their enrollment in the classes. It is a co-funding model that has seen success with Spire, and is increasingly being applied throughout the region.
The benefits of early education interventions are increasingly clear, and these efficiencies are also being applied to early education for the types of non-cognitive, entrepreneurial skills demanded by modernizing workforces. The Young Enterprise Education in Schools (YEES!) program starts developing these market-skills at the primary level for students as young as 5 years old. YEES! uses field trips, sports activities, peer-to-peer learning, mentorship, and other strategies to equip children for fulfilling careers. The responding demand has been so great that YEES! is now developing program activities to be deployed by partnering schools themselves. By 2017 they aim to reach one million students through these partnerships, making an impact on the economic climate in Kenya for years to come.
In Morocco, every summer brings a new free-of-charge Entrepreneurial Summer camp to young adults seeking to form their own businesses. Attending students are taught the process of problem identification, problem solving, and idea implementation so that they can become job creators rather than job seekers. These methods include lectures, hands-on experiments, inspiring talks from guest speakers, field interviews, personal development coaching and a competition to pitch their ideas. The scale of these camps remains small, but the program is seeking to increase its impact through animated online courses, and a curriculum toolkit for participants to bring back to their own communities.
Another program in Kenya readying youth to secure a brighter future for themselves is the Young Leaders Program in the slum community of Embakasi. The program promotes academic achievement and enhances capacity for enterprise and innovation among youth. It supports students through their four years of secondary schooling with a holistic approach to education that includes scholarships, leadership skills, mentoring, experiential learning, and family/community involvement. When the four-year program is completed, the Program maintains the relationship with its students, tracking and monitoring their progress not just through the classes, but as they begin their careers as well.
Many economies within Africa are shooting upwards. No longer is the continent seen simply as an aid recipient. Instead it is developing into a true opportunity for investment. Immense challenges remain though. Infrastructure must be expanded, governance issues like corruption and equal access remain significant hurdles, and education levels of the huge youth population are often inadequate. But progress against theses constraints is happening. President Obama correctly recognized the power of Africa’s young entrepreneurs to “lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies,” and momentum for early-stage enterprises grows each day.
Programs like those listed here will play a vital role ensuring that Africa’s business climates maintains its promising progress. As these students develop into entrepreneurs, they will spur their communities to grow along with them. President Obama and other global leaders recognize this more and more, and their support is already having an impact. Here’s hoping that their attention continues to extend to the ground-level, where young African students are developing the capacity to create fruitful features for not only themselves, but for their families, communities, and nations as well.
Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.
Photo Credits (top to bottom): Spire, M.C.E Uganda, National Entrepreneurial Challenge, Global Education Fund