Social Enterprises in Africa

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From solar powered Android tablets in South Africa to foot pedals for charging cell phones in Lesotho, entrepreneurs in Africa have over the past few decades been developing concepts that are changing and improving the lives of the communities they live in. Many are stepping in, to provide essential services that were once and still are considered to be the obligation of governments. A can-do attitude that many Africans possess in the face of many challenges, risks as well as countless setbacks, is something to be celebrated.

As Africa continues to be viewed as virgin territory for innovative solutions that are leapfrogging existing technology in industrialised countries, young social entrepreneurs are now pushing the boundaries more than ever for change. Many are determined to build a sustainable, secure and stable future for themselves and the communities they live in. The challenges of lack of decent employment opportunities has forced many to think outside the box. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 1.8 billion young people in developing countries today, and Africa and Asia have up to 90% of them. At least 70% of people in most African countries are below the age of 30 to 35. The private sector and public sector is not able to absorb many of these energetic young people full of ideas. It is for this reason, that many are now using their innovative ideas for social good, as a way of building capacity and working towards becoming economic participants of growth going forward.

Social enterprises such as Malo co-founded by  Mohamad Ali Niang  to address serious issues such as high levels of Anaemia which is reported to be prevalent in 81% of children under the age of 5 in Mali, are to be applauded. This social venture was initiated with the aim of confronting the problems of malnutrition in the heart of one of Africa’s biggest rice growing regions by providing fortified rice at a cheaper price than non-fortified rice.

Many entrepreneurs now link their endeavours to not only the creation of jobs which are much needed particularly in the current climate, but also to empowerment and a move towards integration into the global economy as seen with internet startups in Africa which have been snapped up for millions of dollars by silicon valley based companies.

While money may be a motivation for some, most are of the view that if they do something for the good of the community and enjoy what they do while helping people along the way, the money will follow. In any case most entrepreneurs running social ventures, are motivated by passion for their work.

Despite the existing challenges and frustrations that aspiring as well as emerging entrepreneurs face, there has generally been an increase in the level  of entrepreneurial activities over the past few years with a much higher proportion of women. An annual report recently published by GEM indicated that Nigeria and Zambia were leading the world ranking at 40.7% with regards to the number of female entrepreneurs. United States and The United Kingdom were at 10.4% and 5.5% respectively, lagging behind were Norway at 3.6% and France at 3.1%.

A culture of entrepreneurship has certainly emerged over the past decade or so and has injected a spirit of optimism. Organisations such as SENet a wing of the African Network of Entrepreneurs which has the objective of discovering and developing young entrepreneurs right from school is also helping change the mind-set of students in institutions of higher learning in countries like Ghana and other parts of Africa. Some Universities are creating programmes aimed at nurturing future entrepreneurs to be job creators.

In 2010 Bayero University in Nigeria established the centre for African Entreprenuership Research and Training which offers “robust entrepreneurship courses” to undergraduates in Business and Management Studies. There is no doubt that initiatives of this nature will have a significant impact in the economic fortunes of the continent going forward.

While some might argue that this is simply academic postulation, there is evidence to show that this type of training which has been carried out in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, has benefited the economies of countries in those regions. Most students who participate in entrepreneurial education are better equipped with skills that offer a great career option and connect students to businesses that offer support as they embark on new ventures.

A considerable number of young entrepreneurs are now seeking the benefits of venturing out on their entrepreneurial endeavours at a younger age to set up social ventures straight out of college or University. Startup capital may be a challenge but the new wave of entrepreneurs are no longer pinning their hopes on finding the perfect job.

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