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Young entrepreneurs in West Africa collaborate to re-define the African story
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Young entrepreneurs in West Africa collaborate to re-define the African story

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Timi Olajungu

The Commonwealth Secretariat is bringing together young entrepreneurs from across West Africa with the intent of setting up a new regional youth alliance, writes Timi Olagunju, a young Commonwealth Correspondent from Lagos in Nigeria.

From October 25-27, 2016, young entrepreneurs from the Commonwealth countries of Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone gathered in Lagos, Nigeria, to discuss the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in West Africa, and work towards the creation of the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs-West Africa (CAYE-WA).

Within the Commonwealth, there have been concerted efforts by various leadership bodies to encourage youth entrepreneurship. The Secretariat has supported the creation of Commonwealth Alliances of Young Entrepreneurs, starting with Asia in November 2011, which has now spun off into networks in East Africa, Southern Africa, and currently West Africa.

CAYE-Western Africa will serve as a ‘network of networks’ that brings together national networks of young entrepreneurs and organisations which support young entrepreneurs to engage with governments, the private sector, the media and other stakeholders to champion the cause of youth entrepreneurship at the local, national, regional and international level.

During the conference, young entrepreneurs highlighted the challenges facing them, such as access to finance, lack of data-driven policies to cater for the need of the surging youth population, lack of an updated or existing entrepreneurship curriculum for young people, and poor collaboration among entrepreneurs, the private sector, and the government.

They also observed areas of progress related to government efforts in some countries to promote entrepreneurship through grants, training, and internships. For example, in Lagos State, the government partners with private organisations to provide training in entrepreneurship and ‘intrapreneurship’ for young people – such as the Lagos ‘Open-Andela’ programme, which empowers young entrepreneurs and professionals in technology.

Acknowledging this progress, the entrepreneurs recommended the following:

  • The need to improve the ease of doing business.
  • The need to apply a case study approach to teaching entrepreneurship and the development of entrepreneurship curriculum for children and teenagers.
  • The need to shift overall focus from the central government, and empower state and local governments with the mandate to drive local policies in increasing entrepreneurship.
  • The need to promote and institutionalise apprenticeship and mentoring programmes in driving entrepreneurship.
  • The need to promote local content.
  • The need for increased private involvement in driving social good and entrepreneurship.

Officials from the Commonwealth Secretariat, as well as regional stakeholders from both the government and private sectors, were in attendance. Rounding off the three-day conference, a steering committee was formed, with Olalekan Oshunkoya (Nigeria) elected as the interim Chairman. The committee will provide structural direction to the new network, and consolidate CAYE’s work in Commonwealth countries, and possibly encourage expansion to non-Commonwealth West African countries.

Quite inspiring were the stories of two distinguished female entrepreneurs, Epiliki Stephanie from Cameroon and Fatima Sesay from Sierra Leone, who shared how they were born into challenging backgrounds and started building their business from zero capital, and have now established successful businesses.

It is these kinds of stories of young entrepreneurs who have not allowed their background to deter them that CAYE-Western Africa seeks to multiply across the sub-region.

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