The Anzisha Prize: Combating the challenges facing young entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs in Africa typically face a wide variety of challenges, most notably access to finances, investor confidence and lack of infrastructure. But for the continent’s youngest entrepreneurs, these challenges are even more severe.

Chi Achebe, programme manager for the Anzisha Prize

“Ageism is not yet a thing of the past on the African continent,” said Chi Achebe, programme manager of the award for Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs, the Anzisha Prize.

“Younger entrepreneurs – no matter how educated or accomplished they are, or how much potential they may have – typically will not be taken as seriously as their older counterparts due to what I refer to as ‘small boy/girl, sit down’ cultural prevalence. There is the tendency to underestimate what young people can do at a very young age and [people] advise ambitious youth to rather sit down, focus on their studies, and wait for their turn.”

For this reason, young entrepreneurs struggle to gain funding – in an environment where access to finance is scarce – and they often have to self-finance their initiatives.

“If you go to a bank as an 18-year-old asking for a loan for your business, you will probably be laughed away,” Achebe told How we made it in Africa.

She added that in most cases young people are discouraged from pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, and are advised to look for the security of employment in an established company.

However, the United Nations estimates that over 50% of Africans are under the age of 20 years, with around one fifth of the population estimated to be between the ages of 15 and 24. Furthermore, the World Bank calculates that this age group accounts for around 60% of Africa’s unemployed. It would therefore make sense for entrepreneurship to be fostered in the youth so they can employ themselves and others, as well as create sustainable businesses that will form the backbone of their country’s economy in the future.

“The Anzisha Prize really wants to be there to help encourage and support these young entrepreneurs… and let them know that entrepreneurship is a viable option,” added Achebe.

Meet the Anzisha Prize
The Anzisha Prize is an award that acknowledges and supports African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 who have started and are actively running innovative social ventures or for-profit businesses with potential. The award seeks to assist Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs with overcoming the various challenges they face, such as a lack of access to investment and mentorship.

“The Anzisha Fellows are a group of exceptional young entrepreneurs who are creating jobs, improving lives, and forming a truly pan-African network of business innovators,” says Reeta Roy, president and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, an Anzisha Prize partner.

“This prize provides them with an opportunity to learn from each other, and develop skills to grow their businesses and make a greater impact in their communities.”

Every year 12 finalists are selected through a rigorous application process, and join the Anzisha network of mentors and investors.

These finalists not only stand the chance to win over US$75,000 in cash prizes, but also receive an all-expenses paid trip to South Africa to be a part of a week-long entrepreneurship workshop and conference at the prestigious African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Past fellows of the Anzisha Prize have since benefitted from media exposure, funding, access to business networks and continuous support through mentorship.

In light of this year’s application process, the Anzisha team recently visited Lagos to promote the prize and host an indaba of past finalists from West Africa to find out how they are progressing.

“The fellows are doing very well,” said Achebe. “It was very interesting to see how they are doing personally and then how their projects are progressing. They have all made pretty substantial progress on their projects and have had a few life changes.”

For example, 2013 finalist Donald Bambara has a recycling company in Senegal which recently hit a bump in the road when the recycling centre he uses stopped accepting plastic. During his time in Lagos, the Anzisha team connected him with Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, the co-founder of Wecyclers Nigeria, who was able to advise Bambara on how to move forward.

Bambara told How we made it in Africa that he also enjoyed networking with the Anzisha fellows and some other entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

“It was really inspiring to discuss [business] with people who are the same age and share the same entrepreneurship spirit,” highlighted Bambara.

Another 2013 Anzisha Prize fellow, David Morfaw, manages a poultry business, but is looking to start producing and packaging fresh fruit juice and frozen chickens. “It will be really exciting to see where he goes with that,” said Achebe.

The Anzisha team and fellows received some publicity with an interview on a leading Nigerian radio station, Beat 99.9FM. They also participated in a symposium at the Social Media Week in Lagos where the team was swamped with questions from entrepreneurs and investors interested in learning more about the award.

“It was very exciting,” continued Achebe. “The Anzisha Prize was so well received. The response was better than I could have ever anticipated or imagined.”

The Anzisha team will be hosting two more indabas in the next few weeks; one at The District in Cairo, Egypt (March 13-15) for the North African fellows, and then in Nairobi, Kenya (March 18-20) for the East African fellows. They will also be in Casablanca, Morocco (March 11-12) and Kigali, Rwanda (March 21).

Entries now open for 2014
The application process is now underway for the 2014 Anzisha Prize and applications will be accepted until April 15 in English, French or Arabic.

This year, the Anzisha Prize has partnered with an exceptional group of youth NGOs in each country to extend its reach. Anzisha country partners for 2014 include The Knowledge Institute (Swaziland), The District (Egypt), iEARN (Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Mali), AIESEC (various countries) and Junior Achievement (various countries), among many others. These partners will allow Anzisha to reach more young entrepreneurs than before and find another incredible set of fellows in 2014.

Credit: How we made it in Africa