5 lessons learnt from supporting very young entrepreneurs

(Previous Anzisha Managers’ perspectives)

By: Dolapo Adeyanju

Young entrepreneurs’ journeys are shaped by many interrelated factors, one of which includes working closely with program managers, educators, and investors. 

While investors provide finance, managers and educators provide guidance to the beneficiaries of entrepreneurship programs – who have been entrusted with valuable resources –to help them build flourishing business ventures. 

Even though young entrepreneurs have a lot to gain from such relationships, the benefits are not totally one-sided but mutual. Recent evidence has shown that managers and educators learn life-changing lessons from the young start-up founders they mentor.

“Working with the Anzisha fellows contributed to my personal and professional growth as an independent management consultant.”

Grace Kalisha, a former Senior Program Manager at the African Leadership Academy.

Here are some of the biggest lessons that Grace Kalisha and Fanta Traore –  two of the pioneering managers of the Anzisha Prize Program –  learnt from working with very young entrepreneurs in Africa.

Age is not a Barrier

As for Fanta, the Founder of Sadie Collective – a growing non-profit organization that addresses pipeline problems in the field of economics for early career professionals– working with very young entrepreneurs within the Anzisha network taught her that age is not a barrier to making a difference in a changing world. 

She said: “When I look at how our young Anzisha Fellows have dared to go out there and start a venture of their own which also employs their peers, I am inspired. I become excited to share their stories with the other youths I come across so they too know that it is possible to become a business owner at age 18.” 

Problem Solving Ability

The ability of very young entrepreneurs to think outside of the box and find solutions to inherent problems in their communities has been a valuable lesson that has shaped many managers’ careers.

Fanta narrated how working with the Anzisha entrepreneurs inspired her to start her organisation after noticing a huge diversity gap while working as a senior research assistant in the Federal Reserve System’s International Finance division of the United States.

“Having worked with a diverse group at the African Leadership Academy, I immediately noticed a huge lack of diversity in the economic sector, with black people taking the bottom positions. I was inspired by the Anzisha Fellows who are super young and solving major problems in their communities. I knew that in tackling this issue, I don’t need a bunch of resources because I’ve seen the Anzisha fellows do so much with little.” 

Tenacity and Positivity

“Tough times don’t last, tough people, do.” This is a perfect phrase to describe many young entrepreneurs who against all odds have created a niche for themselves in the entrepreneurship world.

Grace said: “I think my time with Anzisha is a time where I was quite inspired. I found that the young entrepreneurs tended to have a goal-getting attitude, a will to believe that they can bring about a change in the world regardless of the circumstances that they are coming from.”

She added that her greatest lesson from the fellows is “to not be too aware of what could go wrong but to be more aware of what is possible and just leaning on what is possible and giving it your all.”

For her, these lessons have greatly shaped her career, even as she moved towards self-employment. 

A Leap of Confidence and Courage

The courage and confidence of very young entrepreneurs to set up flourishing enterprises in the face of many challenges has been a valuable lesson to Grace.

“Currently, I am an independent consultant. If you look at my background, the track on which I started was definitely one that was oriented towards full-time formal employment with lots of clarity around my personal career trajectory. Working with the fellows helped me to find some courage to consider what I could do on my own considering specific types of problems and clients. I can fairly say that without my exposure to the Anzisha fellows, I wouldn’t have made that leap with the confidence that I made it.”

Building Trust and Relationships

In the entrepreneurial world, building trust and relationships is fundamentally more valuable than most people would admit.

For both Fanta and Grace, interacting with the entrepreneurs through several training and mentorship sessions helped them to build valuable relationships that go beyond their professional life.

“I recall a number of moments when the entrepreneurs came to me to freely discuss their business strategies and personal challenges,” said Grace

This element of trust and reliance also gave the managers some sense of responsibility, which sparked their creative/innovative reasoning ability.