Very young social entrepreneurs – critical agents of change for Africa’s growth

By Neil Butcher and Associates

African populations are rapidly increasing in numbers. This means that these populations are getting younger and that existing challenges, such as unemployment, are also likely to intensify.  

Two recent responses to this global call to action comes from the United Nations’ World Youth Report: Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda as well as theVery Young Entrepreneur Scenario for Africa, proposed by the African Leadership Academy, through its Anzisha Program.

Through the Very Young Entrepreneur (VYE) Scenario, the Anzisha Program proposes investing in entrepreneurs of all ages but with a specific focus on VYEs under the age of 25, whose lack of experience in years is countered by promises of a longer-term solution to unemployment through increased business opportunities.

The VYE Scenario is based on the premises that young entrepreneurs are more likely to hire other young people, are more receptive to new technologies, and their businesses have a bigger impact when successful. Importantly, and aligned with the recently published World Youth Report, young people, and VYEs specifically, are interested in social entrepreneurship – meaning they want to make a difference in their societies while pursuing employment opportunities for themselves and others.

So, what do the VYE Scenario and World Youth Report propose needs to happen to advance entrepreneurship among young Africans?

“Even under the best conditions, youthsocial entrepreneurship is challenging, but it can be especially difficult when it is driven by a truly innovative idea.” World Youth Report

Both documents emphasise the importance of creating a supportive entrepreneurship ecosystem. The World Youth Report provides a more systemic view of such an ecosystem, with a particular focus on getting social entrepreneurship among youth embedded in national policies, aligning cross-sectoral policies, and providing space for measuring progress. In addition, an ecosystem supportive of developing social entrepreneurship should have a strong presence in education and training, enable innovation and support for youth pursuing social entrepreneurship, and create awareness among all citizens about the potential of social entrepreneurship as a career pathway.

  • Those who must choose this path: Young Africans with leadership potential.
  • Those who most influence career choices: Parents and Educators.
  • Those who can increase the likelihood of success: Investors and Policy Makers.

The ecosystem proposed by the VYE Scenario matches support structures (in the form of key stakeholders) to specific phases of entrepreneurial development for young people. For example, initial guidance and encouragement from parents, community members, and educators are important factors to validate young people’s ideas, grow confidence in their abilities, and develop discipline. From there, mentors play a key role to provide guidance, investors to finance ideas, and public and private sector actors to provide supportive policy frameworks, as well as structures such as incubators and accelerators.

While the specifics of entrepreneurship ecosystems might vary, the foundational elements seem to include an enabling policy and business environment, entrepreneurial education and training, a variety of support networks, the availability of financial support, and a public awareness of opportunities in entrepreneurship as career pathways.

While it might hold true that VYEs will fail more frequently, early in their careers, due to inexperience and a lack of resources, they have more time to bounce back – especially when surrounded by a supporting ecosystem. The proposals for (social) entrepreneurship ecosystems for young people encourage us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to see the long-term potential of investing in youth, and VYEs in particular, for the future of employment and developing agents of change to impact positively on the future of African youth.

Neil Butcher and Associates is a valued research partner to the Anzisha Prize.

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