Prioritizing connectedness and curriculum with young entrepreneurs

By Thokoza Mjo (Program Lead at The Anzisha Prize)

Over 10 years ago, we started the Anzisha Prize by recognising that Africa’s future will be shaped by young people who commit each day to think differently, break boundaries and choose to do hard things. Every year, the Anzisha Prize conducts an extensive search across the continent for young people between the ages of 15 – 22 that are running job generative businesses. We select only 20 young people from thousands of applications to join the Anzisha Prize Fellowship. The fellowship is a 3-year venture-building program that delivers business development support with the main focus on helping entrepreneurs introduce or strengthen processes and systems in their businesses. 

It has been a tradition for the newest Anzisha Prize cohort to gather at African Leadership Academy (ALA) campus in Johannesburg, South Africa for the official orientation and introduction to our pan African community of young leaders who are students at ALA. This marks a significant time on their journey as it is usually the first time the majority of the entrepreneurs travel outside of their home countries and have the opportunity to network with their peers from across the continent.

“We prioritized connectedness in order to deliver a strong curriculum that the young entrepreneurs could soak in and find useful.” 

For the first time in 10 years, we were forced to break this tradition due to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. The team had to take on the daunting task of recreating this experience online. Here are some of the choices we made that we believe were crucial in creating an intimate and powerful online engagement:

  • Remote learning and access to resources: Instead of spending money on flight tickets for the entrepreneurs to come to South Africa, we redirected that investment to purchase good quality devices pre-installed with the software they would need for an immersive online engagement. We didn’t leave anything to chance. We supplied internet modems and data to minimize connectivity challenges for entrepreneurs.
  • Activities that involve connectedness: We intentionally began each session with physical, emotional and mental health exercises delivered by ALA’s Wellness team. We created check-ins as a way for entrepreneurs to share their journeys. We prioritized connectedness in order to deliver a strong curriculum that the young entrepreneurs could actually soak in and find useful.
  • Let everyone play a role: As an institution that values experiential learning, we are clear on our ethos that everyone matters, and that everyone can contribute to creating and developing a meaningful learning space. We had an enjoyable time fostering this belief by letting the entrepreneurs take on some of the responsibility of hosting online talent evenings and virtual parties that allowed the full participation of everyone involved.
  • Combat Zoom Fatigue: We were very worried about ‘zoom fatigue’ as we knew how video engagements could be draining. We used gamification to deliver some of the content. For example, for sessions that focused on leadership, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork we hosted a virtual amazing race where entrepreneurs teamed up with peers (in another country) to complete the activities. We used the debriefing process to serve as self and group reflections that enabled us to turn the ‘game’ into a learning experience. 
  • Creating a sense of occasion: Making it into the top 20 from thousands of applications is a massive achievement and one that the Anzisha Prize is intentional about celebrating. We booked the entrepreneurs into hotels in the closest major city for an opportunity to be in quiet surroundings to make sure they focused their energy on preparing for the big pitch day.

The thought of preparing and hosting a 10-day virtual orientation program was daunting, to say the least, but the team has gained valuable knowledge and we are now in a position to pilot more exciting ideas that may happen virtually. The opportunity to engage online isn’t a panacea for programs like ours, but we have personally observed its impact on our ability to scale aspects of our business development support.