April 8, 2016
“Africa represents a prime case where the reality and opportunity are much better than the perception” – Thomas Barry
The African continent, admittedly, has a lot of developmental challenges which have contributed to stifling its growth over the years. Poor internet connectivity, lack of potable water, poor sanitation, unreliable electricity supply and youth unemployment are just a few of the myriad challenges that continue to exact a heavy economic and social toll on the continent. The approach to addressing these challenges has, unfortunately been dominated by stopgap donor-backed projects, which in a way have not achieved the desired results. Although these projects are based on good intentions, the effects they produce are mostly short-lived and in some cases end up worsening the problems they were supposed to address. But looking forward into the future, this calls for a paradigm shift in the way African problems are perceived by the developed world. Particularly during this era when the continent is doing relatively better in terms of economic growth, appropriate solutions geared towards sustainable development should rather be proffered.
One crucial approach to addressing the problems in Africa is to raise a generation of African entrepreneurs who see business opportunities in the countless challenges that bedevil the continent. It is time to take inspiration from the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford whose names are etched in the fabric of history as prodigious entrepreneurs responsible for laying the solid economic foundation for the America we see today. Africa really needs to tow this line if sustainable development can be attained. Already, there are initiatives across the continent to support budding entrepreneurs on the African continent and if this is sustained it will go a long way to change the face of Africa that has long been synonymous with poverty and deprivation. If there is any effort to help develop Africa sustainably, that is exactly the way to go.
But what really prevents Africans, particularly the youth, from venturing into entrepreneurship despite the high unemployment rate? On top of the list is the fact that, the African society has no room for failure and therefore people always prefer the easy way out. We give no room for people to fail and eventually perfect their ideas. That is why people are afraid to venture into new territories to come up with innovative solutions to problems, forgetting that “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” as Robert Kennedy puts it. You can come up with an innovative idea but nobody will be willing to test your idea to see whether it will work or not because they think it will fail catastrophically. But failure indeed provides a clue as to what will or will not work and that is why Thomas Alva Edison, after pondering over his journey through the portals of discovery asserted that, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
Even university graduates are afraid to fail because the system that produced them did not give them the self-confidence to personally come up and experiment with new ideas. Our educational system have become employee farms which produce people who are programmed to look for jobs instead of providing them with the mental fortitude and skill sets to start their own businesses. This is the very reason why, for instance, we have the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana comprised of university graduates who are waiting for the Government of Ghana to supernaturally provide jobs for them in an era where the growth of the Ghanaian economy has taken a nosedive. Perhaps, they are afraid to start their own businesses because of the fear of failure. They have lost sight of the wealth of knowledge they have as a group to network and start small businesses in a very small way and grow. If they would rather come together as an Association of Graduate Entrepreneurs, ready to start small businesses with their skill sets and knowledge and pitch their business ideas to potential funding organisations, things will turn out in their favour.
Moving forward, there should be a conscious effort to empower people to provide innovative business solutions to the problems we face on the African continent. African leaders must take the lead in this drive and institute measures that ensure that the enabling environment is created for people to venture into entrepreneurship. Our educational institutions, particularly the tertiary institutions, should have business incubator units that connect potential entrepreneurs with mentors and provide the avenue for skills development in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs should be willing to mentor the youth who are passionate about starting their own businesses. Graduates must change their perception about the job market and be confident to try new ideas that would make them employers but not employees. They should not be afraid to fail because “most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure” – Napoleon Hill. Funding organisations must not be quick to throw out business ideas just because it does not meet a certain criterion, but assist people to improve on their ideas through guidance and coaching. It is only by raising a generation of entrepreneurs can we assure the ballooning Africa youth of jobs in the future.
I hereby acknowledge the effort of Via Water and Aqua for All who are poised to support business ideas that are geared towards solving water challenges facing cities in seven African countries: Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Sudan.
This a guest blog by Isaac Monney, a Lecturer at the University of Winneba.