Enterprising Africa: How to get young entrepreneurs going

Africa has produced some famous entrepreneurs over the years. The most notable among them is Ashish Thakkar, who has become a role model to youth throughout the continent.

Ashish Thakkar, Mara Group founder

Ashish Thakkar, Mara Group founder

At the young age of 32, Thakkar is recognised by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs, boasting a net worth of US$260m, with a wide range of investments all over the continent.

Thakkar appeared as a guest speaker on Tuesday, during the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali, Rwanda.

The session titled “Enterprising Africa” introduced other speakers who are well-versed in job creation and youth challenges, including Felix Bikpo, CEO of African Guarantee Fund (AGF), Benjamin Gasamagera, chairperson of Rwanda Private Sector Federation, and Valentine Rugwabizi, CEO of Rwanda Development Board.

At the session, Thakkar’s life story as a refugee turned successful businessman, was presented as an inspiration to African youth with a dream to be entrepreneurs.

“Africa needs young brave young people, like Thakkar, who have dazzling projects. We all agree that their biggest challenge is access to finance – but what banks want is to give money to someone with an interesting idea and who has the skills to manage it well,” Felix Bikpo said.

“Young people must know that we are here to help and that the avenues for getting finances are open to those who are brave and confident.”

Valentine Rugwabizi of Rwanda Development Board said that some of the youth in Africa have brilliant ideas, but they are limited by the conservativeness of financial institutions that hesitate to risk with “untested waters.”

“Banks all over the world are conservative and usually want to work with people or institutions they are well versed with. This therefore, provides an opportunity to non-banking institutions, like telecoms and cooperate companies, to come up with financing packages for business projects developed by the youth,” she said.

“Governments must also create enabling environments that are conducive for entrepreneurial ideas among young people. This can be through giving them free advice, resources like internet and energy.”

For his part, Thakkar called on youth to prioritise entrepreneurship ahead of job-seeking.

“Seeking jobs is crucial. Seeking capital to startup businesses is also crucial. But the most important thing that young people need is mentorship. They need support and advice while they endeavour to develop the ultimate project that could define their lives,” Thakkar said.

“In South Africa, 65% of the jobs are created by SMEs, yet four out of five of them fail,” he continued. “This shows that many of them could have lacked mentorship in their inception phases. We are supposed to fix this through mentorship and through realistic African stories that inspire young people to overcome hurdles in business.”

Although job creation is paramount, it must be supplemented by entrepreneurship in order to satisfy 12m youth that seek for jobs every year, according to Mouhamadou Niang, acting director of the AfDB’s Private Sector Department.

The session also discussed issues related to gender disparities and economic opportunities for marginalised groups, technical advice and tips to operating successful businesses, as well as the role of coaching.