Being an entrepreneur is at the heart of who I am. It is in my blood. I had a chance to prove it at college in 2010, when our entrepreneurship professor challenged us to stop searching for non-existent white-collar jobs and create our own self-employment opportunities instead.
I teamed up with two other students to explore what, in our own small way, we could do to create jobs for young people in rural Ghana. We realised that the abundance of bamboo forests in the country could be converted into high quality, environmentally friendly bikes – sturdy and shock-resistant, and suitable for high terrains and rough roads. This is how the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was born.
As with any new venture, Ghana Bamboo Bikes started as an idea. But it grew quickly, and was soon requiring us to modify well-established techniques and approaches, and connect various suppliers and partners. We now produce 60-100 handcrafted bicycles a month.
In the beginning, the major challenge was labour. We couldn’t find anyone who could make a bamboo bike, so we had to invest in equipping people with the skills. We focused on training women (almost all of our 30-strong team are female), and turning them into highly proficient bike builders. We even had some of them trained in multiple skill sets so they could cover for absent workers when necessary.
The other challenge was funding. In our part of the world, it is very difficult to attract investors, even for viable business ventures, so for an untested idea it was near impossible.
I believe an entrepreneur has to be self-motivated. It is important to understand what your goals are, so that you can focus your efforts on reaching them. You need to have optimism, confidence, self-awareness and knowledge. If you love what you are doing and are passionate about making your business a success, you will keep going no matter what obstacles stand in your way.
Within the past decade or so, there has been a shift in the way young entrepreneurs operate. Some of the greatest leaders are the most unexpected – from the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to TOMS boss Blake Mycoskie, who has restored hope to millions of school children with his One for One shoe-giving programme. There’s also Tawakkol Karman, the youngest woman and first Arab woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, who inspired millions of people in the Arab world to peacefully confront dictatorship.
Young entrepreneurs are making tremendous contributions across a range of issues. Whether they tackle climate change, global health or transparency in business and government, their impact has been profound and unforgettable.
Bernice Dapaah is the executive director of Ghana Bamboo Bikes, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
This article was first published on the World Economic Forum blog.