Young entrepreneurs hold the key to growth in Africa

I believe Africa is the single most exciting place in terms of opportunities. The continent is not only experiencing its longest boom for 30 years but, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts, seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies for the period 2011-2015 will be African.

This exceptionally strong growth is generally attributed to the commodity boom, but when you look closely, the most significant factor is the value generated through entrepreneurship. More importantly, it is the new generation of Africans that is actually making things happen.

Evidence suggests that the backbone of every African economy is small and medium-size business (SME), rather than large domestic businesses, multinationals or government organisations. These SMEs are driving the economies, contributing to national GDPs and creating employment for millions of people. The most innovative, high-growth companies are those created by young men and women who are “thinking outside of the box”. Therefore, the key solution for creating jobs and generating renewed economic growth on the continent is to empower African youth and entrepreneurs to turn great ideas into a reality.

However, most new startups struggle to grow and their failure rate is extremely high. To address this problem, entrepreneur mentorship and comprehensive support services are crucial to bridge the gap between business startup and continual growth, providing productive and sustainable employment. Although young entrepreneurs may demonstrate ideas, motivation and expertise, they lack experience and capital assets.

Entrepreneurship programmes must be redesigned to keep up with changes in the global environment, providing an extensive range of tools that allow entrepreneurs to transform their business ideas into thriving business entities. In Africa, in particular, we must encourage women entrepreneurs. All around the globe, there are women-owned businesses that are driving economic growth, creating jobs and significantly contributing to intergenerational wealth. Yet, despite recent gains, women-owned businesses continue to lag behind men on key economic indicators and, comparatively, their businesses do not grow at the same rate.

Successful women-owned businesses are not a “nice to have” in the global economic landscape but are essential to the growth of the global economy.

I strongly believe entrepreneurship is the answer to Africa’s many challenges. What we need is innovation, new solutions, creative approaches and new ways of operating. And let’s face it, it is the young generation of African men and women who will lead this development, rather than today’s established ruling class or government organisations. That is why we need to make sure that the next generation of African entrepreneurs is fully equipped to grow prosperous businesses and lead the way for African growth.

Let’s step aside for the young generation, and encourage innovation, imagination and creativity – it’s time for young entrepreneurs to change the face of Africa.

Ashish J Thakkar is the founder and managing director of the Mara Group and Mara Foundation, as well as the head of entrepreneurship on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Africa.

This article was first published by the World Economic Forum