Tag Archives: #Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship: The Solution to Africa’s Youth Unemployment Crisis?

By Thilde Langevang and Katherine V. Gough.

  • Small-scale entrepreneurial activities currently provide livelihoods to a large proportion of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa
  • In spite of a promising rise of entrepreneurship, we should be careful not to celebrate youth entrepreneurship uncritically

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Africa is teeming with business activity managed by young people. In cities and towns, young traders are touting their goods in traffic jams, trying to sell everything from phone credits and toilet paper to drinking water and Christmas decorations. Alongside streets and pathways, young people sell a variety of items and foodstuffs from table tops or shacks. In neighbourhoods, women operate hairdressing salons and dressmaking shops often from their homes, whilst young men carve wood and fix electrical equipment. In the busy market places, young women and men trade a variety of goods including locally grown fruits and vegetables, imported new and second-hand clothes, shoes, mobile phones, and housewares. Some young people offer inventive services as and when the need arises; young men fill in potholes on the roads, hoping that passing vehicles will acknowledge their work with a token payment, while others rent out gumboots to pedestrians who seek to pass flooded streets. Others again act as ‘traffic police’ when narrow roads become jammed with cars, motorbikes and minivans.

Everyday Forms of Entrepreneurship
Such entrepreneurial practices might seem mundane, trivial, or insignificant when compared to instances of high-growth and high-tech entrepreneurship in the global North. And some might even dispute whether these types of income-generating activities should at all be labelled entrepreneurship. Yet such “everyday forms of entrepreneurship” (Welter, 2017) are significant since they currently provide livelihoods to a large proportion of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the book ‘Young Entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (Gough and Langevang 2016), we examine the rates, characteristics and experiences of young entrepreneurs in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. Drawing on surveys conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, we show how African youth are the most entrepreneurial in the world with around 40% of young people in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia being involved in “early state entrepreneurial activity” (which includes young people aged 18-35 setting up a business or running a business less than three and a half years old). These levels are equal to or higher than the adult population in their respective countries, and much higher than their youth counterparts in other regions of the world where average rates range from just 9% in Europe to 18% in Latin America.

Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa – Promises and Limitations
At first sight these high rates of youth entrepreneurship might look encouraging for African governments and international development organisations, which are increasingly promoting youth entrepreneurship as a solution to the mounting youth unemployment crisis. Whilst Ghana, Uganda and Zambia, together with a number of other African countries, have experienced high and sustained economic growth rates during the last two to three decades, the growth has not generated adequate, decent jobs. In a situation of very limited wage employment, and a rapidly growing youth population, young Africans are increasingly encouraged to change their mind-set from being ‘job seekers’ to becoming ‘job creators’ and are hard pressed into using their entrepreneurial ingenuity to start their own businesses as a means of creating livelihoods for themselves.

When looking closer at the statistics and listening to the experiences of young people, however, the picture is mixed. While entrepreneurship rates are high and the attitudes to business start-up very positive, a common characteristic of African young entrepreneurs is that their businesses stay at the micro-level and are concentrated in the informal economy, hence lie outside the protection and regulation of the state. Their businesses are concentrated in a limited number of vocations, with the majority engaged in trading or providing similar services. Competition is, therefore, cutthroat and earnings minimal. Noticeably, the majority of young entrepreneurs have no or only a small number of employees, which means they contribute little to job creation apart from self-employment, have low expectations for growth, and their businesses close down at a high rate.

Consequently, we should be careful not to celebrate youth entrepreneurship uncritically. It is important to acknowledge that not all young people have the skills or resources required to pursue viable entrepreneurial ven­tures. Indeed, most young people in Africa currently appear to be poorly equipped to become successful entrepreneurs in the sense of establishing durable businesses and growing them. There is also the risk that an excessive focus on entrepreneurship becomes a way to blame young people themselves for their misfortunes and provides an excuse for states not to deliver welfare services and ensure decent jobs (Jeffrey and Dyson, 2013).

No Silver Bullet for Tackling Youth Unemployment in Africa
So far the strong policy discourse on entrepreneurship in Africa has not been backed by adequate support measures. While the book reveals that the three African countries have all witnessed a similar mushrooming of entrepreneurship promotion schemes initiated by governments, NGOs and international development organizations, the general picture emerging is that youth entrepreneurship promotion is characterized by many uncoordinated schemes, which tend to have limited uptake and scope. Moreover, there tends to be a quite narrow focus on promoting business start-ups through providing finance. While more holistic approaches to entrepreneurship promotion are clearly needed it is equally vital that entrepreneurship is not singled out as the only solution to the youth unemployment crisis but rather is seen as just one element of broader labour market policies, which cannot themselves be separated from wider policies aimed at stimulating job-generating, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and development.


Thilde Langevang is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Development Studies at Copenhagen Business School.

Katherine V. Gough is Professor of Human Geography at Loughborough University.

Pic by Thilde Langevang, edited by BOS.

 

 

The Task At Hand: Facing a Trump America

The following post by American CBS MBA student Wynne Lewis is an accompanying piece she wrote recently for the Financial Times’ MBA Blog.

Titled “Case for responsible business post Trump and Brexit shocks“, Wynne spoke to the shocks of the recent inauguration of Mr. Trump in the U.S. and the vote for Brexit in the UK. She argues that these events are creating many setbacks to the strides we have taken recently in favour of human rights and combating climate change. But they are also catalysts for positive change for the individuals who are fired up and ready to go stand up for what matters most – for example by contributing to a more sustainable economy by founding your own venture.

Read the full post on the FT MBA Blog.

In her latest piece on the CBS MBA blog, she now offers a little bit of inspiration to get you started with making a change.


By Wynne Lewis.

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

We fear regression, but there is much we can do.

I spoke with my classmates (representative of countries from all around the world), my professors, and visiting speakers and here is a little bit of inspiration to get you started.

For Employers / Employees:

  • Recognise the power of business. Do not be ignorant to your own influence. There is no such thing as an a-political corporation in the polarised climate under which we are operating today. Every decision must be intentional.
  • Create meaningful working class jobs. If your consumers are voting pro-nationalism, are they willing to pay a higher price for locally sourced products? Can you source your products or raw materials locally? Can you conduct market research to prove your case to investors? There may even be a risk management case to make for keeping the supply chain close for better transparency.
  • Treat your employees with respect and invest in their development. Look at the most recently hired/promoted people at your company. Are they a diverse group? Are you promoting from within? If not, chances are good that some of your talent is falling through the cracks or not being developed. It may not be intentional, but you can become aware of it and take strides to be sure you are capitalizing on your best resource – your employees.
  • If you have employees who may feel marginalised or unsafe in the current social climate sparked by the election, reach out and check-in with them. Do they feel safe in their commute to work? (This has been very relevant for many of my friends living in New York, so it is worth asking.) Is there anything you can do to help? Has the office climate changed at all for them? It is important that they are able to focus on doing a good job without feeling marginalised or harassed at work. Keep tabs on this. If handled with care, you will foster the establishment of a strong working environment and retain your talented minority (women included) workers.
  • Look for business opportunities. What was the change you were hoping for? Is there a gap in products/services today and the products/services we need to achieve that change? Your next great venture may just be hidden in the void.

You will know best how these things must ultimately align with a clear business case appropriate for your company, but it is important to point out those business practices that shape our countries, our politics, and ultimately our societies.

For Investors:

  • Divest from energy companies who are not investing in the future. Oil is booming right now with the recent elections, but the future will hold a diverse portfolio of energy sources. Companies who are only focused on fossil fuels are resisting innovation.
  • Be an active voter in the companies you invest in. If you hold stocks in companies that are doing things that you do not support – underpaying workers, polluting, vocalising racist sentiment – use your voice as a shareholder to change things. Be active and let them know that as an owner you do not support the way they are operating the business. Chances are high, you are not alone. Get other investors involved.
  • Invest in companies that are good for people, planet, and profit. There are many resources for those interested in impact investing. Read up and put your money where your values are.

On the personal side: invest in values you care about. Whatever they are, donate your time or money to the things that matter most. Create the world you want to live in and that you want your children to live in. Consider it a long-term investment.

The most important thing ultimately is to do something. So get out there, and be active.

Have some great ideas? Please add a comment below.


Based in New York, Wynne is currently enrolled as an MBA student at Copenhagen Business School. She was attracted to the Copenhagen MBA for its strong focus on Responsible Management and the promise of a global classroom. Post-MBA, she is toying with the idea of starting her own venture. She is a blogger for the Financial Times MBA blog, where she hopes to tell the story of what really powers her passion for Responsible Management on the far-reaching global business platform that is the Financial Times.

Pic by Pexels