Author: Grégory Renand, Head, Z Zurich Foundation, Asheesh Advani, President and Chief Executive Officer, JA Worldwide
- Africa is blossoming with entrepreneurial potential and now boasts seven unicorns, up from zero in 2015.
- But as other continents have been fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems and building resilience into entrepreneurs’ DNA for generations, Africa still has a long way to go.
- To promote an entrepreneurial ecosystem and build resilience, educational, development, and social-good organizations must connect local, regional, and global entities, with each organization bringing its own, unique expertise.
Mosibudi Makgato and her sister Rosemary Padi have turned the taste of their South African childhood into a thriving business. Through their home-crafted ginger beer, sold under the Yamama Gemmer brand (which translates to “mother’s ginger beer”), these two young entrepreneurs have crafted a product that balances traditional flavor with modern convenience.
Like many African youth, the Mosibudi sisters developed their startup skills through JA’s local entrepreneurship-education programs. But with the African job market not equipped to absorb a massively growing youth population – and given the impact of the pandemic on both education and business – how can African countries introduce, fund, and scale entrepreneurship education to keep up?
Africa’s first startup unicorns
Africa is blossoming with entrepreneurial potential and now boasts seven unicorns, up from zero in 2015, thanks to well-developed entrepreneurial education programs and ecosystems in some of Africa’s larger countries. Among these unicorns, the majority are fintech and e-commerce businesses, a development that is fueling excitement about the region’s potential as a future digital powerhouse and attracting new venture funding. One startup, Nigeria’s Jumia, has already hired over 5,000 employees.
Challenges due to COVID-19
Despite the emergence of unicorns in Africa, most startups have faced obstacles during the global pandemic, putting the continent’s entrepreneurial progress at risk. Mosibudi and Rosemary’s company, for example, was thriving prior to the pandemic. The sisters had not only garnered a reputation for their brand’s quality, consistency, and great taste but had also overcome local resistance to ginger beer in general, based on bad experiences with poorly produced ginger beer in their customers’ childhood years. Investment and hard work were finally paying off.
But their most essential ingredient—ginger—is an immune booster that was suddenly in demand in the face of the pandemic. Prices skyrocketed while inventories fell to nearly zero. Realizing that their brand depends on a consistent supply of ginger, Mosibudi and Rosemary began to source it locally and have even experimented with growing it themselves. They also shifted their focus from supplying ginger beer at events to producing bottles for individual customers, matching their business model to the realities of COVID-19.
Fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems and building resilience
They adjusted and bounced back. But according to our colleague Simi Nwogugu, CEO of JA Africa, “Many young Africans are entrepreneurial by nature, but are limited in their ability to understand and break down the challenges around them in order to properly apply technology and innovation to solve them.”
Many other continents have been fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems and building resilience into entrepreneurs’ DNA for generations. Compare, for example, Africa’s three unicorns in 2021 to morethan 1,000 unicorns in North America, Asia, and Europe, where entrepreneurship education and supportive ecosystems have been prioritized for decades.
A regional partnership to build an ecosystem of innovation
Fast-tracking and scaling entrepreneurial education in Africa, therefore, means fast-tracking and scaling resilience, creative problem-solving, and self-efficacy. That’s why Z Zurich Foundation, JA Worldwide, JA Africa, and JA member countries in Africa have created a new regional partnership that builds an ecosystem of role models and mentors, along with a mix of high-tech digital learning experiences, low-tech options like television, radio, and podcasts, face-to-face experiences with role models, and, once students graduate, regional and local vehicles that either match students with employers or help youth launch businesses through incubators and seed grants.
A long-term commitment
One reason for less-than-satisfactory results is that inculcating resilience doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, successfully partnering in Africa requires a long-term commitment: First creating a movement (a) that leads to a mindset shift (b) that empowers young people to make choices (c) that transform their futures for the better and create brighter futures for other youth in the region.
One way in which Z Zurich Foundation is demonstrating long-term thinking in Africa is that, through a new partnership with JA, participating countries were designated based on where vulnerability is greatest and based on needs on the ground, rather than on—for example—the commercial presence of Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich). This approach, in addition to deepening entrepreneurship programs in countries where JA already operates, will expand into five new sub-Saharan countries where entrepreneurship education is critically needed.
Connecting local, regional and global organizations
In addition, global organizations cannot do it alone in Africa. Meaningful interventions through educational, development, and social-good organizations must connect local, regional, and global entities, with each organization bringing its own, unique expertise. For example, given the need to connect the supply of skilled innovators in Africa with the demand for skilled innovators within businesses, our two organizations could try to manage such introductions only by leveraging our global connections.
At the global level, a global platform that connects JA youth with experts from Zurich around the world to do virtual coaching and mentoring is being developed. Then, by utilizing regional expertise and local operations, a pipeline that introduces African youth to local business mentors and coaches who come from similar backgrounds will be created.
Simi Nwogugu agrees: “Exposing students to Zurich employees as global mentors, as well as JA Africa and local JA alumni role models like Iyinoluwa Aboyeji—who has founded not one but two unicorns in Nigeria—will help build young African entrepreneurs’ critical social skills, the confidence necessary to validate their ideas, and the skills to communicate those idea to a global audience of funders and clients.”