Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

Perspectives

A selection of committed articles, open for debate!

Conversations with Senegal’s educational ecosystem: the imperatives to employability

Each year, Senegal sees a cohort of 200,000 young people enter the job market, according to official figures from the Ministry of Employment, Vocational Training, Apprenticeship and Integration. Yet, despite…

Each year, Senegal sees a cohort of 200,000 young people enter the job market, according to official figures from the Ministry of Employment, Vocational Training, Apprenticeship and Integration. Yet, despite this abundance of potential manpower, youth unemployment remains a major concern.

This reality raises a crucial question: why this gap between job supply and demand? And why are so many young graduates struggling to find a place in the job market?

In the 21st century, professions have undergone a continuous and growing evolution, requiring graduates not only to have technical qualities, but above all to be able to demonstrate personal and interpersonal skills and attitudes: soft skills.

In this article, we talk to a number of people involved in education, vocational training and entrepreneurship in Senegal, about updating knowledge and the importance of developing soft skills for employability.

 

” The skills young people are trained in are not always adapted to the real needs of the job market. “

The training of young people must be aligned with the real needs of the labor market to ensure an effective transition from education to employment. On the one hand, this gap can be explained by the fact that too much emphasis is placed on the acquisition of theoretical knowledge to the detriment of practical skills. In the short to medium term, this gap can be bridged by hands-on learning in the early years of training, through internships or work-study schemes. Secondly, there is the technological lag: technological advances are constantly modifying skill requirements, and training programs are not updated quickly enough to keep pace with this evolution.

– Florence Diob, Financing Manager, Financing Fund for Vocational and Technical Training

 

”  Developing soft skills as well as hard skills”

The quality of education has improved significantly, at least from a technical point of view, but employability requires learners to develop soft skills as well as hard skills. Communicating effectively, resolving conflicts, managing interpersonal relations… these skills can be acquired through an initial training circuit, but also via continuing and short-term training courses. Working on these aspects enables you to acquire a complete set of skills that are necessary to succeed and assert yourself in a competitive professional world.

– Harouna Thiam, Responsable Formation-Insertion – Ministry of Vocational and Technical Training

 

” Teach and professionalize “

There is a notable difference between teaching, which is the transmission of knowledge and concepts, and professionalizing, which aims to prepare learners for a professional environment by developing practical, applicable skills.

We offer a school-enterprise training program, with two application restaurants and a patisserie, so that students are exposed to a professional environment right from the start of their apprenticeship. Since 2006, we have also set up partnerships with leading hotel establishments to recruit young apprentices. In the near future, we also plan to set up a placement agency for our graduates.

– Sidy Dieme, Director of Institut Les Marmitons[1]

 

” An entrepreneurial school “

The vast majority of training courses teach students how to do a job. We have made it our mission to teach them how to create one. Our actions begin in the first year of the bachelor’s degree, with the inclusion of an entrepreneurial module in the curriculum to complement managerial skills.

The Entrepreneurial School takes place in 3 stages:

  • Year 1: Discovery of entrepreneurship with a project idea for each student;
  • Year 2: Students create a mini-company or scenario for a service;
  • Year 3: Creation of a business plan.

We focus specifically on developing the entrepreneurial skills, business knowledge and aptitudes needed to create, manage and develop a successful business.

– Georges Ndeye, Managing Director, ISM Ziguinchor [2]

 

” Economists must map employment needs ” 

Major labor market trends can be anticipated. Mapping employment needs is crucial to ensuring a better match between supply and demand in the labor market, fostering economic development, reducing unemployment and improving the productivity and competitiveness of workers and companies.

On the other hand, the results of this mapping would enable a greater number of young people to better orient themselves in their choice of academic path, and at the same time prevent a potential skills shortage.

– Mame Pemba Balde, HR Manager CRS West Africa [3]

 

The development of human capital for adaptability and integration skills in a fast-changing job market underlines the importance of rethinking educational strategies. Training programs must now not only motivate students, but also actively prepare them for their future careers by developing their soft skills.

This approach calls for a reassessment of the role of initial training, with the emphasis on boosting self-confidence, individual fulfillment and the development of cross-disciplinary skills through internships and work experience.

En investissant dans le développement des soft skills, en adaptant les programmes éducatifs aux besoins du marché du travail et en favorisant la collaboration entre ces différents acteurs, le Sénégal peut créer un environnement propice à l’épanouissement professionnel de sa jeunesse et à une croissance économique durable.

 


[1] *Les Marmitons est un institut de formation aux métiers de la gastronomie, de l’hôtellerie et du tourisme au Sénégal. En savoir plus

[2] ISM Ziguinchor est un établissement d’enseignement privé installé à Ziguinchor depuis 2005. En savoir plus 

[3] CRS est une organisation humanitaire internationale, dont les objectifs comprennent la fourniture d’aide d’urgence, la promotion du développement économique et social, ainsi que le plaidoyer pour la justice sociale En savoir plus.

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Digitization and professional integration: achieving digital integration in Côte d’Ivoire

The rise of digital technology has revolutionized the way we live, communicate, learn and, of course, work. This transformation is especially significant in Africa, where young people face both unique…

The rise of digital technology has revolutionized the way we live, communicate, learn and, of course, work. This transformation is especially significant in Africa, where young people face both unique challenges and countless opportunities in their quest to enter the job market.

 
To understand these dynamics and the potential implications of digital technology, we met with key players in the African education ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire. A series of testimonials attesting to the growing importance of digital technology in education, and the need to support this movement.

 

” From helpful to necessary, from necessary to indispensable “

In just a few years, and even more since Covid came on the scene, digital has gone from helpful to necessary, and from necessary to indispensable. Professional integration, access to information, interaction, or simply adapting to contemporary demands mean that the adoption of a digital component in almost all training courses has become absolutely essential.  Today, digital technology enables young people to find their place in this fast-changing world, by facilitating rapid access to information and making learning easier.

Dia Jean-Fabrice – Head of Studies at the Institut Ivoirien of Technologie[1]

 

” Training the trainers ” 

The determination of the continent’s young people to embrace digital technology is obvious. But we still need to find a way to better equip them. Firstly, digital equipment and materials are still difficult to access for most people. Secondly, it is essential to invest in the training of trainers, to ensure that digital skills are properly passed on to young people, and to promote their successful integration into an increasingly digitalized world. Finally, we need to multiply the opportunities for young people to apply the skills they have acquired through internships or work-study schemes.

Jean-Delmas Ehui – CEO of ICT4Dev [2]

 

” A public policy focused on digital technology “

In addition to the difficulties involved in acquiring the necessary equipment and making training programs accessible, one of the barriers to digital development is the delay in implementing public policies in favor of digital, the lack of training for trainers, as well as the absence of incentives for companies to take on young people for practical placements.

Changes are needed to provide equitable access to digital resources and train players in education and industry: Fund the purchase of equipment and adequate infrastructure for institutions; encourage collaborations between educational institutions and digital sector companies to facilitate internships and practical learning opportunities; develop advantageous tax policies for companies investing in training young people and developing digital skills ; set up continuing education programs for teachers and professionals, to stay up to date with the latest technological and pedagogical advances.

Jocelyne Mireille Desquith – Assistant to the General Coordinator of the Government Social Program

 

” Sharing ideas and gaining visibility ” 

Digital is revolutionizing professional career management by offering a range of tools and resources that can be accessed at any time and from any location… as long as your area is covered by the internet network.

Beyond this aspect, digital offers young people a platform to make their voices heard and influence social change. Through social media, young people can share their opinions, experiences and demands with a global audience, helping them to broaden their impact and mobilize support for their causes, or echo the ideas they share.

– Achille Koukou – Managing Director of Tg Master University [3]

 

Digitalization offers immense potential for integrating young people into the African job market. However, concerted efforts are needed to overcome the obstacles and fully exploit these opportunities, in order to create a prosperous and inclusive future for all Africans. By implementing these measures, Africa can realize its full potential in the digital age, and provide its young people with the tools they need to succeed in an ever-changing world.

 


[1] Bilingual French-English institute of higher education dedicated to information and communication technologies, biotechnologies and business management. Read more 

[2] A startup specializing in the development and integration of digital and technological solutions for the agricultural sector. Read more

[3] School of excellence preparing for a double Bachelor’s degree (French and Ivorian) in Digital Management and Business Management. Read more

 

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African SMEs have potential to be at the forefront of tomorrow’s digital world

  For over 15 years I’ve been helping companies on the continent with their digital strategies, and I firmly believe in the potential of African SMEs to be at the…

 

For over 15 years I’ve been helping companies on the continent with their digital strategies, and I firmly believe in the potential of African SMEs to be at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s digital world.

And here is why

First, because there is a technology gap

When it comes to digital in Africa, the reality today is that usage is still limited. Only 36% of the African population was connected in January 2023. Technological progress is held back by structural constraints (lack of infrastructure, poor Internet connectivity, weak electricity networks), as well as societal issues (limited purchasing power, populations far removed from the written word, etc.).

But this technological gap is, in many ways, an opportunity.

In fact, we’re seeing that the latest adopters tend to go straight to the most advanced uses. Newcomers to the Internet, for example, will immediately start using artificial intelligence – already via voice recognition on their smartphones – and this will seem normal to them.

This is what we call the Frogleap: a jump that enables African companies to go straight from the craft to the Web 4.0 industry!

 

Secondly, because these companies operate in difficult environments

Political, economic, social, regulatory, environmental: the context is often difficult for African companies – more difficult than elsewhere.

Here again, it’s an opportunity! Because innovation is born of constraint.

After all, why change something that works? Yes, we could do better, but by nature nobody likes change…

This is the main reason why transformation projects in French companies, for example, come up against so many obstacles.

We all know how difficult it is to change established habits. But when faced with a problem or a stumbling block, we’ll do anything to find a solution.

The most obvious example is mobile money, which accounts for over 36 billion transactions in sub-Saharan Africa – compared with just 300 million in Europe and Central Asia (source: GSMA 2021).

Why are these uses struggling to take off in Europe and Central Asia? Because the market is already equipped with bankcards, and while mobile payment brings a plus, it doesn’t respond to a real need.

It’s interesting to see here how these innovations impact the way we measure a country’s level of development – with mobile money, for example, the rate of bank penetration is no longer necessarily as representative …

Finally, African SMEs are often young structures with limited resources.

Surprising as it may seem, this can also be an opportunity for digital.

Indeed, digitalization is no longer so much a question of budget, but more a question of culture.

The rise of “no-code” has democratized access to digitalization for businesses.

Applications such as Notion have enabled companies like Sayna, in Madagascar, to digitize their entire processes without the need for special technical expertise or large budgets.

Social media make it easy to reach a local and international audience.

What’s more, it’s easier for younger and smaller structures to take advantage of digital.

More agile than large groups with established practices, they can evolve their tools and practices to implement new, more appropriate working methods.

This ability to adapt is a real strength in a context of great uncertainty, particularly when it comes to energy and climate issues.

So many reasons for African SMEs to confidently embrace a digital transformation that can be a real lever for development.

However, it’s important to keep in mind:

The human element: Digital must not replace, but rather “augment” the human element. Digital should not be designed for digital’s sake, but to add value. This means improving, simplifying, and streamlining relationships that are first and foremost human, whether within companies or with their customers and partners. In this respect, it’s interesting to see the growing importance of conversational uses in digital interfaces, which are those closest to human interaction (e.g. WhatsApp or ChatGPT).

African specificities: On the one hand, it’s a question of ensuring a better representation of the continent’s realities in the various digital tools. Indeed, the realities proposed online in Google results, on social media, or in image or text productions generated by Artificial Intelligences mirror the content available online – content that is above all American, Asian, European… The aim is to encourage the production of African content so that the continent’s specificities are also taken into account in the future.

On the other hand, while the main digital players today are American or Chinese, we need to ensure that digitalization does not create over-dependent relationships for individual countries. An issue that Africa shares with many other geographies!

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Resilience and adaptation in times of insecurity: Mali’s renewal will come from the private sector (2/2)

  Recent crises and the resulting structural vulnerabilities have considerably diminished the capacity of Sahelian countries, already historically very weak, to attract investment. For instance, after an all-time high of…

 

Recent crises and the resulting structural vulnerabilities have considerably diminished the capacity of Sahelian countries, already historically very weak, to attract investment. For instance, after an all-time high of 860 million USD in 2019 (5% of GDP), foreign direct investment to Mali (net inflows) has fallen drastically to just 252 million in 2022 (1.3% of GDP).

Despite the low priority given to private sector development in fragile security contexts, it plays a central role during and after conflict situations. Experience has shown that the private sector remains active even in times of conflict, and can adapt to overcome systemic shocks.

In this interview, Malian entrepreneur Mohamed Keita, Director and Co-Founder of Zira Capital, a company created in 2022 and dedicated to financing and supporting start-ups and SMEs in Mali, shares his fund-raising experience and argues for the need to continue supporting the private sector despite a difficult security and socio-political context.

 

Entreprenante Afrique: What is the current state of entrepreneurship in Mali?

Mohamed Keita: Over the past ten years or so, the Malian economy has been affected by the combined effects of the security crisis and political and institutional crises. We are keeping a close eye on how the situation evolves, and our wish as entrepreneurs is of course to quickly return to a stable business environment. 

But despite this difficult context, despite the challenges, we observe that entrepreneurs are still succeeding at creating opportunities locally. They develop projects and goods that satisfy local needs. They create and maintain jobs that support thousands of households, and stimulate other aspects of economic activity in the process.

Malian companies are exceptionally resilient, but they need strategic partners to support them, both financially and extra-financially. This is why, together with other players (BNDA, Investisseurs & Partenaires and a number of private individuals), we have launched Zira Capital to support these small local businesses through financing mechanisms and tools tailored to their development projects.

 

Raising funds to support entrepreneurship in such a high-risk country is no easy task, how did you address the financial backers?

M. K.: The model of Zira Capital, a fund co-created by or with local players to provide equity financing for local businesses, is a model that has already been set up and is beginning to prove its efficiency in other African countries, in other countries in the Sahel zone, such as Burkina Faso or Niger. However, it’s a completely new concept in the Malian entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The initiative was well received, and generated enthusiasm among Malian entrepreneurs. Even before the official creation of the management company, we had built up a pipeline of quality projects. We had built up a database of high-potential companies in a variety of sectors, all of which are linked to the fundamental needs of the Malian economy: agri-food, which accounts for 45% of GDP and employs 80% of the population, but also energy, essential services, health and education.

Our main argument for convincing people of the need to create our financing facility was this pipeline of quality entrepreneurs, rooted in the country and whose needs had been clearly identified.

Investing in a country like Mali obviously involves taking on a certain degree of risk. But mechanisms can be put in place to mitigate them. During the fundraising process, which lasted several years, we faced several challenges. We had identified a number of potential partners, including subsidiaries of multinationals with whom discussions had reached a more or less advanced stage, but whose enthusiasm gradually subsided in view of the changing political situation. This is understandable when a certain degree of investment security can no longer be guaranteed.

But fortunately for us, the vast majority of investors identified at the outset of the project maintained their confidence in our project, and supported us through our first closing in 2022.

“Investing in a country like Mali obviously involves taking on a certain degree of risk. But mechanisms can be put in place to mitigate them”

 

The Sahel countries have received significant public aid from the international community in recent years, with mixed results. Should we rethink the mechanisms of public aid? Does SME investment represent a more impactful alternative?

M. K.: In 2021, Mali received USD 1.42 billion in official development assistance. This represents an important resource for the country in general. I wouldn’t say that aid is inappropriate, but that it needs to be channeled more towards local actors, in particular private companies. Some historical approaches to public aid have shown their limits. And we need to deploy innovative mechanisms and more substantial resources to enable public private finance institutions (DFIs) to be more present, faster, and more effective.

I am among those who firmly believe that the development of our countries, particularly fragile states like Mali, relies on the growth of a network of small and medium-sized enterprises.”. An effective way of doing so would be to bet on making more resources available to these companies, especially resources they have difficulty mobilizing locally.

“I firmly believe that the development of our countries, particularly fragile states like Mali, relies on the growth of a network of small and medium-sized enterprises.”

What’s important to note is that Mali’s entrepreneurial fabric is vibrant. There’s a tremendous amount of effervescence, and more and more people are starting up. Rather young people, who bring new solutions, who despite the context, develop services with quality, manage to launch projects. And I think this adds a note of hope to the country’s overall picture, which is rather complicated, with a security crisis that has lasted for ten years or so, and political instability. For my part, I’m among those who are betting that Mali’s renewal will come largely from the private sector.

 

Further reading: in our “Resilience and Adaptation” series, discover Maïmouna Baillet’s article, “the battle of Niger’s women entrepreneurs

 

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Resilience and adaptation in times of insecurity: the battle of Niger’s women entrepreneurs (1/2)

  Nigerian women have always stood out for their resilience and survival instinct in an arid, hostile environment. Although written records of Africa’s traditionally oral history are relatively recent, as…

 

Nigerian women have always stood out for their resilience and survival instinct in an arid, hostile environment.

Although written records of Africa’s traditionally oral history are relatively recent, as early as the end of the 19th century they began to extol the courage of a warrior queen, a figure of resistance to the colonists – Sarraounia Mangou. 

From 1960 to 1974, Niger was back in the limelight thanks to its first “First Lady”, Mme Aïssa DIORI, who charmed not only with her great beauty, but above all with her unrivalled charisma and rare intelligence. Her prestige radiates around the world. “Rubbing shoulders with the greats of the world (Elizabeth II, Haile Selassie, Nasser, De Gaulle, Johnson…), Madame Diori commanded respect and admiration. At her husband’s side, she began the process of female emancipation through hard work and rigor in this Afro-Muslim region.”  She embodied resilience so well. So disturbed, in fact, that she was personally targeted and mortally wounded in the 1974 coup d’état.

In 1992, in addition to the world-famous March 8, Niger established a Nigerien Women’s Day to honor this resilience. Indeed, following the historic 1991 march by women to demand greater representation on the preparatory commission for the Sovereign National Conference, May 13 came to symbolize Nigerien Women’s Day, instituted by presidential decree.

 

As a reminder, here are a few aspects of this hostile environment. Although they represent 50.60% of the population, women have the highest illiteracy rate, at 78% (compared with 60% for men), and are also the poorest. Indeed, four out of five poor people are women, sinking under the weight of socio-cultural and economic barriers such as material dependence, characterized by low decision-making power, arduous work, and difficult access to basic services. Financial dependence, reflected in low monetization, laborious access to knowledge, jobs, and productive resources. 

Niger holds two sad records, both impacting women: the highest fertility rate in the world (6.2 children per woman in 2021 vs. 7.6 in 2012) and the highest rate of early marriage: 77% of our girls are married before the age of 18 and 28% before the age of 15. And these are just the official figures… many believe that the reality is even more alarming. 

In this context, women have been quick to realize that solidarity – in line with the now fashionable concept of sisterhood – is their only option, and female entrepreneurs are no exception to this trend.

 

Culturally, they are confined to a type of profession that is “acceptable” for women: sewing, beauty care, food processing or fruit and vegetable marketing and cooking, which are also low-margin, low-income sectors. And with low barriers to entry, competition is high and activities are often informal.

In cities, they run or invest in very small businesses and SMEs. They accumulate initiatives and jobs. When they have had access to training, they keep their salaried jobs and develop their VSEs at the same time. Insecurity doesn’t affect them much; they simply adjust their working hours and take precautions to avoid dangerous areas on the outskirts. 

In rural areas, they engage in IGAs – income-generating activities. In villages, women are traditionally involved in market gardening, raising poultry and small ruminants. This income enables them to help support their families. With insecurity, looting and attacks have deprived many of them of income, leading to higher market prices and the impoverishment of entire communes. Forced migration, rural exodus and the loss of fathers and sons at the front have increased the vulnerability of rural women as well as gender-based violence.

 

However, since 1992, they have been organizing themselves into a Union. This is an association or structure of women who have voluntarily decided to band together to defend common interests, but above all to build their financial autonomy through tontines – most often 100% female. Insecurity has further strengthened this solidarity. 

The financial system has also adapted, and is increasingly offering products to these groups, giving them access to savings and then credit, and freeing them from the guarantee or surety previously provided by a man. The dematerialization of traditional tontines also makes it possible to combat looting and secure the assets of these women’s unions.

Whether rural or urban, women entrepreneurs in Niger are organizing, building and maintaining their resilience. Groups dedicated to women entrepreneurs are springing up on social networks, as are professional associations and incubators dedicated exclusively to women. For over 20 years, one microfinance institution, MECREF, has taken up the challenge of catering to a clientele made up of 100% women. Indeed, in Niger as in the rest of the world, studies show that women entrepreneurs are better paid than men.

“Whether rural or urban, women entrepreneurs in Niger are organizing, building and maintaining their resilience”

 

However, the situation remains critical in many regions. Since the beginning of 2023, according to official figures, some 670,000 forcibly displaced persons have been registered in Niger, 52% of whom are women.

Nigerien women will have an increasingly important role to play in rebuilding peace in Niger. Military families are often left to fend for themselves. And just as we saw during the great world wars in Europe, women are now perfectly capable of heading these families and generating income to support the family.

Their resilience is still being tested by the coup d’état of July 26, 2023. Sanctions are taking their toll on households and women in particular, including rising food prices. Nigerien women are calling for peace and a diplomatic way out of the crisis, but they are also passionate about this historic page that the whole country is now writing.

“Their resilience is still being tested by the coup d’état of July 26, 2023”

 

So, more than ever, empowering women is part of economic development and must be a priority. This has a greater impact on health, education and economic development in general. And the fact that they are more involved and that we can provide them with more support will have an impact on safety across the board and at local level. 

Further reading: in our “Resilience and Adaptation” series, discover Mohamed Keita’s article, “Mali’s renewal will come through the private sector“.

 

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3 essential paths for the development agenda of the next 30 years

On May 22, 2023, an exciting day of debate was organized by the Architecture Chair in International Development Finance and the Impact Chair of the FERDI. The event brought together…

On May 22, 2023, an exciting day of debate was organized by the Architecture Chair in International Development Finance and the Impact Chair of the FERDI. The event brought together some twenty African and international researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, and heads of development institutions. What can we learn from this work?

The current debate on the architecture of international financing is bringing the role of the private sector and private financing in development back to the spotlight.

Whichever approach is taken, if we are to meet the challenges of the coming decades, the rate of investment needs to increase. This is particularly the case in poor and fragile countries, which are the focus of everyone’s attention for two reasons: on the one hand, their demographic growth, with its implications for education, health, regional amenities, mobility and the response to social challenges; and on the other, climate change, with in particular the challenge of adaptation. Of course, public investment will be essential. So will public development aid. But private investment must also grow, and so must private financing.

There are at least three different subjects.

First, it is necessary for governments of poor and fragile countries to obtain more financing from banks and markets, in a sound and responsible manner. The current period is witnessing a growing risk of over-indebtedness, particularly in Africa. Returning to this issue is essential. The establishment of a common, global debt coordination mechanism is the central issue, as is the strengthening of the IMF’s surveillance capacity. The G20 “common framework” is the first step in this politically complex process.

To meet the challenges of the coming decades, the rate of investment needs to increase.

Furthermore, more direct foreign investment in these countries is required. The needs in terms of infrastructure are a priority: the domestic private sector, both productive and financial, is rarely on a par with the complexity and size of operations, even if it can make progress. The main challenge lies within the countries themselves: we need better national policies and more projects. That’s why the most appropriate recommendations involve ways of improving the first category, by making them more welcoming to private investors, and strengthening the capacities of administrations in the second category. Development institutions could become more proactive in assisting project development. International investors also need to be reassured about sovereign risk, by improving access to guarantee instruments (such as MIGA, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) and enabling public private sector financing institutions (DFIs) to be faster, more efficient partners.

Finally, strengthening the entrepreneurial emergence and growth of SMEs in these poor and fragile countries must be a top priority. Whatever support and guarantees might be offered to large international companies or institutional investors, these countries are too small and too complex to be of any interest to them other than marginally. So, in contrast to infrastructure, we must position ourselves at the level of the local private sector. This sector is incomplete, fragile and very small.

It is possible to strengthen the entrepreneurial dynamic in poor countries. Twenty years of experience and pilot projects have produced some convincing results, in a context where the will to embrace entrepreneurship is huge. There’s no shortage of projects here!

Today’s agenda is one of scaling up.

So today’s agenda is one of scaling up. First and foremost, we need to support start-ups by strengthening our acceleration, incubation and pre-investment structures. Next, in as many countries as possible, private funds or private investment companies should be set up to provide long-term capital and capacity-building for small businesses in the process of being structured. Finally, regional funds are needed to finance the expansion and capital strengthening of companies that are becoming too large to be financed at national level, but cannot yet access, for example, commercial investment funds. At every level, technological and managerial capacity-building is essential.

There are, however, two important points about the agenda that are too often underestimated.

National savings are still too low to finance this capital investment effort. Moreover, as we have already said, international savings cannot really be mobilized easily in their direction. We therefore need public funding, both national and international, to reinforce domestic private investment. This is why the mobilization of the DFIs, as well as public aid agencies, is essential.

Also, even if private companies that are financed are highly profitable, and bring considerable societal value, investors operating in this field can rarely achieve levels of return corresponding to market expectations. Indeed, it’s difficult to value small African companies, for example, at levels equivalent to those of their European peers. Investments in these small companies are also affected by high management costs, tax burdens and foreign exchange losses, not to mention a claims experience which, while not very high, does take its toll on earnings. Public investors must therefore accept low financial returns, which are justified by the very high fiscal and social returns. If they want to attract private investors, they must also agree to provide guarantees or other return-enhancing elements.

It’s an agenda with a budgetary cost.

It’s an agenda with a budgetary cost. But this cost, as various studies have shown, is modest in relation to GDP and the societal gains generated. The DFIs, for instance, must have the capacity to support this effort. Until now, this has not been their mandate. It must become one, and their business model must enable them to support it. It’s up to their public shareholders – the governments of the OECD and China – to act in this way. Aid agencies also need to accept the idea of committing public funds to the productive sector. For some of them, this is a major ideological and sometimes know-how barrier to overcome. We need to invest in the conceptual framework and the economic and impact justification to reassure and convince them.

There are very few large and medium-sized companies in Africa. Most of the major African companies of 2050 are not yet born. Accelerating their birth, reducing their losses during their growth period, making their expansion faster, safer and more environmentally and socially sustainable: this is the major development agenda for poor and vulnerable countries over the next thirty years.

It will create the mass of jobs needed to absorb the huge demographic wave ahead of us, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. This is how we will create the financial markets of tomorrow, and how major international investors will turn to these countries, which are still poor, and tomorrow, even less fragile, if this agenda succeeds.

International society needs to gain in coherence

A final word. International society needs to gain in coherence. If big business and the world’s financial markets are to connect with developing countries, the right hand of OECD countries that wants to help them must act in the same direction as their left hand, which governs the financial markets. However, the accumulation of rules on anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism, banking risk management, ethics and the environment is beginning to raise questions. As positive and unquestionable as they may be in their inspiration, they lead to a level of compliance risk that today turns too many leading international companies away from developing countries, and particularly the poorest ones. It is essential to return to a more coherent approach and find the right modalities and compromises between the desire to make financial markets healthier and more stable, on the one hand, and to promote investment in the world’s most fragile zones, on the other.


This article is inspired by the working paper: → Millions for billions: Accelerating African entrepreneurial emergence for accelerated, sustainable and job-rich growth, a publication by Jean-Michel Severino, part of the work of FERDI’s International Architecture of Development Financing Chair, and which argues for the need to strongly accelerate public involvement in favor of entrepreneurial emergence in poor and fragile countries.

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Promoting african publications as a means to improve the education system, hence ensuring future economic growth.

By 2050, Africa’s population will grow from 1.51 billion to 2.45 billion. This demographic power will propel Africa into an economic powerhouse. Africa’s GDP in 2050, in the most modest…

By 2050, Africa’s population will grow from 1.51 billion to 2.45 billion. This demographic power will propel Africa into an economic powerhouse. Africa’s GDP in 2050, in the most modest scenarios, will be in absolute value  the GDP of China today (1)

But this demographic power will only reveal its full potential if for the next three decades education is considered a top priority. In the medium and long term, education is the most powerful factor of change, the most effective instrument to fight against poverty and inequalities. And in general, it is essential to the achievement of each of the 17 sustainable development goals.

To illustrate, on two maps, the first showing the poverty rate in the world (2), the second showing the literacy rates (3) (the first indicator of the level of education in a country): the correlation between the two maps is simply incredible. The least developed countries are those with the lowest literacy or education rates.

If today the stakes around this question are recognized, and moreover, policies of access to education are already being applied on the continent, these efforts must also be extended to all the actors involved in the process of transmission of knowledge and know-how, among which that of the publishing industry. 

After great teachers, the best learning opportunity for a child is to have a great book.

The World Bank, for example, admits that after good teachers, the best learning opportunity for a child is a good book. I think this perfectly defines the essential role of books. All books, not just textbooks, provide the best possible learning opportunities.

Today there is evidence that if you want publishing to influence a country’s education, it must also be endogenous.

Today, the market for educational textbooks, but more generally for books, is dominated by imported products. Local and African know-how tends to be overshadowed by universal knowledge. However, the two can and should coexist.

In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to acquire universally recognized knowledge, meeting the epistemological conditions of modern science, marked by the seal of rigor in the collection of information, validated by the multiplication of experiments and rid of all irrationality. The acquisition of this scientific knowledge, with a universal and normative vocation, is necessary, at the risk of being marginalized in the global city.

But, as mentioned above, local know-how tends to disappear precisely because, unlike universal knowledge, it is experiential, pragmatic but progressive and, above all, rooted in a particular experience and context. And in a way, it is in this form of exclusivity that all the potential of local know-how lies. For they answer African questions in a pragmatic way and are the answers adapted to the context in which African societies and entrepreneurs evolve.

For heritage and identity purposes, but also for knowledge as a whole, this know-how must be taught and transmitted to future generations in the same way as scientific knowledge is transmitted.


  1. L’Afrique deviendra une grande puissance économique” – Jean-Michel Severino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2kwLTXUWn8
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_percentage_of_population_living_in_poverty 
  3. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_des_pays_par_taux_d%27alphab%C3%A9tisation 
  4. https://scienceetbiencommun.pressbooks.pub/justicecognitive1/chapter/la-place-des-savoirs-locaux-endogenes-dans-la-cite-globale-essai-de-justification/  
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Are universities in Africa excluding women?

Abidjan, early 60’s, the young Dicoh Mariam Konan starts studying chemistry at the Technical High School. She soon became the first female chemist in the Ivory Coast. Her portrait on…

Abidjan, early 60’s, the young Dicoh Mariam Konan starts studying chemistry at the Technical High School. She soon became the first female chemist in the Ivory Coast. Her portrait on the 25fcfa coins, still in circulation today, illustrates the impact of her career. It symbolizes a West Africa in progress, with educated women, while the period of independence is in full swing. 60 years later, this progress is slowing down, only 8% of Ivorian women continue secondary studies. A figure that applies to the rest of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. How to explain this situation?

Over the years, sub-Saharan women have found many socio-economic barriers to pursuing higher education. These include gender stereotypes and women’s place in society, a clear preference for boys’ education over girls, and poverty. Indeed, the cost of higher education generally falls more heavily on poor households than on rich ones.

Yet, studies show that women play a key role in the continent’s economy. According to UNESCO, the impact of girls’ education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percentage point increase in girls’ education increases the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percentage points and increases the annual growth rate of GDP by 0.2 percentage points.

These figures raise many questions:

  • What mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure sustainable access to higher education for girls?
  • How can we influence deep-rooted societal practices?

A look at 3 mechanisms set up by I&P Education and Employment, aimed at increasing the number of young girls enrolled in higher education institutions to enable them to find their place in the job market.

Overcoming the socio-economic barrier

At ISM Ziguinchor, 11:00 a.m., Elise, originally from the Sédhiou region of Senegal, is taking a management course. After having interrupted her schooling due to pregnancy, she received a scholarship for excellence from ISM Ziguinchor. The first institution of higher education in the capital of Casamance, the establishment is a fine example of parity, in fact, girls represent 55% of the staff.

The policy is clear: “When awarding scholarships, 60% of girls and 40% of boys. For equal competence, the choice is made for girls,” says Georges Bernard Ndèye, director of the school. When asked why girls, the answer is simple: “The desire to get girls out of their vulnerable situation.

Higher education has an additional cost for families living in rural areas or without a university who have to go to capital or secondary cities. For families this means additional costs such as transportation, accommodation, and food[2]. In Ghana, for example, among the poorest households, sending a young person to a higher education institution increases their non-food expenses by 37%[3], an unthinkable sacrifice for many.

Sending a student to college increases a poor household’s non-food expenditures by 37 percent in Ghana

Students and their families analyze the benefits of higher education versus the income if the young person worked right after high school. For Priska Manga, a doctor at Cheikh Anta Diop University, the first obstacle for girls is the family. Social norms (role of men and women in the family, marriage, maternity, etc.) also play a role. A Wolof proverb says “Diangou Djiguène amoul ndieurigne”, a woman’s studies are of no use. Investing in the higher education of young girls can be seen as a waste of time and investment for the most vulnerable families.

Parental education is a critical factor in decision making. When the head of the household has completed secondary school, children are 10 times more likely to pursue higher education than a child in a household with a lower educational level of the head. Thus, convincing vulnerable families of the importance of higher education for girls is necessary. But it is essential to couple this societal change with financial support mechanisms. The granting of a scholarship may be a condition for a young girl from a disadvantaged background to pursue higher education.

Local and adapted infrastructures

In 2016, ISM Ziguinchor, wishing to respond to the accommodation problems of its students, decided to create a branch in Kolda, a city located 500km from Dakar. At the beginning of the school year, the administration realized that the majority of the students were married girls, whose families did not want them to move away for their studies. Families want to keep their daughters within a family circle, to protect them, but also to avoid any incidents that would damage their reputations (unwanted pregnancies, etc.). Bringing the institution closer to female students in rural areas increases their access to quality higher education when social norms prevent them from going to the city alone. For student mothers, the provision of childcare facilities at the place of learning helps them stay in school. To help female learners focus on their education, UNICEF has set up a daycare system as part of the “Girl Power” project in Côte d’Ivoire. The project aims to strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of young girls in the suburbs[4].

  • Dormitories: when school becomes home

Families also use tutoring systems. The student (girl or boy) is placed under the authority of a tutor, usually a family acquaintance. When necessary, or when there are difficulties within the host family, the girls drop out of school. Another solution is to make the school the place to live. The construction of dormitories in schools allows families to find a reliable solution to the issue of distance from the place of learning. This solution is being tested in ESSECT Poincaré schools. Located in the city of Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire, the school welcomes students from all over the region – mainly agricultural – and beyond.

  • The importance of decent and adequate health facilities

In addition to having a decent toilet, it is also a question of equipment adapted to female physiology and available in the sanitary facilities.

Once they enter the school, students spend a large part of their day there. In addition to the availability of facilities, it is important that they feel comfortable. Both private and public, restrooms are places that must meet the requirements of safety, hygiene and privacy[5]. Since joining the IP2E program, Mr. Ndèye considers that decent sanitary facilities are fundamental for the development of young girls. During their menstruation, girls need to have access to toilets with water, soap and garbage garbage cans where they can dispose of their sanitary protection[6]. The availability of these pads is also necessary. In addition to having decent toilets, it is also a matter of having appropriate facilities available in these spaces. When interviewed, girls express an interest in separate toilets. They often emphasize the criteria of hygiene and the desire for privacy and safety.

  • Ensure the protection and well-being of students

Providing a safe learning environment goes beyond infrastructure. Gender-based and sexual violence affects girls more than boys. It is present during higher education, but goes unreported. It can include harassment between students, harassment between professors and students, and the exchange of good grades or job offers for sexual favors. Within the IP2E program, all supported companies develop a “student safeguarding” policy. This policy aims to prevent and respond to different types of incidents (sexual violence, physical safety, etc.) and to increase awareness of these issues among students and staff. Institutions are developing mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints. These mechanisms help build trust and improve the learning experience of young girls.

Inspiring Role Models

At the Institut Ivoirien de Technologie (IIT), along with business and computer courses, students receive leadership and personal development courses. Prisca and Grâce, two second-year students, explain that these courses help “to know oneself, to find one’s strengths to overcome one’s weaknesses. They often discuss the girls’ development with their male classmates. For Grace, one of the reasons for not pursuing higher education is the lack of self-confidence in girls. This lack of confidence stems from the “low esteem” that those around them place on the education of young women.

Gender stereotypes are also found in the orientation. The so-called promising fields, such as science, are often assigned to boys. Fabricia Devignes, a gender expert at UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, explains that “the representation of women has an impact on girls’ education and learning outcomes.

In the companies of the I&P Education and Employment program, one institution makes the difference in the sciences: the USSD (Université des Sciences de la Santé de Dakar ). The Board of Directors of the USSD is chaired by a woman. In the university, 60% of the students are young women. When questioned, the female students explain that most of them come from families where their parents are already working in the health sector. To strengthen the resolve of these future doctors, USSD is also implementing a women’s leadership program. These are mentoring sessions during which women in the health sector will lead exchange sessions with the students. For Professor Ndir, it is by taking the example of female role models that there will be women leaders in the field.

Changing mindsets

In Tamale, northern Ghana, educational company Openlabs is bringing role models into the local community to change attitudes. To train girls in computer skills, Prince Charles, campus manager, and his team conduct outreach to girls as young as primary school, families, women’s groups, and religious leaders. To facilitate the exchange, some team members come from the targeted communities. Zeinab, a student from the Choggu community, spoke. She explains that it is possible to be a young woman, belong to the community and pursue higher education. Prince Charles went on to explain the financial benefits that the education of young women will have on these communities. He also explains the scholarships and discounts that Openlabs offers to young women.

In recent years, the historical gap in access to secondary education between girls and boys on the African continent has narrowed considerably and is now being reversed thanks to government efforts (in Senegal, in 2021: 52% of girls versus 48% of boys). This quasi-parity has highlighted a non-generic inequality, but rather a strong disparity according to the social and geographical origin of future students, and partly explains the low rate of continuation of higher education. Although few girls and boys pursue higher education in sub-Saharan Africa, girls from disadvantaged or rural backgrounds are at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of access to university.

Guaranteeing sustainable access to education for vulnerable girls requires providing mechanisms for financing higher education. For girls in rural areas, the multiplication of community-based higher education offers is also a lever to be implemented. The institutions must be safe places, where the well-being, safety and health of the students will be preserved. Finally, it is necessary to change mentalities, especially regarding the place of girls in scientific fields, in order to ensure that women fully participate in the development of the continent.

“The emancipation of women goes through education. If we manage to have more educated women, we will have women leaders everywhere.”

According to Dr. Priska Manga, “The emancipation of women is through education. If we can have more educated women, we will have women leaders everywhere. Disadvantaged girls need continued access to quality education in order to become self-sufficient and active in the development of their region[8]. Quality higher education develops and strengthens the skills needed to enter a highly competitive labor market, and enables them to claim a decent, adequate and equal income to improve their quality of life.


[1] https://www.globalpartnership.org/fr/blog/leducation-des-filles-releve-du-bon-sens-economique

[2] Darvas, Peter, Shang Gao, Yijun Shen et Bilal Bawany. 2017. Enseignement supérieur et équité en Afrique subsaharienne : Élargir l’opportunité au-delà de l’élite. Directions du développement. Washington, DC : Banque mondiale. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1266-8.

[3]Darvas & all

[4] UNICEF. Projet Girl Power. 2020. https://team.unicef.fr/projects/unicef-projet-girl-power

[5] Marion Simon-Rainaud. 2021. Mélanger les filles et les garçons a facilité l’accès aux toilettes », 7 mars 2021 ? https://usbeketrica.com/fr/melanger-les-filles-et-les-garcons-a-facilite-l-acces-aux-toilettes

[6] GPE. 2018. Comment les toilettes peuvent-elles contribuer à promouvoir l’éducation.

[7] BBC News Africa. 2019. ‘Sex for geades’: Undercover in West African universities. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-49907376

[8] C. Manse. 2020. Education des filles, émancipation des femmes. https://www.entreprenanteafrique.com/education-des-filles-emancipation-des-femmes/

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