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Youth employment: Africa should not train more, but train better

A couple of numbers are enough to understand how important the challenges related to the employability of young people on the African continent are. Currently, 15-24 year-olds represent 20% of…

A couple of numbers are enough to understand how important the challenges related to the employability of young people on the African continent are.

Currently, 15-24 year-olds represent 20% of the African population, but more than 40% of the unemployed [1]. By 2030, according to UNESCO projections, approximately 100 million young people will enter the African labor market due to the demographic structure of the continent.

Meanwhile, many companies and employers are looking for qualified [2] and therefore employable[3] individuals. There is a mismatch between available training programs and the specifics of the labor market, which is undergoing constant restructuring, in many sectors,.

Therefore, one could ask whether the great challenge today is not to train more, but to train better? Especially in the context of technical and vocational education and training, which obviously have a major role to play in promoting the integration of young people into the workplace.

In this article, we will explore three paths to improvement, based on the experience of an African SME in Côte d’Ivoire which specializes in professional training: the Institut de Management, de Gestion et d’Hôtellerie (IMGH), founded by Augustine Bro in 2009. Between December 2020 and July 2021, IMGH employees (managers, middle-managers, trainers) participated in capacity building training organized by GIZ Côte d’Ivoire.

Pathway 1: negotiate the shift to digitalization

Technical and vocational training courses are the first to have to adapt to globalization and the resulting technological changes, as they are oriented towards practice, learning, and the acquisition of work techniques. The transition to digital technology, which was supposed to be gradual, has been drastically accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, which has had a major impact on the training sector and has redefined the demands of the labor market.

The prerequisites to successfully negotiate this shift are first of all material. In West Africa, household connectivity is not guaranteed in many rural or isolated areas. In addition to internet coverage issues, there are also the costs of the packages needed to consult the online tools necessary for learning[4]. Finally, the acquisition of computer equipment to access the content of online courses is an additional burden for students.

IMGH Focus:

To overcome these material difficulties, IMGH has put training capsules online which can be consulted via computer and mobile phone. This initiative solved both the impossibility of holding face-to-face classes at the height of the Covid crisis, and the connectivity of learners, insofar as most had at least access to the internet via their smartphones. Financial efforts will still be required to ensure that all students have access to online courses.

Since the start of the Covid crisis, IMGH has adopted a mixed approach, combining face-to-face and distance learning. This format offers many advantages: self-paced learning, customizable content, cost savings, etc. It is also a proven model that will be able to adapt to future crises, whether they are health, economic, or political.

Beyond concerns about equipment and connectivity, the greatest challenge of this transition to digital could be that of the competence of trainers and the transmission of knowledge (theoretical knowledge, but also and above all, know-how – techniques, professional gestures, practice, behaviour,  quality,  values).

Some of these elements, already difficult to transmit in a face-to-face environment, are even more so in distance or hybrid teaching and require much more involvement and pedagogy from the trainers. Hence the need to train trainers and any other person involved in the transmission process beforehand.

Pathway 2: Update trainers’ skills

The quality and relevance of any professional training is directly related to the professional competence of the trainers.

In the case of vocational training, most of the courses offered are taught by teaching teams from the trade. This situation responds to the logic of transmitting techniques specific to each profession, which would otherwise be difficult to share. Nevertheless, this empirical knowledge, acquired thanks to years of experience in the field, tends to become fixed in time. The risk being that once transposed onto the job market, the skills transmitted to students turn out to be obsolete. Consequently, it is essential to constantly renew the skills of trainers.

The training of managers and middle-managers is also an essential aspect to take into account. In the age of digital transformation. The success of a new development strategy depends on the ability of all employees to adopt it. They contribute fully to the internal transformation of the company and thus participate in the process of skills transfer.

IMGH Focus

The GIZ training, which the IMGH team attended, is based on the logic of alternating practice and theory, which allows the knowledge acquired to be updated and transferred directly to the workplace thanks to a point of view and experience from outside the organization.

According to Augustine Bro, founder of IMGH, this training has enabled her entire team to be more aware of the changes taking place in the professional market and to adapt their training offers in the long term.

Pathway 3: Capacity building through the co-development method

Finally, there can be a more collective approach to the new problems linked to the transformation of professions. Updating skills and knowledge to adapt to the demands of the job market is a necessity, and being in contact with other professionals would be an effective way to overcome one’s own shortcomings and acquire new knowledge.

A professional co-development group is a development approach for people who believe they can learn from each other to improve their practice. Individual and group reflection is facilitated through a structured consultation exercise that focuses on issues currently experienced by participant[5].

Thus the co-development method makes it possible to directly approach the practical side of a job, or of a task to be carried out, in a concerted manner. In contrast to a normative approach that only offers a single point of view, co-development, through the plurality of contributions, increases the development perspectives tenfold. This approach encourages everyone to consider a situation from a different and complementary angle, to think much deeper and to adapt new and more productive solutions.

IMGH Focus

“The adoption of the co-development method has brought new life to our organization. A new and very positive dynamic has taken hold and everyone is now voluntarily contributing to it, whether it be in terms of training, management, or governance. For example, those who are more comfortable with computers do not hesitate to give a helping hand to their colleagues in difficulty, and those who are struggling with other issues do not hesitate to ask for advice or help. So far, this method has been nothing but beneficial, both in terms of accounting and the work atmosphere” – Augustine Bro

In summary

The mismatch between existing training programs and the needs of an ever-changing labor market hinders the economic development of African countries. Opportunities exist and are being created, but the continent is still struggling to provide a skilled and employable workforce.

Vocational training actors, such as IMGH in Côte d’Ivoire, need to offer up-to-date and relevant content. We have mentioned here some of the practices implemented by IMGH since the Covid-19 crisis and the GIZ training (digitizing its training offer, strengthening the skills of trainers and teams…), but many other ideas can still be formulated to bring relevant and quality vocational training to African youth!

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[1]  http://www.iiep.unesco.org/fr/en-afrique-la-transformation-de-la-formation-professionnelle-est-en-marche-13763

[2] Jean-Michel SEVERINO, RFI 20/01/19 https://www.rfi.fr/fr/emission/20190121-afrique-manque-emplois-qualifies-investir-formation

[3] En se référant à la définition donnée par l’Organisation internationale du travail (OIT), l’employabilité est « l’aptitude de chacun à trouver et conserver un emploi, à progresser au travail et à s’adapter au changement tout au long de la vie professionnelle »

[4] https://www.entreprenanteafrique.com/les-ecoles-africaines-au-temps-du-covid-19/#_ftn6

[5] Adrien PAYETTE, Claude CHAMPAGNE, PUQ, 1997 ( https://www.puq.ca/catalogue/livres/groupe-codeveloppement-professionnel-573.html )

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Acceleration programs: a miracle solution for early-stage companies? (1/2)

Capitalizing on the boom of Africa’s entrepreneurial revolution, official development assistance (ODA) actors are increasingly taking on the challenge of supporting new generations of entrepreneurs willing to contribute to job…

Capitalizing on the boom of Africa’s entrepreneurial revolution, official development assistance (ODA) actors are increasingly taking on the challenge of supporting new generations of entrepreneurs willing to contribute to job creation and the emergence of more inclusive growth on the African continent. It is in this context that programs, initiatives and structures claiming to “accelerate” businesses have emerged in recent years. 

Note: Part 2 of this article, spotlighting an Ivorian company supported by an acceleration program, will be published next week.

Acceleration: A promising concept for African startups

When it comes to entrepreneurship, acceleration is defined as a service that provides mentoring, networking, and sometimes funding, to growing companies. However, the term is used to refer to a wide variety of very different programs. These include “accelerators” and start-up studios (such as GSMA Kenya and Flat6Labs Egypt), which are often physical or virtual structures that focus on digital economy (1) start-ups and are typically located in English-speaking countries, as well as investment funds that define themselves as booster programs (such as Catalyst Fund and Janngo) and/or that develop a range of acceleration program services to diversify their portfolios.

These programs are mainly funded by international organizations and private donors (e.g., West African Trade Investment, funded by USAID; Orange Corners, funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency).

In a globalized context where virtual support is widely available, international accelerators, in the US, Latin America, and Europe, are assisting more and more African startups. Before 2020, the renowned North American Y Combinator had only provided on-site support to 12 African startups—a figure that has tripled in the last two years.

An insufficient offering given the needs of entrepreneurs

This apparent plethora of acceleration programs gives the impression that the needs of African early-stage companies have now been met. This misleading impression is strengthened by the growing numbers of venture capital fundraising exclusively targeting IT startups in a limited number of African countries (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt.

The number of start-ups across the continent that need assistance in the acceleration phase or upstream during the incubation phase is significant; whereas the range of seed financing (pre-seed/seed) is almost nonexistent if we look at the ratio of funds to the number of entrepreneurs. The financial and non-financial support granted must cover both general and specific needs, and therefore requires time, locally rooted expertise and a personalized calibration/analysis of a business’s needs. Accelerating a company’s growth does not mean accelerating the time required for its development.

Unfortunately, most programs funded by ODAs are not properly structured to overcome the gap between the time/support required for each entrepreneur and the number of targeted beneficiaries. Often these programs are unwilling or unable to assume the real cost of coaching each company and therefore take the risk of acting only superficially/provide only superficial assistance. Implementation resources are limited since there are inexhaustible reserves of new entrepreneurs to support whose scaling up problems  cannot be solved exclusively by a generalist approach.

The apparent profusion of acceleration programs is misleading: the number of startups that need support across the continent is considerable and the supply of seed funding is still largely insufficient.

Draw inspiration and deploy good practices

Since there is still a lot to do to guarantee the development of African entrepreneurship, the experience accumulated in recent years by acceleration program actors make it possible to identify a few “good practices” that could be deployed on a larger scale:

(1) The segmentation of programs is an added value

Every acceleration program must consider the fact that the term “start-up” includes companies that have nothing in common, either in terms of their business or location, and as such, require differentiated support. Segmentation adds significant value as it allows acceleration/support programs to more quickly identify issues and address challenges common to a particular business/company; a Sahelian SME in the agribusiness sector, for example, will have different support needs than a Nigerian e-commerce startup. Segmentation benefits also to programs that favor a virtual and grouped approach but which have difficulty obtaining the expected results with audiences that are too diverse.

Sectoral programs, such as those dedicated to agribusinesses (e.g., the PCESA financed by Danish cooperation in Burkina Faso) or initiatives focused on gender (Access Bank Nigeria’s W Initiative…) are more likely to identify the particular challenges of businesses and better understand regional equity issues (urban, rural, etc.). In the same way, results are achieved when the support continuum has been well thought out. Incubation in particular is not interchangeable with acceleration, as the needs of companies may differ from one phase to another (2).

(2) Greater impact is achieved by training local intermediary actors essential to the development of entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship support structures (SAE) in particular, independent experts and consultants be able to find their market beyond punctual aid from donors (3) . It is by contributing to the local skills development of African professionals that a greater number of companies will be able to scale up. In addition to Afric’innov, whose primary mission is in French-speaking African countries, a few financial players have recently attempted to fill this blind spot in their program offerings. Examples include the collaboration between Argidius and Village Capital, who have been working since 2020 to help structure SAEs in Uganda (Uganda Ecosystem Builders), and the work of mentoring and then financing SAEs carried out by Triple Jump and its experts in Sub-Saharan Africa.

(3) Acceleration programs that provide a complementary set of tools are more effective

First, appropriate seed funding tools, which specifically take into account a company’s lack of financial management skills and habits, can take the form of a repayable advance, as currently practiced by I&P Acceleration in the Sahel (IPAS). An advance lays the groundwork for a relationship with a financier and will probably make it possible to financially support more SMEs through the effect of recycling money (4).

Secondly, we can use skill-building tools that alternate between generalist support (to aim at disseminating entrepreneurial skills as widely as possible) and targeted support (venture building, technical assistance). The technical support provided to a company is just as determinant as the financial support. Y Combinator’s alumni agree that their growth is more due to technical support than to the initial financing, even if the financing gives more weight to the advice given.

Although the scarcity of seed funding is a significant obstacle, support, through skills building and technical assistance, is just as crucial as seed funding.

General skill building (group trainings, bootcamps and workshops, webinars, etc.) is often valued by funders, but technical assistance is largely absent from many acceleration programs. Technical assistance, i.e., contracting with local sector experts (legal, commercial, technological, managerial, etc.), is critical to improving the performance of companies during the absorption of seed financing and the development of traction. Technical assistance is an eminently relevant tool when it is implemented by an investor who wishes to strengthen the enterprise where he perceives risks that would not be detected by other types of actors. Most acceleration programs that include the deployment of technical assistance produce net results: this is the case, for example, with GreenTec Capital’s Boost Digital, which offers technical assistance in business and digital strategy and significantly increases the revenues of its beneficiary startups.

Some traps to avoid

Program funders still face many challenges to increasing the impact of their programs. It will inevitably be necessary to move away from the “all-startup” scheme to support “brick and mortar” SMEs as well and to rethink the establishment of support over time, taking into account that the phases of increasing skills are costly but necessary in order to meet demanding results indicators. It is also important to recognize that high failure rates at the outset are normal given the high initial risks involved, during the time when a company must deploy its offerings, prove itself and find its market. If the company survives, thanks in part to acceleration, then the risks, the need for liquidity and the need for competence (…) all decrease simultaneously.

We must also avoid the model of ephemeral competition and challenges, unless we are clear about their purpose (brand testing, visibility, etc.) and encourage a little more in-depth research work for “nuggets” and summoning patience and local relays in the process of selecting companies outside the circuits known to “serial pitchers”. The implementation of programs designed in Africa, involving African public and private stakeholders, favoring local financial risk-taking (e.g., business angels, African entrepreneurs, especially alumni of acceleration programs wishing to invest) is becoming essential.

In conclusion, we can hope that the enthusiasm of DFIs, international donors and African private actors for acceleration programs will continue and lead to the realization of ambitious aspirations: to strengthen young companies and create intermediary bridges/pathways to capital investment for those with clear development projects. Such a dynamic is inseparable from a broader reflection on the programs that exist further upstream from acceleration (ideation or incubation programs). The quality of our tools must be continually questioned in order to adapt them as closely as possible to the changing issues that growing African companies face.


Notes :

(1) An overview of the so-called gas pedal structures is available on the Afrikan Heroes and CrunchBase websites https://afrikanheroes.com/2021/05/29/a-list-of-startup-accelerators-in-africa/ https://www.crunchbase.com/hub/africa-accelerators and in the Briter Bridges 2020 & 2021 reports

(2) Cf étude AFD-Roland Berger « Innovation en Afrique et dans les pays émergents » https://www.afd.fr/sites/afd/files/2018-05-05-57-55/etude-innovation-numerique-afrique-pays-emergents.pdf

(3) On this subject, see the studies and experiments currently being conducted in Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and Chad by actors such as R.M.D.A or the Agro-PME Foundation to implement the use of service vouchers, a useful tool for training and accreditation of consultants, etc. https://www.rmda-group.com/project/tchad-appui-a-la-maitrise-douvrage-du-projet-dappui-a-la-petite-entreprise-phase-2 https://www.adiac-congo.com/content/pme-le-guichet-cheque-services-bientot-operationnel-32125

(4) The repayable advance and its effects will be the subject of an article in this Acceleration file.

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Entrepreneurship for a better tomorrow in Guinea

Kouramoudou Magassouba presents the NGO Horizons d’Afrique, which he launched in 2017 to promote social entrepreneurship among Guinean youth.  Entrepreneurship is not – or should not be – limited to…

Kouramoudou Magassouba presents the NGO Horizons d’Afrique, which he launched in 2017 to promote social entrepreneurship among Guinean youth. 

Entrepreneurship is not – or should not be – limited to wealth creation alone. Starting an entrepreneurial project is above all about passion, creativity, strongly believing in a project. The NGO Horizons d’Afrique has been promoting this message since 2017 to Guinean students, so as to train a new generation of young entrepreneurs who are aware of social and environmental issues.

I launched The NGO a few years after my return to Guinea, in a context of latent economic and social crisis (high unemployment rate, especially among young people, illegal emigration). In 2010, I started teaching at a private university in Conakry while working at the Central Bank of the Republic of Guinea. Working directly with young scholars, confused about their futures and very much in need of advice, opened my eyes and pushed me to take action. Because if some government initiatives exist in this area, they are largely insufficient for the moment…

With former students and banking sector professionals, we launched Horizons of Africa to promote the learning of entrepreneurial skills. We do everything in our power to ensure that students are better prepared to enter the entrepreneurial world when they leave school. this cannot be learned in a day!

 

Promoting Entrepreneurial Spirit in Guinea

Horizons d’Afrique’s ambition is to build a community of at least 1,000 young entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs by 2025, capable of creating sustainable jobs.

We say “intrapreneurs” because we are aware that not everyone can or wants to be an entrepreneur. However, we believe anyone can develop entrepreneurial qualities, such as creativity, innovation, or organization. We can offer employees the tools and opportunities to create and innovate. In other words, we can train them to act as entrepreneurs within the company.

 

Launching impactful companies in Guinea

Our programs are open to all young people. They are designed to promote entrepreneurial qualities and values that we believe are fundamental for the society as a whole. Today there are about 6,000 new businesses created yearly in Guinea, but most of them are individual companies and do not create any jobs.

We advocate three key values in particular:

  • Empathy: we encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of others and imagine possible solutions to Guinea’s major social and environmental challenges.
  • Optimism: we promote students’ empowerment and “positive mental attitude”
  • Performance: to create positive impacts on the long-run, a company must be sustainable. The economic model of the company must therefore be viable and generate wealth.

 

Developing programs that address local needs

Horizons d’Afrique has developed a range of programs, depending on the target audiences (high schools, universities, technical schools…). They all provide support to young people who are starting (or are willing to start) an entrepreneurial project. We have built a strong network and we are now able to offer shared resources and skills. For example, we have set up a common technical team (accounting, communication) for the several startups supported by our programs.

With the technical assistance of Pierre ALZINGRE, founder of the Visionari Agency and Start’Up Lycée in France, we concluded in June the first edition of our program “Start’Up Lycée GouTina”, specifically dedicated to high school students. Ten public and private institutions took part in this competition. The students worked throughout the year on entrepreneurial initiatives related to the Sustainable Development Goals. Each working group (made up of ten high school students, including at least four girls per group) was accompanied by a team of three people: a teacher, an NGO staff member and a professional entrepreneur.

 

Conclusion

Throughout my academic and professional career, in Guinea, Morocco and France, I witnessed on many occasions the importance of educating and training young people, so that this new generation can do something constructive for their lives and the development of their country. With African Horizons, we are working as closely as possible with young people to make this possible. Sharing skills and experience is essential. Knowledge is only knowledge if it shared with other people!

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