Youth unemployment is a serious problem on the African continent, where the share of the population of young people between the ages of 15-24 is rapidly growing, but not in tandem with the job market.
Uganda has one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world and preparing them for productive jobs is a social and political priority for the government. About 53% of Uganda’s population is younger than 15, well above Sub-Saharan Africa’s average of 43.2%. About 500,000 people are expected to enter the labor market every year, hence the number of new entrants into the labor force will be growing and will be younger in the next few decades; currently, 64% of the unemployed are aged 24 and under.
To tackle the problem of job creation, a diverse team of young professionals from multiple multinational development institutions have initiated a youth entrepreneurship program in Kampala. The Connect to Implement Development project (C2iDev), aims to help young entrepreneurs from various stages of life and business development develop their ideas into jobs. C2iDev is also a winning project of the World Bank Group’s 2015 Youth Innovation Fund, which provides opportunities for young Bank staff to design and implement youth development projects in client countries.
“Winning the Youth Innovation fund was very important as it has given us an opportunity as young staff of the World Bank Group to collectively work on projects that provide grassroots solutions to pressing issues,” said Yvonne Kirabo of the C2iDev team. “Through the Connect to Implement project, we are identifying gaps and leveraging opportunities to solve problems that young entrepreneurs in Uganda face, such as inadequate business training.”
As part of the entrepreneurship project, C2iDev partnered with the Business Development Center Uganda (BDC) to provide such business training to young entrepreneurs ages 18-30.
Through a competitive application process, 27 select youth were funded to go through 10 weeks of intensive training in market analysis, financial planning, and business plan development, among other business topics, to learn how to transform their burgeoning business ideas into reality. BDC facilitators have been conducting training programs to tackle youth unemployment through entrepreneurship for the past seven years, with a special focus on addressing gender and income inequality.
Moses Engwau, Executive Director of BDC, underscored the value of the partnership.
“The BDC trains, nurtures, and supports entrepreneurs as they launch, grow and operate successful businesses. The training offered by C2iDev to Uganda’s youth greatly enhances and compliments our goal to reach such youth with training and business development support,” Enguwau said. “By offering training opportunities, C2i has ensured a higher rate of survival for new businesses. The mentoring component of the project also ensures that more youth are reached with the training, and that the impact is multiplied.”`
Pitching the Best Idea
The 10-week training culminated into a Shark Tank-inspired event last month in Kampala. The newly-minted entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to present their business pitches to a panel of judges, potential angel investors and mentors. The panel of judges was comprised of seasoned business professionals, bankers, and consultants, including Moses Kibirige, Senior Development Specialist in the Trade and Competitiveness GP, and Sylvestre Hakiza, IT officer in Information and Technology Services for East and Central Africa. Honorable Evelyn Anite, Ugandan State Minister for Youth and Children, was the Chief Guest of Honor and presented the awards at the closing ceremony. She conveyed words of inspiration for the youth and their futures.
“Be determined, work hard, create visibility – the most important thing is visibility,” Ms. Anite advised. “If you believe in yourself, if you know what you’re doing is the right thing, you will convince people to start believing in you and getting what you want. There is no one who cannot succeed.”
The final 10 entrepreneurs were given a chance to compete for seed money from the C2iDev team, as well as guided mentorship. Projects in the top 10 included a 3D animation marketing service and a one-stop shop for IT solutions, catering to the Ugandan market.
The first place project was an innovative African print shoe business, Buqisi-Ruux or “Queen of the Village,” which designs high heels with African fabrics. The focus of the business is to sell quality footwear in vibrant prints which speaks to the diversity of the women of Africa and their multiplicity of languages, beauty and culture.
“Winning the business competition taught me that hard work and a thirst for knowledge pays off. I can now confidently say that I have a foundation in the various concepts that are important to grow for a successful business,” said Nuba Elamin, co-founder of Buqisi-Ruux Collections.
“Projects like C2iDev are extremely important in working towards solving high rates of unemployment. I went into business for that very reason but it is very likely that without the opportunity to learn the important aspects of business which were made available through the training, my business would have struggled to become a success.”
Second and third place winners were a peanut butter manufacturing company and a cloth bag production enterprise, both aimed at providing people with locally sourced products. Bugisi-Ruux will receive $1,000 in seed funding, while the second and third projects will receive $800 and $700 respectively. The remaining creative projects will receive $500.
In order to avail of this capital, the finalists are required to train at least two other youths from their community on how to grow their own ideas into a business. This will ensure that the trained entrepreneurs pass on their knowledge and gained expertise, contributing towards a multiplier effect, through new start-ups and jobs.
“Our goal is to invest in the youth by connecting them to mentors, markets, training and access to capital. By doing so we want to do our own part in designing innovative solutions to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity,” stated Nisma Elias of the C2iDev team.
For the Youth by the Youth
C2iDev is the brainchild of a group of young professionals from the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, and the African Development Bank. Originally conceived by Yvonne Kirabo (Uganda), Frederick Arthur (Ghana), Christian Gonzales (Honduras), and Odoma Ogbadu (Nigeria), the team expanded to Alejandra Lopez (Colombia), Nisma Elias (Bangladesh) and Kerri Whittington (Barbados).
Christian Gonzales explained the impetus behind the project. “We realized we didn’t have to be superheroes to fight youth unemployment. All we needed to do was to take action. And that’s how C2iDev was born.” The team is currently exploring opportunities to deepen and scale-up the project to empower more youth around the world.