By 2050, Africa’s youth population is expected to grow to over 830 million. From all angles, this is a good thing for the continent; it means there will be a drive for higher productivity, and possibly also economic growth. However, presently, one-third of Africa’s present 420 million youth population is unemployed, while only one in six young Africans is gainfully employed. This presents a problem for many policymakers on the continent: how do we provide jobs for its youth now, before it becomes a bigger problem in 30 years. Many have suggested entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment, though not many know how to go about that process.

Ventures Africa spoke with Tom-Chris Emewulu, whose organization, Stars From All Nations  (SFAN) is set to launch the inaugural Student Entrepreneurship Week Pan-African for budding entrepreneurs on the continent. The event is scheduled to take place in Accra, Ghana from 22nd to 24th July. Applications are still open for people who have intentions of pursuing their passions and need tutoring on how to adapt them to the modern world; as well as raise funding for their business. In this interview with Tom-Chris, we discuss the role of SFAN in nurturing young talents on the continent, solving the problem of unemployment in Africa, how to increase the average life-span of Small and Medium Businesses, SFAN’s work in impacting more than 20 countries around the world and how African governments can prepare their youths for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

                         Tom-Chris Emewulu, founder and President of SFAN

Ventures Africa (VA)What made you start SFAN? When did you realize there was a gap that needed to be filled by your company?

Tom-Chris Emewulu (TE): SFAN was established to help young people turn their passion into businesses or careers. In 2013 while studying for a B.Sc degree at Radford University, I read a news report which stated that of all 66,000 young people that graduate from colleges and universities in Ghana, only about 3% gain formal employment within one year (that number is now 10% ). Evidently, this mismatch is not peculiar to Ghana. At the current rate of labour force growth, Africa needs to create about 12 million new jobs every year to prevent unemployment from rising, according to the AfDB. Experts have said that if the present unemployment trend continues, Africa’s youth might be a lost cause.

The numbers are staggering – by the end of the century, almost half of the young people on the planet will be in sub-Saharan Africa. From 2020 to 2100, the rest of the world goes from 506M kids under the age of five down to 357M while Sub-Saharan Africa starts out at 173M and climbs to 293M. Africa has the youngest median age of 18. In other words, while the rest of the world is getting older, Africa keeps getting younger. Obviously, a healthy, educated and well-resourced youth population is Africa’s greatest resource. With this realization, our goal is to create tools and EPIC events that can help young people unlock their potential and launch their businesses or careers.

V.A.How will the Student Entrepreneurship Week assist innovative African students?

T.E.:  Historically, entrepreneurship is a tool for helping people take ownership of their aspirations. When you look at countries like China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam that pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last few decades, entrepreneurship played a key role in their development agenda. According to a study by IDRC Canada, youth entrepreneurship, in particular, is an option to create employment for the youth. Youth entrepreneurs are more likely to hire fellow youths, are particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends and are active in high growth sectors.

This year, some 30 million young people on the continent will be looking for sustainable means of livelihood. Consequently, Student Entrepreneurship Week Pan-Africa is created to help students and budding entrepreneurs access actionable, experiential knowledge and tools for building sustainable businesses as well as pitch their ideas for funding.

We all know that when people are taught how to fish, the results are exponential. Nowadays, everyone is told to become an entrepreneur but many people are not told how to go about that process. Entrepreneurship at any age or career stage is risky business. Yet, creating a business while in school can help circumvent part of this risk and uncertainty. And so, Student Entrepreneurship Week Pan-Africa is really a tool to help young innovators unleash their talents and create economic opportunities for themselves and others. This is an experiential, alternative education forum for the young and ambitious!

We have partnered with Ingressive Capital, an Africa-focused VC fund to help early-stage entrepreneurs that meet their investment criteria access up to $100k funding; as well as the AI venture building firm, QI Holdings to locate the brightest youth-led startups as part of their venture building agenda.

V.A.What after-school programs does SFAN have for students after graduation to assist them to avoid the shackles of unemployment?

T.E.: SFAN is piloting a talent accelerator program called Readyforwork. The idea behind Readyforwork is incredibly simple – education should be personalized and fun, not one-size-fits-all and boring. For so long, education systems have not kept pace with the changing nature of work resulting in employers saying they cannot find workers with the skills they need. With Readyforwork, we help young people develop the skills and gain the connections necessary to find jobs or start a business.

With personalized educational contents crafted by experts, one-on-one coaching, and team conversations, learners are equipped with practical skills and exposed to real-world projects that empower them to take ownership of their career aspirations and grow in confidence that yields success! To donate towards this project or learn more, please visit sfaonline.org/readyforwork.

V.A.With the impact of your work reaching more than 20 countries globally, what has been the most common theme among the youths in these countries?

T.E.: What we’ve seen is that young people are smart and if given the skills and opportunities to engage the real world, magic will happen! We see young people with talents but without the right support or financial stacks to harness those talents and make them marketable. Needless to say, without financial instruments necessary to turn ideas into innovations, in an environment of controlled risk, every effort in achieving Africa’s development agenda is like chasing our tails.

We also see that a lot of young people are willing and able to participate in their countries socio-economic growth plan but often lack the platform to do so. This is resulting in a loss of a sense of social value among the youth. Many young people do not think their leaders believe in them or support them. There’s been a longstanding debate about including the youth in decision-making processes but not so much progress has been made in that direction, in many countries. This needs not to be so. If young people are the ones to experience the adverse effects of issues like unemployment, climate change, urbanization and so on, then it makes sense to have them in the room when making decisions about these things.

V.A.Most SME’s on the continent (Africa) don’t survive after three years. What is the cause of this? And how can these SMEs be assisted to survive past the 3rd year?

T.E.: In my opinion, there are three basic players that make up a functional entrepreneurship ecosystem: entrepreneurs, investors, and the enablers (tech hubs, universities, corporates including the media, and the government). Unfortunately, many African countries do not have this tripod in place. The first few years of a startup is often one of the hardest. With a skewed ecosystem present some countries, entrepreneurs do not always get the support systems and funding pipelines that can help them withstand the risks and uncertainties of startup-life. According to a research by Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A), a fast-growing community of business professionals in 159 countries dedicated to building game-changing companies on the continent, of all the different reasons that might cause an African based startup to fail, respondents selected poor execution as the leading cause. This simply means poor entrepreneurship skills. In a similar report, VC4A states that the road to startup funding in Africa is a long one, and 9 out of 10 ventures never make it. Fixing these issues – access to finance, access to market, access to support systems, and entrepreneurship-friendly governmental policies – will help unleash the potentials of Africa’s SME’s and startups.

V.A.What is unique about SFAN?

T.E.: The uniqueness of SFAN is in the fact that we provide personalized, actionable and coach support to help young people launch their businesses or careers.  We also help talent managers make data-driven recruitment decisions. Over the last few years, we have created over 500 jobs and business opportunities, directly. In 17 EPIC events, we have hosted high profile executives from major multinationals, diplomats, startup entrepreneurs, investors, and the media. We have seen people leverage our platform and network to create interesting gigs or make vital connections that lead to brilliant partnerships. We are the alternative education company for the young and ambitious.

V.A.What government policies are needed for more young Africans to become entrepreneurs?

T.E.: What we need are policies with a purpose. As I have said elsewhere, young people often face numerous challenges when trying to establish their businesses. Some of these include access to finance, inadequate youth-friendly products, and poor education. I think that policies that make “entrepreneurial bait” funding available to the youth and reduces the burden of taxation can go a long way in fostering a deeper entrepreneurial culture. There is also a need for policies that will support the private sector in enhancing the capacity of youth development organizations at the local level, facilitate the creation of special products to serve youth-led startups, and provide young people with access to relevant financial services.

V.A.How should African governments prepare African students for the fourth industrial revolution?

T.E.: For everyone reading and following the news about the state of education in Africa, it’s obvious that education is undergoing a remarkable transformation. By my estimation, the current system of higher education will phase off in the next five to ten years. Presently, companies like Google, Netflix, Apple and so on no longer require education qualification in their recruitment processes. More so, factory, retail and repetitive manufacturing jobs are increasingly being automated to enhance efficiency. Accenture Nigeria predicts that within five years, more than half of consumers and enterprise clients will select products and services based on a company’s AI capacity, instead of its brand.

To prepare African students for this world of data and automation, first, African leaders must invest in education. As it stands, there are 55 million children out-of-school in Africa and 9 million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 may never go to school at all. And, out of 130 million girls who are not in school across the world, 55 million are in Africa, according to Global Partnerships for Education. The call for African countries to spend at least 20 percent of total government expenditure on education must be supported and implement.

Second, we have to rethink the entire framework of Africa’s education system. According to a World Bank study, Africa has the lowest human capital index compared to other regions. Investing in human capital is no longer an option for Africa, it is a must! In a world where education qualification is no longer a measure of excellence and discipline, we must equip young people with skills for the future of work and the digital economy.

Third, policies that support a private sector-led growth for job creation and reduction in vulnerability to fluctuating global market prices for raw commodities must be developed. Our research has shown that even if every student is equipped with the skills for employment, and education funding is improved, there are still not enough jobs to absorb the youth bulge on the continent. The private sector is the engine of growth. Greater collaboration between industry and academia will create much-needed education to employment pipeline opportunities and transfer of expertise.

In countries like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, academic researchers have cited “the lack of incentives for them to collaborate with the private sector, explaining that obtaining a patent or developing a product does not affect their remuneration and that they are evaluated solely on the basis of their academic credentials and publications.”

These three things – raising education funding, creating “a curriculum that means business”, and establishing policies that support a private sector-led growth – will help prepare African students for the fourth industrial revolution – and the time is now!

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