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The past two years have devastated Africa’s economy. According to the International Labour Organisation’s flagship World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2022 report, at least 13.3-million jobs and income opportunities were lost as a result of the pandemic. This has worsened the severe economic difficulties facing the continent.

But even as the effects of Covid-19 linger, green shoots are starting to rise across the continent. Thanks to a crop of young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs, as well as rapidly accelerating connectivity rates, Africa’s next chapter could be brighter than the one just concluded.  But that will only be the case in a collaborative environment that brings together entrepreneurs, corporates and governments. 

If you want a glimpse of how bright that future can be you need only look at how many young African entrepreneurs are building innovative products and services across a variety of sectors. Take Farmhut Africa’s efforts in the agricultural sector. Owned by 21-year-old entrepreneur Munyaradzi Makosa from Zimbabwe, Farmhut Africa is an artificial intelligence-powered marketplace connecting farmers to markets that pay fair prices for their produce in the sub-Saharan region. 

Another entrepreneur doing incredible things in the agricultural space is 22-year-old Tafadzwa Chikwereti, also from Zimbabwe. He launched eAgro in March 2020 with the aim of creating a platform that fosters resilience and profitability for smallholder farmers using data analytics and machine learning. 

In the mobile space, SA’s Lipa Payments, created by Thando Hlongwane, an Anzisha Prize fellow, has the potential to be an emerging unicorn. It aims to bring Africa’s unbanked population and informal businesses into mainstream banking through mobile money. The company recently raised an investment of R10m and is expanding across the continent. 

Significantly, all of the businesses mentioned employ young people and create earning opportunities for others directly and indirectly through their innovative business models. Our own research shows that 60% of the businesses owned by young entrepreneurs or fellows of the Anzisha Prize have created not less than 2,500 work opportunities by starting and scaling up their businesses. The prize is Africa’s biggest award for entrepreneurs 15 to 22 years years old, and hands out more than $140,000 every year in business support and prize money.

Of course, these entrepreneurs can only do so much, especially if they are not given the necessary environment to thrive in. It is critical that governments provide that environment. For some countries that means a radical change in approach. 

African governments have often relied on big business and foreign direct investment to bolster economic growth and job creation. The results of this approach have been mixed at best. Instead of relying on big business to spur economic growth and create jobs, African governments need to focus their efforts and resources on improving the chances of success for small and medium-sized businesses.  

They should focus on building a culture of entrepreneurship among children and teenagers. The goal should be to create a generation of job creators rather than just job seekers. Big business has a role to play in creating that environment too. It is, after all, in its own interest to channel entrepreneurial opportunities towards young people and redirect trade to businesses owned by young people.

By integrating these businesses into their supply chains they help uplift the wider population, who can then spend money on their products and services. Governments can further show their support for this type of approach by creating incentivising policies that reward organisations supporting young entrepreneurs.

Africa’s young entrepreneurs are building solutions that have the potential to change not just their own countries and the continent but the world. Given the right environment they can create jobs. In a region facing big unemployment struggles (especially among young people), it is critical that they be allowed to do so. 

Governments, big businesses and other players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem must collaborate to create an environment that fosters and supports as many young entrepreneurs as possible. 

• Onwu is managing editor: youth & investors at the Anzisha Prize.

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