Building Resilience and Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa

Mosibudi Makgato and her sister Rosemary Padi have turned the taste of their South African childhood into a thriving business. Through their home-crafted ginger beer (pictured below), sold under the Yamama Gemmer brand (which translates to “mother’s ginger beer”), these two young entrepreneurs have crafted a product that balances traditional flavor with modern convenience. Like many African youth, Mosibudi developed their startup skills through JA’s local entrepreneurship-education programs. But with the African job market not equipped to absorb a massively growing youth population—and given the impact of the pandemic on both education and business—how can we introduce, fund, and scale entrepreneurship education in Africa to keep up?

Photo: Yamama Gemmer

Africa’s first startup unicorns

Africa is blossoming with entrepreneurial potential and now boasts seven unicorns (startups with a valuation of $1B of more), up from zero in 2015, thanks to well-developed entrepreneurial education programs and ecosystems in some of Africa’s larger countries. Among these unicorns, the majority are fintech and ecommerce businesses which is fueling excitement about the region’s potential as a future digital powerhouse and attracting new venture funding. One startup alone (Nigeria’s Jumia) has already hired over 5,000 employees.

Challenges due to COVID-19

Despite the emergence of unicorns in Africa, most startups have struggled during the global pandemic putting the continent’s entrepreneurial progress at risk. Mosibudi and Rosemary’s company, for example, was thriving prior to the pandemic. The sisters had not only garnered a reputation for their brand’s quality, consistency, and great taste, but had also overcome local resistance to ginger beer in general, based on bad experiences with poorly produced ginger beer in their customers’ childhood years. Investment and hard work were finally paying off. But their most essential ingredient—ginger—is an immune booster that was suddenly in demand in the face of the pandemic. Prices skyrocketed while inventories fell to nearly zero. Realizing that their brand depends on a consistent supply of ginger, Mosibudi and Rosemary began to source it locally and have even experimented with growing it themselves. They also shifted their focus from supplying ginger beer at events to producing bottles for individual customers, matching their business model to the realities of COVID-19.

Fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems and building resilience

They adjusted and bounced back. But according to our colleague Simi Nwogugu, CEO of JA Africa, “Many young Africans are entrepreneurial by nature, but are limited in their ability to understand and break down the challenges around them in order to properly apply technology and innovation to solve them.” Whereas other continents have been fostering entrepreneurship ecosystems and building resilience into entrepreneurs’ DNA for generations, Africa has not. Compare, for example, Africa’s three unicorns (in 2021) to more than 1,000 unicorns in North America, Asia, and Europe, where entrepreneurship education and supportive ecosystems have been prioritized for decades.

A regional partnership to build an ecosystem of innovation

Fast-tracking and scaling entrepreneurial education in Africa, therefore, means fast-tracking and scaling resilience, creative problem-solving, and self-efficacy. That’s why Z Zurich Foundation, JA Worldwide, JA Africa, and JA member countries in Africa have created a new regional partnership that builds an ecosystem of role models and mentors, along with a mix of high-tech digital learning experiences; low-tech options like television, radio, and podcasts; face-to-face experiences with role models; and—once students graduate—regional and local vehicles that either match students with employers or help youth launch businesses through incubators and seed grants. We couldn’t be more excited to support the creation of an African-centered curriculum that will build problem-solving, design-thinking, and resiliency skills—especially those that help youth proactively manage their mental wellbeing—so that young entrepreneurs can design sustainable solutions to their communities’ biggest challenges.

But we’re not unaware that other such partnerships in Africa have not succeeded.

A long-term commitment

One reason for less-than-satisfactory results is that inculcating resilience doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, successfully partnering in Africa requires a long-term commitment: First creating a movement (a) that leads to a mindset shift (b) that empowers young people to make choices (c) that transform their futures for the better and create brighter futures for other youth in the region. One way in which Z Zurich Foundation is demonstrating long-term thinking in Africa is that, through a new partnership with JA, participating countries were designated based on where vulnerability is greatest and based on needs on the ground, rather than on—for example—the commercial presence of Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich). This approach, in addition to deepening entrepreneurship programs in countries where JA already operates, will expand into five new sub-Saharan countries where entrepreneurship education is critically needed.

Connecting local, regional and global organizations

In addition, we do not believe that global organizations can go it alone in Africa. Meaningful interventions through educational, development, and social-good organizations must connect local, regional, and global entities, with each organization bringing its own, unique expertise. For example, given the need to connect the supply of skilled innovators (African youth) with the demand for skilled innovators (companies doing business in Africa), our two organizations could try to manage such introductions only by leveraging our global connections. At the global level, we’re jointly building a global platform that connects JA youth with experts from Zurich around the world to do virtual coaching and mentoring. Then, by utilizing regional expertise and local operations, we’ll create a pipeline that introduces African youth to local business mentors and coaches who come from similar backgrounds and who, therefore, have a greater chance of making real connections with local youth and, potentially, serving as lifelong role models that can foster self-efficacy and greater resilience.

Global mentors

Simi Nwogugu agrees: “Exposing students to Zurich employees as global mentors, as well as JA Africa and local JA alumni role models like Iyinoluwa Aboyeji—who has founded not one but two unicorns in Nigeria—will help build young African entrepreneurs’ critical social skills, the confidence necessary to validate their ideas, and the skills to communicate those idea to a global audience of funders and clients.”


Grégory Renand

Head, Z Zurich Foundation

Asheesh Advani

CEO, JA Worldwide

Source: World Economic Forum

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