Africa: Unlocking Africa’s Hidden Job Creators


Anzisha Prize, which has essentially worked with Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs for the last decade, in conjunction with MasterCard Foundation, and African Leadership Academy recently released a report highlighting key lessons learned to navigate a future where the youth are job creators through entrepreneurship.

According to Abraham Lincoln ‘the best way to predict your future is to create it’. However cliche that might sound, this advice rings true today, especially for the youths given the alarming rate of unemployment.

For many, this is a call for the youth to take up the challenge and create the future they desire, not just by looking for jobs, but by creating employment for others too. Given that the government and the private sector are in many cases not anymore able to provide adequate employment opportunities, therefore, youth entrepreneurship plays a vital role in economic growth.

Potent Influences

One of the most potent influences on young people is the behaviours and expectations of their parents, who often believe that secondary and tertiary schooling are gateways to formal employment, but who do not consider entrepreneurship as the way forward for their children. Parents often do not view entrepreneurship as a viable career path. Some see it as a backup option, a last-ditch effort to secure income, or, even, a hobby.

This was what the Anzisha Prize set out to determine and according to Communications and Stakeholder Relations Associate, The Anzisha Prize, Didi Onwu, a decade-long fact-finding report put together by the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier entrepreneurship programme, has found that, if parents can be convinced that entrepreneurship can result in ‘job security,’ they will view entrepreneurship as a viable post-secondary option thus encouraging their children to actively consider the entrepreneurial route for their futures.

For example, she said: “the organisation discovered that 19 of the top 20 finalists from last year’s Anzisha Prize competition had the support of their parents. However, a wider survey of parents of high-school students across Africa revealed that only 24 per cent felt equipped to support their child to explore entrepreneurial opportunities.

“So, then, how could parents be encouraged and to better support and influence their children to take up entrepreneurship as a career option – instead of the traditional post-secondary options such as job-seeking? Especially in an era when job-seeking can be a futile exercise.

“But new report suggests the creation of 1million job opportunities by 2030 on the horizon for unemployed African youth. Essentially, Anzisha Prize, MasterCard Foundation, and African Leadership Academy released the report highlighting key lessons learned to navigate a future where youth are job creators.”

According to her, “young people’s inexperience is perhaps their greatest asset for being successful entrepreneurs who create jobs for their peers. Young Africans today are three times more likely than the generation before them to be unemployed, and this was before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A staggering statistic that has informed the program’s work of building a movement of championing “entrepreneurship as a career” to solve unemployment amongst African youth.

“Our research and data over the last 10 years have proven that very young African entrepreneurs are exceptional at creating work opportunities for other youth,” comments Josh Adler, Executive Director of the Anzisha Prize. “We’re excited to share critical lessons that will inform the future of supporting young entrepreneurs and hopefully amplify how we as a continent tackle the future of work.”

Impact Report

The impact report “Unlocking Africa’s hidden job creators: Lessons from ten years of supporting transitions from education to entrepreneurship in Africa” highlights 11 key lessons learned that inform how early-career entrepreneurs can be supported. Careful to avoid market denialism, the program sheds a light on challenges within the entrepreneurship movement on the continent, including cultural aversion, weak education systems, unsupportive regulation, and a lack of market access.

Working from the vantage point of an established academic institution like African Leadership Academy, the report provides focus on supporting the transition from secondary school to entrepreneurship. Addressing various stakeholders – educators, parents, investors, policymakers, incubators within the youth entrepreneurship ecosystem – the report offers a guide on how a coordinated movement of these key influencers can change the trajectory of entrepreneurship on the continent for young people and see the creation of 1M dignified work opportunities by 2030.

The Anzisha Prize has supported 142 African youth through the fellowship program that has empowered the entrepreneurs to develop their business acumen skills, access investor opportunities, and scale their ventures. To date, the entrepreneurs have created more than 2500 jobs. Intentional in including stories of young entrepreneurs that contextualise supporting data, the program’s lessons offer examples of what entrepreneurship looks like in practice for young people. For example, 24-year-old Kenyan business owner Geoffrey Mulei’s journey of employing 50 young persons, of which 70 per cent are below the age of 25, dispels the narrative that young entrepreneurs are not particularly capable.

“Young people have the greatest stake in Africa’s economic future–and the Anzisha Prize has proven that they are ready to roll up their sleeves and build that future,” says Daniel Hailu, Regional Head, Eastern and Southern Africa Mastercard Foundation.

“They have the ideas, the ambition, and the energy required to launch and scale problem-solving enterprises that become engines of economic growth and opportunity. All they need is support. These lessons from the Anzisha Prize’s model of delivering that support can be adopted by other institutions–including education institutions–that are interested in cultivating entrepreneurial skills among young people.”

Key Lessons

With overarching themes discussing gender inclusivity, entrepreneurship education, and policy change, key lessons that stand out are: “Lesson #4: When young women entrepreneurs are purposefully sought out, they are easily found; Lesson #6: Entrepreneurship is learned through practice. Entrepreneurial skills are best practiced like a sport, not taught like a class.

Others inlclude “Lesson #10: Markets open when trust is borrowed. Investors are more willing to engage young entrepreneurs who are endorsed by established brands; and Lesson #11: Supporting parents will enable very young entrepreneurs. A widespread parental attitude shift could be the trojan horse that unlocks entrepreneurship as a career.”

Despite the proven record that young entrepreneurs provide opportunities for their peers, there still needs to be attention on the support of early age transitions to entrepreneurship. As the program sets its sights on the next 10 years, this will remain a primary focus and aim to drive Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to “think younger.”