Young entrepreneurs taking Africa forward, says Obama: 10 facts about them—for one, they are fearless and bold

Give us the space, and we will do the rest, continent's dynamic job-creators say.

SAYING Africa was “on the move”, US president Barack Obama at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 in Nairobi praised the spirit of entrepreneurship in Africa, as he announced a basket of initiatives to support the effort.

“People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business,” he said in Kenya on Saturday.

Young entrepreneurs are projected to change the continent’s fortunes through new businesses and stimulating economies, as the narrative shifts to trade. Identified as people aged between 18-34, they are seen as Africa’s big hope.

If economically successful, they are also seen a bulwark against social unrest, as countries facing high or fast rising unemployment are particularly vulnerable to crime and radicalisation or other civil disorder and political upheaval. This informs the big push in Africa to focus on pushing many into starting their own businesses.

But who are these young African entrepreneurs who are increasingly the rave on the continent? Mail & Guardian Africa looked at some characteristics from the  latest global data on this group:

1: Young people are generally three times more likely than adults to be unemployed, and sub-Saharan Africa currently exhibits the lowest levels of education compared to other regions. But surprisingly, its young people are the most likely to have received some form of business training at school, even if the quality is sometimes inconsistent due to a lack of resources.

2: Youth in sub-Saharan Africa also have the highest levels of perceived entrepreneurial competence, a stark contrast to those in Europe who have the lowest level, despite their higher level of general education. The continent averages a 76% perception that its individuals have the necessary skills.

3: Sub-Saharan Africa’s young people are significantly more, by 1.5 times, to know a start-up entrepreneur than youth in the other four global regions, an important factor for mentoring and networking.

4: Sub-Saharan Africa, together with the Latin American and Caribbean region, has the highest entrepreneurial intention—a plan to start a business within the next three years. In Africa, half of the youth polled in a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor  survey intend to start a business, while less than a fifth of European youth profess the same intention.

5: Sub-Saharan Africa’s young entrepreneurs also have the lowest fear of failure, a major determinant on influencing whether a person starts a business, with only 24.5% of respondents in a 2012  survey of more than 20,000 adults alluding to it as a factor that would put them off.

5: The region however has the highest prevalence of necessity-motivated enterprises, as opposed to being pushed by opportunity, highlighting both the challenge and potential in a continent where economic growth has consistently outpaced global levels, but which has struggled to take everyone up with it.

6: Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest gap between early-stage entrepreneurs and established businesses, suggesting a focus area for policy makers and mentors, as this means many young businesses do not reach maturity (more than 42 months), and thus don’t create employment.

7: Three in every four people in a survey of seven sub-Saharan Africa believed entrepreneurship was a good career choice, while a high proportion, an average of 80%, of the region also accords high status to those who start businesses. Some 77% also believed there was high media attention to successful entrepreneurs—the highest of all regions—helping reduce the desirability of survivalist-only businesses.

8: The gender gap is however inherent: young African women are doubly disadvantaged—by gender and age, with young men more likely to be motivated by opportunity, more likely to access credit, and more likely to tap the internet to grow. This is fast-changing, as the higher impact of women small business owners is acknowledged, with Obama referring to them as “powerhouse entrepreneurs” and channeling just as much funds to them as to men.

9: African entrepreneurs tend to concentrate mainly in the retail, hotel and restaurant sectors of the economy—more than three in every four tend to start out here, suggesting more potential for the high-growth industries, which depend on technology and knowledge, a growing stronghold in Africa, as alluded to at the GES 2015.

10: Entrepreneurs in Africa are also in the survey widely agreed that there is a lot of scope for increasing access to financing, education and skills training, and helpful government policies that create the space for growth and in research for development. Give us the basic space and tools, and we will do the rest, is the resounding message.

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