In a four-part series, blogger and IT expert Florent Youzan shows how Africans can turn their daily "challenges" into business ideas.
On Saturday 24 August 2013, I had the honour of being the patron of the 5th graduating class of Information Science engineers (specialising in Software Development and Communication Networks) at the Abidjan Higher Institute of Technology.
The ceremony began with two addresses: the first, on "Job searching techniques", was hosted by the Studies and Employment Promotion Agency. I hosted the second presentation with the theme: "Entrepreneurship as an alternative for the economic integration of young graduates."
So it was with overflowing enthusiasm that I started my address, especially since it was an opportunity for me to interact with these young graduates. Little did I know that my intervention was widely anticipated by an audience composed of students, parents, professionals, teachers and various actors in the Ivorian cyber community.
Entrepreneurship as an alternative
The first thing I imagined my listeners were probably wondering about was: why does he talk about entrepreneurship to a group of young people trained to integrate corporations?
So to put things into perspective, I started my address with a state of affairs that was nothing more than a compilation of statistics provided by the Ivorian Studies and Employment Promotion Agency (AGEPE).
According to official figures, 42.9% of Ivorians with a Master's degree are unemployed; 23.9% with a Specialised Postgraduate degree as well as 21.3% of engineers cannot find a job; 35.7% of Ivoirians with a specialised higher education diploma remain unemployed and 27.8% with 2-year University Diploma in IT are also still looking for a job.
After the presentation of these figures that unfortunately elude our constructive attention, the venue was quiet as a grave. My intention was not to shock but rather to present the facts! So facing this reality, what solutions are there? I see entrepreneurship as an alternative.
"Be the change you want to see in the world"
Africans in general and Ivoirians in particular tend to point their fingers at leaders and demand that they change the world - more specifically that they find a solution to the huge unemployment crisis.
But I invited my young fellow engineers to become proactive citizens who reflect on the issue of employment in Africa and find alternative solutions. I believe they need to tackle the issues around employment directly and start their own initiative. They need to become entrepreneurs! As Gandhi used to say: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Entrepreneurship is an adventure and every adventure starts with an idea. At this point, another question echoed among the audience: "How does one get a business idea?"
This question always comes up and my answer always raises a few eyebrows. Namely I explain to my audience that every challenge can be turned into a business idea.
"How so?!" asked a young man in the first row.
Three examples: public toilets, hunger and transports
I invited everyone in the audience to take part in a practical exercise. I asked them to list some of the challenges they face on a daily basis. Three volunteers stepped forward with suggestions. The first one mentioned the lack of public toilets in the Plateau area, Abidjan's central business district.
The second volunteer explained that African people are simply hungry and the last raised the issue of transportation in Abidjan. Once they presented the three problems, which are in fact not only realities in Abidjan but in many other African cities, the entire audience turned to me, awaiting my suggestions of business ideas. Discover one of them next week in part 2!
An original version of this article was published in French on the author's blog.