The New Times (Kigali)

23 May 2014

Africa: Youth Tipped On Entrepreneurship, Job Creation At AfDB Kigali Meet

Africa has produced several prominent entrepreneurs over the years. Notable among them is thirty-two-year old Ugandan multi-millionaire Ashish Thakkar, Founder and Managing Director of Mara Group.

Thakkar was named is recognised by Forbes Magazine as Africa's youngest billionaire, boasting a net worth of $260 million, with a wide range of investments spread across the continent.

Thakkar is one of the young speakers at the ongoing Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali.

He was one of the speakers during a session that also featured other prominent personalities who are well-versed with job creation and youth challenges, including Felix Bikpo, CEO of African Guarantee Fund (AGF), Benjamin Gasamagera, Chairperson of Rwanda Private Sector Federation, and Valentine Rugwabiza, CEO of Rwanda Development Board.

At the session, Thakkar's life story as a refugee turned successful businessman, was presented as an inspiration to African youth with a dream to be entrepreneurs.

"Africa needs brave young people like Thakkar, who have dazzling projects. We all agree that their biggest challenge is access to finance - but what banks want is to give money to someone with an interesting idea and who has the skills to manage it well," Felix Bikpo said.

"Young people must know that we are here to help open up the avenues for getting finances to those who are brave and confident," he added.

Rugwabiza said some of the youths in Africa have brilliant ideas, but are limited by the conservativeness of financial institutions that are hesitant to risk with "untested waters."

"Banks all over the world are conservative and prefer working with people or institutions they are familiar with. This, therefore, provides an opportunity to non-banking institutions like telecoms and corporate companies, to come up with financing packages for business projects developed by the youth," she said.

"Governments must also create an enabling environment for entrepreneurial ideas among young people. This can be through giving them free advice, resources like the Internet and energy," she added.

Thakkar called on the youth to prioritise entrepreneurship as opposed to job-seeking.

"Seeking jobs is crucial. Seeking capital to start up businesses is also crucial. But the most important thing that young people need is mentorship. They need support and advice as they endeavour to develop the ultimate project that could define their lives," Thakkar said.

"In South Africa, 65 per cent of the jobs are created by SMEs, yet four out of five of them fail," he continued.

"This shows that many of them lack mentorship at their initial stages. We are supposed to fix this through mentorship and realistic African stories that inspire young people to overcome business huddles."

Although job creation is paramount, it must be supplemented by entrepreneurship in order to satisfy the 12 million youth that seek jobs annually, according to Mouhamadou Niang, Acting Director for the AfDB's Private Sector Department.

The session also discussed gender disparities and economic opportunities for marginalised groups, as well as the role of coaching and mentorship for young people.

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