This past June marked the 30th anniversary of the first clinical description of AIDS, a report that uncovered what would become one of history’s worst pandemics. Progress has been made with AIDS in the last 30 years but developing countries in Africa are still overwhelmed by widespread corruption, poverty and this devastating disease. However, one way to fix this is to help train the very large youth population in Africa to become profitable entrepreneurs.
Promotion of entrepreneurship and the development of microenterprises will help fend off poverty, which is the underlying reason why HIV/AIDS is spreading. Through education and mentorship, Africa can save itself.
According to a recent study from the African Development Bank, the demand for finance from women entrepreneurs in Africa amounted to $19 billion. A huge opportunity is being missed for financial institutions to make money, and for African economies to create jobs from dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises. But similar to the situation with female entrepreneurs in the U.S., women entrepreneurs in Africa are underfunded. Even in countries reporting an increase ranging from 10% to 30% over the last decade in the number of women-run enterprises (such as South Africa, Zambia, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ethiopia), these firms receive on average less than 10% of all capital invested. In Uganda, women own about 40% of businesses with registered premises but only receive about 9% of commercial credit. Helping women become entrepreneurs is especially important as if they have to depend on men for everything, they will be forced into horrible situations, like prostitution (which also contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS), in order just to get food. But if women and girls were empowered to take care of themselves through microenterprises, they would be less likely to be in those types of situations and would help the economy at the same time.
One organization that has shown a small amount of effort can make a huge difference with entrepreneurs in Africa is Educate!. This organization created a model of education that develops young leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa. The curriculum is focused on the skills and experience students need to find solutions to poverty, violence, disease, and environmental degradation. The teachers are mentors who build powerful relationships that give youth confidence to lead change. And the classroom is the community itself where the Educate! students start initiatives that solve the greatest challenges facing their communities.
Why Uganda? HIV/AIDS is the most serious health problem in Uganda today and the leading cause of death for adults: About 1.5 million people (10% of the total population and 20% of sexually active men and women) are estimated to be infected with the HIV virus. Uganda also has the youngest population in the world – over 50% under the age of 15 and they are facing challenges such as overwhelming poverty, AIDS and other diseases, environmental degradation, and the highest youth unemployment rate worldwide – 83%. However, the current education in Uganda leaves youth unprepared to create and lead solutions. This is where Educate! comes in. Today, Educate! is empowering 1,400 high-school aged youth at 24 partner high schools across Uganda, and developing a model of education that can be applied universally. Their main goal is to create Changemakers, which they define as someone who starts a business, a community or advocacy initiative, or is a leader within an organization. “We believe these Changemakers will be the agents to solve their communities’ problems and will track key details of their impact – jobs created, businesses and community initiatives started, and people impacted. Our long-term goal is to create a structure in each country we operate that creates 6,000 Changemakers annually, as measured two years after high school graduation,” according to a company statement.
One Educate! story that shows the difference this program can make is Lillian Aero’s. She founded the Namugongo Good Samaritan Project, which now employs 56 HIV/AIDS affected widows to make jewelry and helps find markets for their product. She has changed the lives of 56 women who now have a source of income. These women will likely go on to positively impact others, demonstrating
exponential empowerment at its finest. You can find more information about Lillian’s project here.
Another story is George William Bakka who started a microfinance and business incubator for youth, which came in 2nd in the Anzisha Prize for Youth Entrepreneurs in Africa. According to the press release for the contest:
“More than 80% of entrepreneurial ventures in Uganda collapse within the first few years of operation. George believes that this disparity is linked to the nation’s failure to provide an environment that cultivates enterprising people and prepares them to build sustainable commercial ventures. George’s solution was to stimulate and support local ventures by providing training, mentorship, and access to capital to young people with bright ideas. AFC began with a micro-credit program which provided start-up capital of $50 each to young people with good business plans. The incubated ventures included businesses in fashion and jewellery design, brick-laying, and baking. Each business has repaid its initial loan and continues to grow. George’s introductory video can be viewed here.”
In Fall 2011, 62% (212 students) of Educate!’s second graduating class were already Changemakers, having started a business or community initiative while still in high school. Boris Bulayev, Executive Director of Educate!, told The Grindstone, next year they will be working directly with 2,000 new students to supplement the roll-out of the new national entrepreneurship curriculum they helped write which has been incorporated into Uganda’s national entrepreneurship curriculum and into 1,000 of its high schools. This curriculum, which will be used in 1,000 schools, will reach over 45,000 students annually.
Entrepreneurs in Africa can make an impact but they have to be given the chance.
For more information on World AIDS Day, go to ONE.org.