How foundations empower African SMEs towards reducing unemployment

On the average, 11 million young people join the African labour market each year. The youths that join the labour market annually, if well-coordinated, could create a window of opportunity which can translate into significant economic growth potential for Africa as a whole.

Commitment, creativity, grit and passion are words that best describe the attributes of the calibre of young people in Africa today and their drive to excel and change the face of entrepreneurship and pace of development in Africa is fast becoming wild and in a continent where most dreams of young entrepreneurs are going down the drain with little or no hope of ever coming to reality.

According to the International Labour Organization‘s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020, it stated that “the young people are confronted with multiple challenges ranging from economies that grew but could not create sufficient jobs prior to the global financial and economic crisis to sluggish growth. Africa is the only region where the youth bulge will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.”

Even with these unfavourable realities of unemployment and underemployment in Africa, among other underlying challenges that seem to cut short the dreams of youths on the continent, these youths have consistently proven to be very proactive, tenacious, and foresighted in creating opportunities for themselves, in which they are able to solve problem across a wide range of issues through various evident engagements and impacts locally, regionally, and internationally.

African youth has succeeded in carving a special niche for themselves, even in global spaces, by being intentional and committed forerunners in changing the tides of development in Africa and leveraging on broad networks towards building the Africa we all desire.

Africa is bedevilled with a high level of youth unemployment. Notwithstanding, some foundations such as the MTN, Dangote and Tony Elumelu Foundations are now rising to the occasion to help reduce the unemployment scourge.

MTN Nigeria, the largest telecommunication service provider in Nigeria, has taken a drastic step to help tackle unemployment in Nigeria by launching a programme called the MTN Budding Entrepreneur Business Grant which provides funds for young entrepreneurs that have innovative ideas for a business plan. The grant provided is N30 million that will be shared among three youths with the best business ideas at the MTN Leadership seminar.

The person with the best idea goes with N20 million and the second runner-up and third best will both go home with N5 million each. These winners go through a six month mentorship program with a world renowned businessman, investor, philanthropist, author, syndicated columnist, and motivational speaker, Farrah Gray. The telecommunication provider has helped empower youths with innovative and creative ideas so they can create opportunities for others.

Aliko Dangote set up the Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), the biggest private foundation in Africa, in 1994 because he observed the challenges facing the continent (Africa) and desired to do something about it. In 2013 and 2014, he joined hands with Bill Gate in the tackling of the lingering scourge of polio disease which was on the continent. The foundation currently partners with GBC Health, One Campaign, CHI, GAIN, Africa Development Bank and a host of others in their quest for making a better Africa.

The Tony Elumelu foundation (TEF), one of the top leading philanthropy empowering young African entrepreneurs, announced on 12th of November 2021, the selection of 4,800 African entrepreneurs, chosen from all the 54 African countries, who have joined the 2021 cohort of the Foundation’s annual programme. TEF funded them with a capital seed of $5000 each.

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This year’s programme was unique for the foundation because their major priority was the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) following the disruption to economic activities by the pandemic which broke out in late 2019 to early 2020.

The CEO of the foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu said during the announcement: “We are very excited to be unveiling the 2021 cohort of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme. I believe the $5,000 we are giving to each entrepreneur will address some pressing demands and reduce the burden brought about by the pandemic.”

Their main objective has been to ensure that African entrepreneurs are well-equipped to build investable and profitable businesses, whereby each beneficiary will undergo world-class business management training and mentorship conducted exclusively in order to shape them with the necessary skills with insightful topics such as Starting Your Business, Business Management and Fundamentals, Leadership and Business Growth, Marketing Strategy, Product Design, and Selecting and Building a Team, amongst others.

One of the entrepreneurs that benefitted from the grant given by TEF in 2016 was the founder of Project Enable Africa, a community development initiative that promotes the rights, empowerment, and social and digital inclusion of persons across Africa.

Nigeria’s Olusola Owonikoko has since then worked on projects funded by many international development organisations to promote effective and sustainable private sector-led development for underserved populations, with emphasis on Pan-Africanism, inclusion & innovation.

According to him, his motivation has always been the great privilege of meeting with youths across the globe, especially entrepreneurs, and the drive and commitment to improve lives towards the achievement of development outcomes, especially for the underserved communities. He also spoke further that he believed that private sector-led development was key to sustainable development across African countries, and development organisations needed to engage business approaches in driving social innovation for impact which means that the place of emerging and budding entrepreneurs cannot be overemphasised.

Another entrepreneur that benefitted from the foundation in 2018 is now a founder and CEO of, an ecommerce store builder for digital product and services across the globe. He was just a naively enthusiast working as a software engineer and manager at Flutterwave when he applied for the grant of $10,000.

He stated in an interview that the chances he would be selected for the grant were slim and he did not even get shortlisted when the list was released but what served as a big break for him, after he had given up on the grant, was when Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, a German developmental aid company, decided to sponsor 210 more entrepreneurs.

The $10,000 grant may not seem that much of a big deal for most people but for the first time founder looking to bring something into Africa that could push the continent forward. The company did not exhaust the grant up until 2020 and that was the only grant the company has received so far.

In Nigeria, presently, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports launched a N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Funds in October 2020 to provide financial loan and support to MSMEs in trainings for the development of entrepreneurs. This is very commendable and a big step towards helping these young entrepreneurs, but the government should work further on giving grants as opposed to loans in order to stabilise and strengthen entrepreneurial growth.

More importantly, they should foster an enabling environment for businesses to thrive with friendly tax policies that support start-ups and investment programmes and incentives that MSMEs can benefit from and also, accelerate youth entrepreneurship via the creation of youth-focused entrepreneurship policies which convey the political will by the government to upscale entrepreneurship and create more jobs. There should also be networking platforms and events in which young entrepreneurs can participate in and come to rub minds, identify and meet certain stakeholders that can offer mentorship in growing their businesses.

Government should also be intentional about investing in skills acquisition for young people and also boost their financial capacity, technical skills, and business decision-making particularly in areas such as agribusiness, thereby providing a sustainable solution for food importation and scarcity.

Finally, it is of vital importance that African governments applaud, aid, and reinforce these youth entrepreneurship in Africa by encouraging them to maintain their momentum and upscale their efforts in fostering economic growth and development and also allow them to grow at their pace while providing them with the platform, resources, and support to build a better Africa for all.

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