“I graduated with a Master’s degree in geography from “Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin in 2010. After several unsuccessful job applications, I decided to create my own business. Thus, in 2011, I founded my own agribusiness enterprise. Currently, this business permits me to have money for my needs, and I work hard in order to expand it.”
This is the testimony of Patrick, a young person of Benin who was converted to entrepreneurship after his geography studies at university. Through his business activities, Patrick profits and provides for his daily needs. His ambition is to expand his enterprise’s activities and become a great businessman recognized in Benin, Africa and around the world.
In Benin, like most developing countries, the critical situation of youth employment affects seriously well-being. The country is facing rapid urbanization as well as demographic and social determinants accentuate youth unemployment. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the rate of youth underemployment increased from 50% in 2011 to 70% in 2013.
This situation reflects clearly the position of the United Nations Secretary-General’s first-ever Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, when, announcing the World Youth Skills Day, he said that, “Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs”.
So, to ensure sustainable development, poverty reduction and reduce social exclusion, it is most important to ensure full youth employment, through better skills and specific training. In fact, lack of access to entrepreneurship training is one of the main factors hindering the successful growth of youth entrepreneurship. Yet universities do not ensure business skills training for the students. According to the young entrepreneur Patrick, formal education can provide knowledge, but it is also important for all young people have the gumption to try to start their own businesses to contribute to the reduction of unemployment. Like Patrick, several young Beninese try entrepreneurship. The most daring and lucky succeed, but others struggle.
Several education specialists recognise that the training universities offer does not align with the training entrepreneurship requires, and many young people leaving school are not qualified to operate their enterprises properly. Sem-Michel AMADIDJE, Youth Entrepreneurship Expert and CEO of ‘Alpha Corporation Africa’, thinks that, “we need to reform education system, and develop specific finance for start-ups.”
In addition to this, access to finance is another critical barrier hindering young entrepreneurs in Benin. Yet, young entrepreneurs need financial support to increase their business. “In 2014, I started a business with other young people. But, we were seriously confronted with the issue of finance. All requests to get loans from banks were unsuccessful, because the banks need a guarantee that we didn’t have”, said Elfried, a young entrepreneur.
To address these barriers, there are several programs being implemented by the Benin government, NGOs and international institutions to encourage youth entrepreneurship. For example, in 2013, in partnership with UNDP, Benin Government launched a program called ‘Business Promotion Center’ which aims to reduce youth unemployment through entrepreneurship. According to Leopold TOTON, Entrepreneurship Expert and National Coordinator of this project, the ‘Business Promotion Center’ is an innovative way to support youth to create their own enterprises in order to employ themselves as well as other youth and contribute to reducing youth unemployment. But Leopold also recognizes that access to finance for start-ups remains a big challenge for the project.
Another innovation in Benin is the “Start-up Valley”, an incubator created in 2015 by Université d’Abomey-Calavi, the National University of Benin. This incubator aims to to deliver a new model of education that can produce the next generation of high growth CEOs in Africa.
The different testimonies and the short success story of Patrick is the proof that entrepreneurship is the central pillar for growth in developing countries, and can surely contribute to decent work for youth and economic growth as well as responding to challenges in social development such as education, agriculture, and healthcare.
In order to reduce poverty and enhance inclusive and sustainable development, developing countries, especially Benin, should reform education, including new learning methodologies such as coaching and mentoring, because education is a key determinant of success in the labor market. Furthermore, with the right skill set, youth entrepreneurship can be a driver of decent work and economic growth.
Governments must dare to innovate and they can use the targets of sustainable development goal four (Education) to build a more inclusive educational framework. In particular, the Benin government should incorporate the following targets from goal 4: ‘ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university, and also promote policy to substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.’