The entrepreneurial spirit of today’s youth – Europe and Africa

I am a young Ghanaian student, observing the realities of two “worlds”, scaling my business to Europe, leading me to comment on the contrasts of the entrepreneurial landscape between Europe and Africa.

 

I tend to believe that it is young people who are most active in entrepreneurship and for most times, enterprise activity increases from the ages of 18 to 35 (40 in some regions); then begins to tail off. Sometimes people romanticise this while looking at successful entrepreneurs and thinking it happened overnight, but of course, it did not.

This thought leads me to wonder if the youth in Europe see entrepreneurship through the same lens as we do in Africa? Or could we say that the entrepreneurial spirit in West Africa is higher than that of Europe? My definition of European in this article would focus specifically on Western Europe notably Luxembourg where I am currently studying and observing. If we broaden the perspective, it becomes obvious that the best performers when it comes to Entrepreneurship are dominated by high-income countries. According to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index by GEDI, the UK has been named the top performer in Europe when it comes to entrepreneurs and fourth in the world; behind the US, Canada and Australia. West African countries collectively tend to be further from the ranks even though it is biased for me to compare developed countries against the developing nations. For the purpose of this article, we will put the performance factor aside to explore the parallels and juxtapositions of the entrepreneurial spirit in West Africa and Western Europe.

I will narrow my focus to the youth aged 15-25, most of whom are still students bursting with ambition. This does not encompass the middle class in both cases. Research proves that young Africans have a strong entrepreneurial zest. While this may be true, the key driver tends to be a need for survival in tough economic conditions than straight up passion. This is also driven by opportunity as there are many basic needs in the sub region to answer to. From an African perspective, there has always been a reason and a will to undertake, however, what often lacks is the means.

 

 

A need for financial survival

 

The depressed state of the formal job market in West Africa could be a good starting point for me to view what motivates the youth. At a time of such high youth unemployment and worrying social disenfranchisement in many West African countries, it fuels a desire in the youth to search for alternate means of survival. Let’s consider for instance financial support for the youth. Those in Western Europe are more likely to be supported by their families as well as the state to pursue extended higher education, with the intention of securing high profile jobs.

In Africa however, this is far less the case for most youth, propelling most of them to seek alternate sources of finance to sustain themselves in their quest for education. This clearly suggests that the challenges and motivation of the young on both sides would not be the same. Again, considering that Africa’s working age population is expected to balloon to 1 billion in the next 25 years, it becomes more critical that we encourage the next generation of high potential African entrepreneurs to become successful and teach them the skills of the future.

 

 

Solving a local need

 

Based on my observations and popular media, it seems young Europeans have a new-fangled dream of becoming super heroes or overnight billionaires. This mindset is influenced by their technological exposure which drives their zeal to search for scalable concepts and innovations. However, in Africa where the informal sector underpins the economy and technology is not widely accessible, businesses are largely focused on traditional and low value adding jobs, which mostly have low growth potential. These youths adapt rapidly to the market situation and they face the reality that they need a means of survival rather than being super heroes. This explains to me that while entrepreneurship rates in West Africa are high, the majority of it is still driven by necessity. Nevertheless, there is a new generation of tech savvy engineers and visionaries who are beginning to look at how they can leverage technology to resolve major developmental challenges in education, health care, infrastructure, food security (agriculture), electrification, water and waste management, not forgetting economic and financial inclusion through the rise of FinTech.

 

 

Fear of risk and failure

 

I have noticed among the young Europeans that most consider ‘fear of failure’ as a reason to not start a business. Others prefer the comfort of being an employee rather than the stress and uncertainties that come with launching a business. Young Africans experience these same fears and limitations; however, they have a higher risk appetite because they cannot always afford the risk of being afraid.  At very tender ages, children begin to learn their parent’s trade, usually an informal one. This equips them with a practical experience in running a day-to-day business. They are exposed to risk taking and risk bearing as they see their parents strive through harsh conditions. Failure is part of the learning curve and this boosts our confidence to handle risk, unlike most Europeans who are not usually exposed to such extreme conditions for survival.

 

 

You have to give it everything you’ve got   

 

Problem identification is not usually an issue in Africa. As soon as you land, you will find bugs to solve or optimise. How to solve it, is usually the issue. This reminds me of what Thomas Edison said [about] “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. The spark of an idea is the easy 1%, the remaining 99% is sheer blood, sweat and tears required to bring it to fruition. You have to work at it to shape it. For instance, light bulbs before Edison were expensive. This meant that only the wealthy could realistically afford them. So, Edison’s idea was to make a lightbulb that was made from a cheaper material and didn’t need many skills to assemble. That’s the inspiration, the big idea. Of course, if he had stopped there, nothing would have happened. The idea was great but it took years of experiments and determination to make a cheap light bulb that could be mass produced.

That’s the challenge. As Africans, we are all susceptible to have great ideas at various points in our lives. We may not all become as successful as Edison. Nonetheless, the inspirations we have throughout our lives matter.  They really do. In engineering, this is known as “the brute force method” – trial and error. Edison simply came up with an idea and he tried it in practice. If it didn’t work, he tried something else. If it worked, he improved it, and he repeated this process until he had a scalable model.

 

 

The Downside of entrepreneurship among young Africans

 

Potential young entrepreneurs in Africa sometimes underestimate the need for business skills while – less surprisingly – they recognize access to finance as a key impediment. The reality is, that the latter is not mutually exclusive from the former. I think that the unwillingness to acquire higher education and/or business skills is part of the reason why most of us are unable to explore scalable business models. From my personal opinion, education matures perspective and allows us to grow our skills, develop new ones and exchange with like-minded people. This is where I think Europeans come out on top; whereas pursuing higher education in Africa is often financially constrained. It is nevertheless worth noting that no University degree can teach someone to be passionate about entrepreneurship or spike a desire for a fearless undertaking. however, it will provide the tools to structure an already deeply rooted passion and state of mind.

No University degree can teach someone to be passionate about entrepreneurship or spike a desire for a fearless undertaking. however, it will provide the tools to structure an already deeply rooted passion and state of mind

My entrepreneurial journey

 

I started a jewellery business (now VondeeWorld) when I was in my final year of undergraduate studies in Ghana. It began for the sole reason that I needed financial support. In the grand scheme of things, this was hardly a serious issue; however, I saw a demand that I could supply. I realised that ladies needed to go to the main shopping markets to buy jewellery to accessorise their clothing. To spare them the journey, I began selling beautiful tailor-made accessories on campus. Customer service was a priority to me since a happy customer always comes back or gives a referral and most importantly Word of Mouth is the most efficient marketing channel in Africa. I enjoyed a steady business growth focusing on service rather than just selling. I believe consistency, resilience and hard work are the key ingredients for my success.

Today, I am using my education and business acumen to scale my business and am piloting a project from Luxembourg. I am having to adapt both my product and my business plan to this more challenging market. My goal is to supply uniquely handcrafted beads to African jewellery-friendly Europeans and the African diaspora living in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Through this initiative, I can support my local designers in Ghana and across the continent giving them an international platform to display their creativity.

 

In as much as I have a strong desire for great achievement, it does not totally eliminate my fears and uncertainties. There is always the haunting question of “what if it fails”. However, though it could fail, I prefer to ponder “what if it succeeds” and so far, it’s working for me! As I keep moving, I brace myself to face the next challenges, because never trying can be even more devastating for me.  Failure is one thing, but,  whether you have the courage to bounce back and learn from your failures, acquire experience and lay the groundwork for future achievements; that’s the most important. Failure is just a step forward in the right direction though if not appropriately handled, can break down an individual. Forgive me for using this somewhat over-played quote, “Failure is not falling down, it is staying down.”

 

 

To conclude, the pool of high potential African Entrepreneurs gaining access to education and technological advancement is on the rise. For me, this ignites new hope for the continent. Entrepreneurship for primary needs – education, health care, infrastructure, electrification, water and waste management started a long time ago in Africa, but Europe is still way ahead of them.  Africa is currently leap-frogging with access to technologies and engineering, allowing us to evolve faster than the West had. The Pan African movement is eagerly seeking ways to leverage the zest and unique abilities of the African people and to provide the tools needed to succeed, making technology education and acquisition a priority. For example, Andela, a made in Africa coding school who are continuously training African developers and helping them to find jobs with local start-ups. Furthermore, over the past ten years, a number of Western large corporates and associations are also developing training programs and apprenticeships to help shape the African youth.

This is definitely among the most effective ways to reduce poverty at a large scale, allowing the youth to become job creators rather than job seekers. I believe that given the right tools, the African youth have great skills and ingenuity to solve the continent’s biggest challenges. As a young African, I am excited about the days ahead!

 

Share this article

Barbara Vondee

Barbara Vondee

Barbara is a student from Ghana currently completing a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Luxembourg. Barbara is already a young entrepreneur, having started her own jewellery making business Vondeebeeworld at the age of 17.

Our Lastest Articles

Koosmik ends the world cup with a BANG

At Koosmik, we love to interact with our users. We hosted a prediction challenge and brought together our pioneers for a post-world cup celebratory tournament.