Young Entrepreneurs: The Key to West Africa's Success

Never have I been more convinced of the importance of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), than I was this past weekend.  We had the privilege of spearheading a public-private partnership to host 100 social and private entrepreneurs at TechCamp West Africa, focusing on teaching young entrepreneurs to “Adapt, Empower and Measure.”  These professionals were exactly who the YALI network seeks to engage in order to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.  These thoughtful TechCamp participants from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo demonstrated that they are innovating solutions to challenges they see every day: be it creating better data collection systems; merging tech with agriculture; or providing valid, creditable information regarding access to credit.

I regularly speak on the value of the American Brand, because I believe it symbolizes the innovative spirit, reliance on local talent, strong business values, sound environmental practices and commitment to communities associated with our very best companies.  We relied on the local talent of the Ghana Think Foundation to serve as our implementing partner.  The American Brand was well represented as some of America’s most well-known companies joined forces to encourage and build professional development networks for these talented entrepreneurs.  Google, PwC Ghana, KPMG, IBM, Microsoft, Stanford SEED and Coca-Cola generously joined in the effort, sharing the expertise of their most senior professionals.  These businesses respect and treat their workers as their most valuable assets, providing significant training, career development and opportunities for upward mobility.  The commitment and quality of the participation of these companies make America proud.

Of course, we were also pleased to welcome participation from the local private sector.  “It takes a village,” as my former boss, Secretary Hillary Clinton has become famous for noting.  Soft Tribe,  Vodafone Ghana, and Ashesi University all played important roles in making TechCamp West Africa a success.  We were thrilled as well to collaborate with and visit some of the institutions that define the tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Accra: the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), iSpace and HubAccra.

You know an initiative has gone well when companies like PwC publicly thank you for “the opportunity to partner in such a dynamic forward thinking event,” but equally important is the impact on the youth.  Allow me to share some of the insights from the participants.  Victoria from Nigeria exuberantly shared that she was so thankful for the opportunity to make Ghana her first international travel destination.   Mandela Fellows Regina Agyare and Yayra Adzofu demonstrated how to empower one’s community through their work with Tech Needs Girls, Go Girls and the Accra Psychiatric Hospital.  Participants exuberantly expressed that they would emulate these projects, that “Africa would not be the same,” and “We all have a place to fill to make Africa a better if not perfect place to stay.”      

Perhaps the memory that will linger the longest in my mind is that of a special presentation by the Liberian delegation.  You see, TechCamp West Africa had to be postponed when the Government of Ghana called for a 90-day moratorium on international conferences due to the Ebola outbreak.  It was touching to hear these professionals state how appreciative they were to be included in TechCamp West Africa.  At a time when they feel many are excluding them, they most appreciated getting to meet new West African “family” members.  They feared they would encounter signs of discrimination here, but rather stated how refreshing it was to receive only love.

Young African leaders like the participants in Tech Camp West Africa are precisely the backbone that their nations need.  As the world increasingly recognizes the role that small and medium sized enterprises play as drivers of growth and job creation, and as effective tools for poverty alleviation, so too should we recognize the need to encourage, network, and provide opportunity to this talented and enthusiastic sector.  These professionals’ intelligence, dedication, and desire to grow strongly signaled that they hold the keys to opening the gateway to increased regional and global trade.  Let’s continue to team up and help them get there.

About the Author: Gene A. Cretz serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.

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Comments

Comments

Kofi K.
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Ghana
February 12, 2015
Indeed, the future of Africais secured in the hands of forward-thinking individuals, and I'm sure the participants of TechCamp West Africa are examples. Following the event online via the hashtag was eye-opening. The Robotics demo by the two kids made.my day. I anxiously, and hopefully look forward to the next TechCamp West Africa.
Mutombo D.
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New Jersey, USA
February 12, 2015
It's great to know that the American Embassy in Ghana is spearheading amazing things like #TechCampWA. I really see all those who participated, especially the young entrepreneurs taking control and leading the pack, when it comes to growth and development in their various countries. What will be good is for governments, organisations and other individuals to help to make this bigger and better in the coming years. Also, the media needs to project this great initiative that the Embassy, through her innovative idea has brought forth so people are aware of the good things happening in Ghana, West Africa and Africa for that matter. I hope that next year's will be better and I would love to be a part.
Theophilus B.
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Ghana
February 13, 2015
As a young entrepreneur, I am looking to solve a major problem which my government and some of head states in Africa are proposing longer timelines to fix. Bringing remittance prices down to 5 percent from the current 12.4 percent average cost would put US$4 billion more in the pockets of Africa's migrants and their families who rely on remittances for survival. Africa's overseas workers, who sent close to US$60 billion in remittances in 2012, pay more to send money home than any other migrant group. According to the World Bank's Send Money Africa database, Sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region to send money to, with average remittance costs reaching 12.4 percent in 2012. The average cost of sending money to Africa is almost 12 percent- higher than global average of 8.96 percent, and almost double the cost of sending money to South Asia, which has the world's lowest prices (6.54 percent). The G8 and the G20 established 5 percent as the target average remittance price to reach by 2014. But the problem still remains the same. “High transaction costs are cutting into remittances, which are a lifeline for millions of Africans,” said Gaiv Tata, Director of the World Bank's Africa Region and Financial Inclusion and Infrastructure Global Practice. “Remittances play a critical role in helping households address immediate needs and also invest in the future, so bringing down remittance prices will have a significant impact on poverty.” Lower cost remittances also advance financial inclusion, since they are often the first financial service used by recipients, who are then more likely to use other financial services including bank accounts. This is the reason why i have created Sumasika, a web application that's looking to charge just 5% on transactions with no hidden fees. The major problem hindering the launch of the web application is a payment processor I want to use. The name of the processor is called stripe. To open are merchant account, one has to be a United States citizen who has a social security number. I wish i had a partner who has this and will help me to open an account to start accepting payments and solve this long problems for the benefit of Africans.
Eric K.
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Ghana
February 13, 2015

Thank You. As a Ghanaian TechCamp participant, I learnt the importance of understanding local nuances in my attempt to go global. To me, the gesture of the Liberian team and my interactions with participants from Togo and Benin were lessons in international relations. The top 3 lessons I learnt are published here 3 Things We learnt from TechCampWA

Denis A.
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Ghana
February 13, 2015
It was really a great experience, an event i will never forget....i was amazed Gh Think and the US Embassy will spend money on air tickets to bring us together in one platform...we were well fed, accommodated, and empowered with knowledge and skills to make a change in our various communities....I am impressed and fired up to give back to the society.....Thank you GH Think, Thank you Us Embassy And thanks to all participants....
Mac-Jordan D.
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Ghana
February 13, 2015
Congratulations to the team behind #TechcampWA for a successful event. It's always great to high such events/projects that highlights the true spirit of entrepreneurship in Ghana and Africa as a whole. The narratives on Africa is changing because technology is helping young people develop solutions to local problems with their ideas. It is time we move away from the usual negative (Ebola and Boko Haram) narratives about Africa. Entrepreneurship is on the rise in Africa. We need to see more of these initiatives across the continent to foster collaboration among the young ones that made it to TechcampWA. Congrats once again, US Embassy & GhanaThink Foundation.
Muluh E.
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Cameroon
February 14, 2015
This is a terrific initiative for Africa's advancement in meeting up with the rest of the world as far as business is concern. If we young entrepreneurs can learn to network a connect first between ourselves before trading with the rest of the world, it will be a major break thru for Africa and Africans. Our leaders had long neglected intra African trade, reason why it still stands at less than 10%, the lowest amongst the continents according to the WTO's reports. May this opportunity not pass us by, God bless Africa.
Cocou A.
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Benin
February 15, 2015
It was great event. I would like it be repeated and delocalized for us too to have a chance to participate.Adapt,"Empower and Measure" everything that young entrepreneurs need for the development of Africa. With these projects multiplied on the continent “Africa would not be the same,” and “We all have a place to fill to make Africa a better if not perfect place to stay - " That's what I also believe. Thank you. God bless you for the initiative! and God bless Africa!!!
Caleb D.
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Ghana
February 17, 2015
Capitalism is the empowerment of African development.
Paulina A.
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Ghana
February 18, 2015
It was an incredible opportunity to have been a part of such an experience. I was thrilled by the brilliant initiatives and works by fellow participants. The presence and interaction with Mentors from such prestigious institutions was just terrific and I could feel the power of Africa's youth making it happen come alive. Seeing the strong, vibrant and intelligent women among their male counterparts interwoven with diversity from seven countries was heart warming. These simple but powerful lessons resonates: The need to stay updated. Internationalise your goals by leveraging on the network. Remember the naysayers will eventually say YES. Measure, Measure and Measure Thanks to the US Embassy Ghana and GhanaThink Foundation for the opportunity and I know that the TechCampers will make you proud.
Akinnike M.
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Nigeria
March 2, 2015
a great page to show case young entrepreneur who can foster prosperity in Africa
Bolajolo s.
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Nigeria
March 17, 2015
This is very interesting and should be vividly extended to the people of south west Nigeria
TechCamp West Africa Participants with Tech Needs Girls Beneficiaries
Liberian TechCamp West Africa participants making a presentation to Ambassador Cretz.
Microsoft Ghana Country Manager Otema Yirenkyi speed-mentoring participants at TechCamp West Africa
TechCamp Participants with Tech Needs Girls Beneficiaries
TechCamp West Africa participants working on country presentations
Hands-on at the Stanford SEED Product Development session at TechCamp West Africa
Soft Tribe CEO Herman Chinery-Hesse speed-mentoring participants at TechCamp West Africa
TechCamp West Africa participants mentoring Girls in Nima, Accra.
Posted by Gene A. Cretz
February 12, 2015

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