Launched in 2019 and now headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, Generation Africa’s enduring mission is to bring the dynamism of youth entrepreneurship to Africa’s agri-food sector, by strengthening the ecosystem that supports agripreneurs as they travel the perilous journey from ideation to scale, encompassing ventures from small-scale, village-level ventures to “gazelles” with broad reach.
In Feb-May 2021, Generation Africa carried out a pan-African survey to assess the effects of COVID-19 on agrifood businesses led by young entrepreneurs. The findings are now being utilized to develop interventions to help this sector rebuild its businesses and help relaunch entrepreneurial journeys stalled by the pandemic. The goal is to create an enabling environment for young agripreneurs to recover, build, or rebuild resilient businesses, hopefully better prepared to withstand future shocks.
The 2021 Generation Africa annual survey confirmed that most youth-led businesses were crippled by the conditions caused by the pandemic. 92% of respondents reported they were adversely affected, with the biggest strain being on financial obligations followed by impact on business operations.
As in the rest of the world, widespread lockdown restrictions imposed by many governments increased the cost of doing business and led to lack of access to customers. These health safety measures to stop the spread of the pandemic led to 46% of respondents being forced to close their businesses. Ecommerce became the main coping mechanism for some respondents, with the most innovative and well-resourced young agripreneurs able to pivot to digital platforms and social media to reach customers and source raw materials.
A majority of the youth surveyed reported that they saw access to friendly and flexible financial products as critically important to successfully rebuild their businesses. They suggested financial instruments could be in the form of products supported by guarantees as well as affordable insurance products to provide cover during calamitous times such as these. They also requested customized business support services, especially programs taking into account youth voices in tailoring appropriate interventions. Coaching and supportive policy were also considered to be crucial.
A notable observation was that most interventions and concerns so far have focused specifically on business survival without looking at the well-being and mental survival of the entrepreneur or business management. The strains from the struggle to keep businesses afloat have weighed down upon agripreneurs of all ages, emotionally and psychologically. 98% surveyed said they experienced unsettling emotions ranging from frustration to helplessness. They noted that there are lack of support systems that address psychological and emotional resilience, leading to an adverse impact on morale and mental health. The survey clearly indicated an urgent need for holistic support for young entrepreneurs in the agrifood sector, still busy trying to build or rebuild both their businesses, and in some cases their lives, since the pandemic hit.
In cognisance of the above, the Generation Africa Ambassadors and secretariat commit to continuing to encourage all key role-players in the ecosystem to do their part to support young agripreneurs to build or rebuild resilient businesses, able to withstand future shocks and stresses.
In particular we urge all to commit to:
- Ensure the voices of youth agripreneurs are heard and amplified, as they work to rebuild their businesses, now and post-COVID. We will seek to marshal support and resources such as subsidy funds and grants to catalyse recovery of youth-led SMEs.
- Encourage the establishment of appropriate incentives to encourage youth participation in agrifood systems across Africa. We will marshal off-takers, agri-corporations, and governments to prioritize youth-targeted bias in their plans, for example, technical assistance, market/offtake bias, and contracting, to increase youth participation in agriculture, and agrifood in particular.
- Promote access to finance for young entrepreneurs in various ways, including linking them with patient capital and social impact investment networks as well as crowdfunding platforms. We will also provide skills training in financial literacy, helping to build capacity in financial management, accountable bookkeeping, and the language of business.
- Take deliberate steps to support the mental health of young entrepreneurs by providing inspiring and educational platforms to engage in peer-to-peer experience sharing, creating support groups through our Generation Africa platforms as well as creating country-level communities.
- Ecommerce has emerged as a tool that has helped businesses remain afloat and is clearly the way of the future, for most resilient businesses. With support from Generation Africa stakeholders we commit to revamp the GoGettaz Community platform to be a more interactive online marketplace to link buyers and sellers. Apart from linking youth SMEs to a network of mentors and investors which we already do, we intend to expand the platform to enable young entrepreneurs to have direct linkages with a potential network, both B2B and B2C.
This call to action is inspired by insights of great concern gleaned from the Generation Africa 2021 Annual Survey, as well as discussions amongst the Generation Africa Ambassadors and Members Group.
As is well known, while parts of the Western world have now begun to restore normalcy in daily life and business operations, most communities and businesses across Africa continue to face huge hardship as a result of the ongoing social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With most agrifood operations already negatively impacted by COVID lockdowns of 2020, the Third Wave now hitting most of the continent is further exacerbating the myriad obstacles African agripreneurs face as they launch, grow, or scale their small- and medium-sized enterprises across the food supply chain.
Resilience, independence, and prosperity is their shared goal, but especially at this unprecedented time, these young entrepreneurs require us to apply our minds to work together to develop innovative solutions and programs to kick-start hope again, in this critical sector.
Generation Africa Ambassadors:
- Dr Agnes Kalibata – President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
- Ada Osakwe – Founder and CEO, Agrolay Ventures
- Dr Eleni Gabre-Madhin – Chief Happiness Officer, blueMoon
- Gilbert Houngbo – President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- Dr Ishmael Sunga – CEO, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
- Prof. Mohamed Ait Kadi – President, General Council of Agricultural Development, Government of Morocco
- Strive Masiyiwa – Founder and Executive Chairman, Econet
- Svein Tore Holsether – President and CEO, Yara International
If you wish to support this journey, please reach out to the Generation Africa Secretariat through firstname.lastname@example.org