Shaken by political and security events, the National Youth Forum has not taken place in Burkina Faso for eight years.
This West African country has experienced an escalation in violence in recent years, and unemployment and underemployment are among the many hardships affecting young people. Close to 67 percent of population is under 25 years old, and 75 percent of these young people have no technical or professional training.
Encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs poses a real challenge, one that Burkina Faso has decided to tackle through several UNDP-supported initiatives.
“Young people are the thermometer of our society. If they’re too hot, the society explodes; if they sneeze, it’s the society that catches a cold,” says Salifo Tiemtoré, Minister of Youth.
Youth entrepreneurs and incubators
Mahamadi Rouamba understands this. He is the director of BeoogoLAB, an incubator in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital. BeoogoLAB was selected along with nine others by the UNDP Women and Youth Entrepreneurs and Citizenship (ProFeJec) project to transform the initiatives of 100 young people into viable, civic-minded enterprises.
Mahamadi decided to turn to the best that the future has to offer today in Africa: young people and digital technology.
“Digital technology can be used to create value in every domain — agriculture, health, education, trade. We provide our support to these young people so that they can create value in new ways,” he says.
Of all the domains, public service is the most appealing in Burkina Faso. Unfortunately, it is completely inundated. “This year, 5800 public service positions opened for 1.2 million applicants.” Most of those who took the public administration exam are young people who end up with no response. “What we’re doing with BeoogoLAB is opening up a new avenue for them: entrepreneurship,” Mahamadi says.
Ouedraogo Abdel Latif was inspired by his veterinarian father to launch a business producing salt licks for livestock, ProFeJec support enabled him to start up a micro-enterprise that already employs six other young people.
“I know that there are many young people like me who have ideas, but don’t know where to start. They [the incubator staff] gave me ideas for finalizing the product. They taught me public speaking because I didn’t know how to do it,” he says.
Ouedraogo is benefiting from up to two years of quality technical support, a coaching and mentoring programme, a dynamic network of partners and clients, as well as sharing experiences.
“My goal is that we’ll no longer need to turn to the West to buy salt licks for animals in Africa, and that I can, why not, employ at least 100 people in four years,” he says
Young companies fail at a high rate — a quarter shut down between their third and fourth anniversaries — so ProFeJec’s goal is to increase the viability of projects created by young entrepreneurs.
Funded by the Government of Luxembourg, this project is part of the portfolio of the Sahel Alliance, of which UNDP and Luxembourg are members.
Inspired by the Youth Konnekt initiative in Rwanda, which in five years created over 2,500 permanent and close to 6,000 non-permanent jobs, the Government of Burkina Faso launched YouthConnekt Burkina in September 2019, with support from UNDP and the ProFeJec project.
It strives to enhance the employability of over 165,000 young people every year, particularly by promoting their entrepreneurial culture and strengthening their leadership skills.
Having already initiated and provided the main technical and financial support for YouthConnekt in Rwanda during its launch in 2012, UNDP has since helped to expand the initiative to 11 other African countries: Cameroon, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The YouthConnekt platform gives Burkinabe young entrepreneurs an additional springboard “to showcase their talents, participate in decision-making and provide solutions for the country’s sustainable development,” says Isabelle Istschan, the Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Burkina Faso.
The 10 partnering ProFeJec incubators have been invited to present their best ideas at the YouthConnekt Africa Summit in Kigali from 9 to 11 October 2019.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) and UNDP Burkina Faso, have supported youth entrepreneurship since 2014. Their partnership has been reinforced by the launch of the Sahel Youth Entrepreneurship Programme in July 2019.
UNDP and ProFeJec have increased the number of online applications in the programme from 70 to 3,000 in a few months. Twenty young Burkinabe TEF 2019 winners have been able to join ProFeJec.
This willingness to support young people leaves Aboubacar Borro, a young student from the town of Bobo-Dioulasso, optimistic:
“We hope with all our hearts that this will help make things better for us. Government leaders should already be working on ensuring that a high-performing internet connection is available throughout the country and should take time to work on the initiative in our local languages so that all young people have access to them,” he says.
Photos: UNDP Burkina Faso and Aude Rossignol/©Alliance Sahel/2019