Ritesh Anand Column: Zim’s future lies in young, new entrepreneurs’ hands

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“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded to the individual.” — Albert Einstein.

The Ritesh Anand Column

Kenya recently hosted the 6th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), a United States government initiative to foster and develop entrepreneurship in the world.

President Barack Obama elevated entrepreneurship to the forefront of the US’ engagement agenda during a historic speech in Cairo in 2009. Since 2010, when the US hosted the first summit in Washington DC, GES has expanded to a global event, subsequently hosted by the governments of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Morocco.

The 2015 GES was held in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 25-26. It was the sixth annual gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages of business development, business leaders, mentors and high-level government officials.

Thanks to the support of the US embassy in Harare a group of 14 young entrepreneurs from Zimbabwe attended the summit this year. It is hoped that these young men and women will come back inspired to make a difference in the local economy.

In his opening remarks at GES 2015, Obama said: “Africa is on the move and is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. People are being lifted out of poverty. Incomes are rising. The middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business. It creates incredible opportunities for Africans and for the world. It means more growth and trade that creates jobs in all our countries. It’s good for all of us. This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth.

“Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world — it’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights and push back against corruption. Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.”

This year’s event was attended by over 1 100 delegates from 120 countries, including 20 members of the US Congress, 200 seasoned investors and entrepreneurs, which included Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Ashish Thakkar (Mara Group) and Strive Masiyiwa (Econet Wireless).

The challenge for many aspiring entrepreneurs is very often that it’s hard to take those first steps. It’s hard to access capital. It’s hard sometimes to get the training and the skills to run a business as professionally as it needs to be in this competitive world. It’s hard to tap into the networks and mentors that can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s even harder for women and young people and communities that have often been marginalised and denied access to opportunities.

Over the last year, GES has raised over US$1 billion in new investment for emerging entrepreneurs with half the money going to women and young people. This year GES stepped up it’s support for women entrepreneurs. Research indicates that when women entrepreneurs succeed, they drive economic growth and invest more back in communities.

GES has helped build a network of over 1 600 women entrepreneurs across Africa. This year they announced the launch of three women’s entrepreneurial centres in Zambia, Nairobi and Mali.

And as part of this initiative, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation will contribute US$100 million to support Goldman Sachs’ 10 000 Women initiative.

Entrepreneurship plays a critical role to the long-term growth and development of Africa. In order to create successful entrepreneurs, governments play a vital role in creating transparency, rule of law, ease of doing business and the anti-corruption agenda that creates a platform for people to succeed.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the world’s foremost study of entrepreneurship, the key enablers of entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa are:

A supportive macro-economic environment
Few barriers to entry
Favourable internal market dynamics
Supportive social attitudes and culture
While the key constraints include:
A lack of access to finance
A lack of supportive government programmes
An unfavourable commercial and legal infrastructure
Poor physical infrastructure
In the early 1990s, Zimbabwe produced some great entrepreneurs such as Masiyiwa. Sadly, many of those successful entrepreneurs of the 1990s have fallen by the wayside.

Entrepreneurship is a long and arduous journey and not a get-rich-quick scheme. Entrepreneurs need to be bold and courageous; they need to be decisive and be prepared to walk alone. They say your best investment decisions are often accompanied by loneliness and uncertainty.

With it’s highly educated population and entrepreneurial spirit, Zimbabwe has the capacity to create some great entrepreneurs. What we need is a favourable environment to foster and develop young entrepreneurs. Government needs to focus its attention on our young men and women and provide them with an opportunity to empower themselves.

It starts with focus on basic things like the economy. Many of our people are in the diaspora running some of the largest and most successful companies in the world. We need to bring them back or at least mentor our young people if we are to be successful.

I am delighted that some young Zimbabweans were able to make the journey to Nairobi. I hope they will come back and inspire other young Zimbabweans to become better entrepreneurs. Zimbabwe’s future lies in the hands of our young people and I strongly believe that we have a bright future.

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