March 14, 2014

Growing numbers of companies and African governments are working together, in what can be considered further signs of addressing and finding solutions to youth unemployment across the continent.

This week, as part of the Nigerian government’s efforts to address growing youth unemployment in the country, it announced it is partnering with Mara Foundation to launch Mara Mentor to support and provide a solution for youth leadership and development and to encourage young entrepreneurs in the country.

The program, called Mara-IYEEP Nigeria, is part of the President’s Integrated Youth Economic Empowerment Program initiative and will be built on Mara Foundation’s existing mentoring program, a social enterprise working to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners with exclusive focus on emerging African entrepreneurs.

“The Integrated Youth Economic Empowerment Program (IYEEP) is the Youth Transformation Initiative of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan,” said Ambassador Obinna Adim, Special Adviser to the President on Youth Empowerment. “Our vision is to provide the needed platform and mechanism to transform our youth into [IYEEP] Change Makers who can make their communities a better place, not only for themselves but also for their fellow Nigerians by spurring wealth creation and raising household incomes across the country.”

As foreign investments and multinational companies continue to pour in to do business on the continent, African governments lately are taking bold steps, increasingly demanding that both domestic and international companies to not only create jobs for the youths but also help develop in them the much needed skills to meet the continent’s current workforce demands.

This shift in strategy from African governments is already transforming how companies negotiate with the governments when it come to doing business on the continent as they try to show that their business models is socially responsible and inclusive.

In recent months, domestic and international companies such as SAP that are operating in Africa have formed partnerships with African governments to work jointly with African higher education institutes to help create opportunities for youth on the continent that can help address and reduce the continent’s overall poverty and unemployment rates.

Targeting young people who want to start a business, the Mara mentorship program, which is currently accessible online, aims to bridge the gap between formal education and the “real world’ training or entrepreneurship, by supporting and encouraging youths to approach life as entrepreneurs. The program is unique in the sense that it focuses on entrepreneurship, but it’s also a cross sector initiative to empower the Nigerian youth.

“Thanks to this initiative young men and women will be able to approach life as entrepreneurs,” said Ashish J. Thakkar, founder of Mara Group and Mara Foundation. “It strives to show them that there is a third option; it’s not only a question of being employed or unemployed—they can also choose to start their own business, which can eventually grow and create more jobs in their local communities.”

The program will be an important part of the overall IYEEP initiative to economically empower the Nigerian youth through the Mentorship Program, which will provides incubation centers for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and “Solopreneurs” who otherwise would not be able to afford professional office space.

As the continent’s wealth increases, there have been huge dissatisfaction and frustration among the from youth who have felt mostly left out. Those frustrations have sometimes led to protest and rally across the continent. Programs such as Mara Mentorship and SAP’s skill for Africa will provide opportunities for youth on the continent.

The platform, aside from providing mentorship to youth, also plans to match young entrepreneurs with seasoned business owners and corporate leaders one-on-one. It will provide funding assistance to entrepreneurs for novel business ideas, incubation centers and workspace as well as continual business training. Anyone can register to become mentee on the platform. Seasoned business leaders are encouraged to sign up as mentors. This way they can not only mentor young entrepreneurs, but also find interesting future partners and resources for their business.

The program will be available free of charge to all youth and entrepreneurs in Nigeria. The platform allows these entrepreneurs to connect virtually with seasoned business leaders locally and mentors from across the world for advice and guidance. These support services are expected to transform entrepreneurs’ business ideas into profitable and thriving business entities that will employ other Nigerians and contribute to local, state and national economies.

“We are very excited about the project to bring Mara Mentor to Nigeria. Mara-IYEEP Nigeria will encourage young entrepreneurs to embrace innovative ideas, envision the impossible, and ultimately transform Nigeria. We believe mentorship is the key in addressing the gaps currently preventing these entrepreneurs from successfully starting, scaling and sustaining businesses”, says Thakkar.

Due to its online platform, Mara Foundation said the online program is increasingly becoming popular on the continent and it is planning to expand it across Sub Saharan Africa but also to other continents eventually. Aside from Nigeria, it is also physically operating in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

IYEEP is a unique grassroots and community aligned youth development process approach, which focuses on three critical elements that promote personal leadership: Healthy behaviors, socioeconomic empowerment skills as well as self and individual communities’ sustainability.