By Mokun Njouny Nelson
Empowering young people across Africa by helping them set up and run viable businesses could help reduce the number of migrants now dying in droves as they attempt the perilous journey by boats to Europe, an official of a UK based NGO has said.
Francis Ngwa, Chief executive officer of Citizen Outreach Coalition (COC) told some 30 young people on Monday June 29th at the EiServi conference hall, in Biyem-Assi in Yaounde that, only drastic action could help stop the shocking and unnecessary deaths of Africans in the Mediterranean sea as they try to get to Europe to get a better life.
Mr Ngwa was speaking to youths specially selected for a one day workshop sponsored by COC on poverty alleviation and entrepreneurship because they were already running small businesses or had plans to start one as soon as they could get the necessary technical and financial support. He said the primary aim of the workshop was to make youths self sufficient and help reduce the horrible hardships and deaths some might suffer in attempting to travel abroad.
“Various studies indicate that among these thousands of migrants who get trapped abroad are young people who would have gladly stayed home if they had the necessary training, help and support in setting up viable businesses. This is why we mostly targeted young business people and those with bright business ideas to attend these workshops in Bamenda and Yaounde”, Mr Ngwa noted.
Opening the workshop earlier Fah Sylvanus Atoh, head for partnership at the Ministry of Small and Medium sized Enterprises told participants the government was helping young entrepreneurs set up businesses by creating a couple of structures including incubators they could learn from.
“I think it is very necessary for young people to have training in entrepreneurship; first of all to break down the old barriers that it was for the useless, those who have failed in everything”, he said. “It has been seen that entrepreneurship is a culture, it is a way of life, to do things in a way that is relevant and in that way, they could employ themselves and employ others”.
Mr Atoh praised the initiative of COC and its partner organization in Yaounde Local Youth Corner for making the training possible and called on the participants to make sure they take the training seriously. He assured them his ministry will give any necessary support to them at the appropriate time.
Ewemeh Gilbert, Founder and CEO of Youth Employment Service (YES) Cameroon, a service delivery and youth empowerment NGO animated the workshop. Like a similar workshop in the North West regional capital Bamenda a week earlier, participants were drilled on writing a viable business plan and managing their resources both human and otherwise. Ewemeh will now help those already in business perfect a forward looking business plan. Those aspiring to be entrepreneurs soon will also write a plan which he will check and forward to organizers of the workshop
Seed funding will be sourced soon and participants will get more educational, material and financial support in the months and years ahead to help them run sustainable and viable businesses.
Closing the workshop, COC executive officer Francis Ngwa told participants similar workshops will be organized in a couple of African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and Eritrea, all of which are countries that have registered the highest number of economic migrants struggling to travel abroad. Empower them back home, he said, was a powerful incentive to make them look inward and help develop their home countries.
Achaleke Christian Leke. Administrative Director, Bring it On Cameroon
Youth leader Achaleke Christian 25, runs a small recycling business in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde and exactly the type of youths being targeted in this campaign. His social enterprise is aptly named Bring it on Cameroon.
“Ours is a small social enterprise where we produce bio degradable paper bags from recycled waste paper” he said.
He attended the workshop and gave his impressions to Mokun Njouny Nelson.
Q How did the business start?
We started the business in late 2014 after the government of Cameroon banned plastic non bio-degradable packages. This created a very serious problem because to buy bio-degradable paper was very expensive so most of the vendors could not sell using bio-degradable papers. In turn, their customers were suffering. People bought their goods and had to carry it with their hands with no packaging. I and a close team of friends who come from all walks of life, decided to come together and start producing paper bags with our hands. We started with a modest capital of 60.000frs CFA . So far, I think we are partly helping to solve the packaging problem at least in the capital Yaounde nad the South West region for now. We have sold over 5000 paper bags just in the short time we have been operating.
Q How does it work? Where do you get the raw material to produce the bags and what is the process to produce a paper bag?
Because we don’t have machines, we do everything by hand. We have artists among us who are very good at craftsmanship and everybody helps in a way. We use A4 and hard cardboard papers to produce the bags. There are times when we buy papers and add value to the papers by transforming them into bags. We go to the market, buy papers, come back and cut and come out with a bag. We throw little a way as we still used the wasted paper to produce the handle carriers for the bags.
Q How big is the business now. You started off with 60.000frs CFA. How big is your bank balance now?
We now have a modest 500.000frs CFA in the bank because we have brought in a couple of friends to help out. Recently, we applied to the state for some support. I am happy to say our project was selected. We have a big challenge on our hands because to really recycle, we need machines. To produce the bags we are doing on a large scale, we also need machines. So far, we are doing this with our hands and it is not easy. Let me say at this point that we are not making any profit so far. Our initial aim was to make an impact in the market and seriously, we are achieving that. We are making a big impact especially in the South West region of Cameroon.
Q Coming back to the workshop on entrepreneurship, what will you say you learnt from it?
The most important thing I learnt today was how to write a business plan and why one is so important when you want to start off any kind f business. When we started this paper bag business, we had no business plan. We just started in the air and at one point in time, we realized we were facing a lot of problems which we would have for seen if we had a business plan. I have now strengthened my capacity and know exactly how and why we all need to get a good business plan before we start any kind of business.