By Alkali Amana

Within the next 3 decades, projections from the United Nations estimate that given the high fertility rates South of the Sahara, Africa will account for more than half of global population growth in the world, adding 1 billion people and putting it on track to overtake central and south Asia soon after as the world’s most populous region.

It is thus no longer news that the population of Africa is rapidly rising as it is also the continent with the highest number of youths in the world with 60 percent of its population below 25. With the teeming numbers being recorded, Africa sees a lot of entry into its labour market by educated youths who wish to create meaningful and lasting impact each year. On average, 11 million young people join the labour market, yet the continent is capable of generating only about 3.7 million jobs, hence the shift to entrepreneurship which has seen the hard work and representation of youthful zest increase Africa’s reputation of being an SME hub. The continent boasts of the world’s highest entrepreneurship and female entrepreneurship rates with data from the African Development Bank revealing that 22 percent of Africa’s working-age population are starting businesses, and 27 percent of the female adult population is engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity. However, while the entrepreneurial potential is high with impressive numbers, the contribution to economic growth and the development of SMEs has been limited. A counter statistic places Sub-Saharan Africa as the place with the highest business discontinuance rate at 8.4 percent. The issue rests in the survival of African SMEs and how they can be enabled to grow better. Covid19 on its part has strangled economies, leaving a lot of entrepreneurs to seek solutions and devise means of staying afloat.

Mainly, when it comes to determining solutions to the survival of businesses, it is not out of place to consider funds or capital as a primary element that must not be compromised. Howbeit, capital alone does not guarantee the success or survival of businesses, especially in these times. Certain other measures must be taken into consideration beyond funds, and careful implementation of strategies that will form the working knowledge with which to build and sustain the relevance of such enterprise as an individual will wish to engage in. The question then is: How can youth-led SMEs develop their businesses to beat discontinuance and create a sustainable venture Post Covid? Business culture is built around a lot of activities and proven methods experienced over time, and SMEs in Africa can boost sustainability through:

  • Training Programs

As much as it is necessary to have the required capital with which to start up a business, it is also necessary to possess the required skills to build and develop such a business. Exploring the value of training to a business, Henry Ford, the Founder of the Ford Motor Company noted that ‘The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them leave’. Peter Drucker, the Austrian-American management consultant and educator, on his part, noted that ‘every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels; training and development never stops.

The importance of what training programs provide to businesses and enterprises cannot be ignored as they are an ultimate form of self-investment for the entrepreneur. The benefits associated with training programs include an improvement in skills and knowledge, preparing individuals or employees for higher responsibilities, improving commitment to business as the value in person is increased and broadening the perspective of the entrepreneur involved in the business. Training programs can be in different categories like Management training, Sales training, mentoring scheme etc. It is most important that youth-led SMEs in Africa consider developing their enterprise by subscribing to training programs that can boost their capacity.

  • Networking:

There is a saying which explains at first glance that ‘Your network is your net worth’, and it can be adjudged to be less than an inch near the mark if it does not accurately nail the importance of building a network on its head. Networking for small business owners creates a platform to form a relationship with others in the same or related fields which can eventually help to expand the ability to find new customers, partners, and grow. SMEs can capitalize on networking to get business leads, identify new trends and best practices in the market, increase the confidence of businesses and build connections.  

In essence, you build your net worth as you build your network. Networking provides and allows you opportunities you might not be able to find or access on your own. It is a crucial part of business models that have seen top businesses survive the storm of difficult economic times, just like Covid19. Hence, a healthy network of friends and contacts will prove useful in thriving and challenging times.

  • Partnerships and Collaboration:

The essential element of the partnership is the wide horizon and multiple possibilities it opens a business up to. Youth-led SMEs can engender collaborations with industry giants and competitors in related fields or otherwise, as long as relevance is achieved, survive. Partnerships increase an entrepreneur’s lease of knowledge, expertise and resources to make better products and reach a greater audience.

Helen Keller noted once that ‘alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much. That is the story of partnerships. When SMEs key into partnership opportunities, they are likely to experience certain benefits that will boost their growth and survival. These include access to knowledge, competitive advantage, enhancing the credibility and image of their businesses, increasing their customer base and allowing for long-term stability.

The element of survival for businesses requires planning and strategy alongside the provision of the requisite capital to improve function and results. Youth-led SMEs, generated mainly out of the need to end unemployment via personal means, cannot be left to chance and anticipation from the input of a certain amount of funds. Practical steps must be taken to achieve. It is estimated that Africa will need 122 million jobs by 2022, and it is no secret that the highest employer of labour on the continent is these small and medium enterprises. Alongside the input of SMEs to stay afloat, African governments are also encouraged to provide access to the listed ways above and other necessary items which can help the growth and development of businesses generally.