In an effort to foster youth entrepreneurship in Malawi, the Business Acceleration for Youth project has awarded 100 grants (20 in each district) valued at 2.5 million Kwacha each to top ranked business ideas in the districts of Chikwawa, Mangochi, Thyolo, Zomba City and Zomba Urban.
By: Emily Nkhambule
The Business Acceleration for Youth project implemented by Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and funded by USAID, has been actively supporting 250 young entrepreneurs with business development support through trainings and coaching in the five districts since April this year. The culmination of this activity is the award of 20 grants to the highest ranked business start-ups in each district.
The successful entrepreneurs were identified through a publicly held business idea pitching event, where the entrepreneurs presented their business ideas before a panel composing representatives from the District Council, Private Sector, Business Development Services provider, and project staff. The business ideas and plans presented by the entrepreneurs were assessed against a standardized scoring matrix. The top 20 ranked entrepreneurs were then recommended for a grant award.
“The essence of USAID's mission for this project is to strengthen the resilience of youth and women-led businesses by equipping them with essential entrepreneurial skills and technical know-how. However, it is widely recognized that access to capital remains a significant obstacle. That is why we deemed it is necessary to incorporate access to finance component. While we may have only scratched the surface, our aspiration is that the training and mentorship offered will establish enduring success stories,” said Slane.
He further emphasized that the project will closely monitor the trajectory of grant awardees businesses to ensure the envisioned impact is being realized and that the funds are being directed towards their intended purpose and set milestones. The ultimate objective is to help the entrepreneurs transform their ideas into viable businesses, thereby fostering successful and sustainable ventures, generating income and offering employment opportunities.
One of the successful grant applicants , Jacqueline Banda the founder of Jeyie foods venture, specializing in the production of Chili, Porridge flour and peanut butter shared her story. She expressed how the project's incubation program played a pivotal role in getting her business back on track after experiencing devastating losses during Cyclone Freddy.
“In March of this year, Cyclone Freddy took everything I had built for my business. We lost our home and had to seek rehabilitation with relatives. I was left feeling lost, not knowing where to begin. Fortunately, my application to join the project's incubation program was successful. The training and coaching sessions breathed new life into my business and transformed my entrepreneurial mindset. With this grant, I plan to acquire a peanut processing machine and complete all the necessary steps for my products to be certified by the Malawi Bureau of Standards," Jacqueline explained.
This experience emphasizes why the project’s implementation approach is rooted in a resilience-led sustainability strategy. The project’s strategy strives to strengthen the resilience of start-ups which form part of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) business category by equipping them with essential business development services, technical expertise, and access to finance. These elements collectively empower MSMEs to enhance their income levels, reduce vulnerability, and reduce dependence on external aid.
Presently, the USAID-funded project is in the process of selecting an additional 250 youth entrepreneurs from the districts of Machinga, Balaka, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, and Nsanje to participate in similar training and coaching sessions and compete for grants valued at MK2,500,000 each. The goal is to support a minimum of 450 early-stage youth-led businesses (aged 18-35) in developing their foundational business models, testing their proof of concept, and establishing robust internal structures conducive to business growth. Of these, 200 businesses are expected to access the project grants.