Malawi, like many other countries, grapples with high youth unemployment rates. Publications have quoted the ILO Labour Force Survey of 2018 as stating, “21.7% of the youth aged 15-24 are neither in employment, education or training, and approximately 27% of those with a job are underemployed.” This has resulted in increased poverty levels and a reliance on external donors for addressing the needs of unemployed youth.
By: Emily Nkhambule and David Slane
In order to overcome this challenge and develop sustainable solutions, it is essential to adopt a comprehensive approach that encompasses sustainable economic development, private sector growth, an improved business environment, skills training, and the promotion of entrepreneurship.
By fostering youth entrepreneurship, the government, organizations, and communities can create an enabling environment for young people to establish their own businesses. These ventures not only provide employment opportunities for the entrepreneurs themselves but also for other individuals they hire, thus contributing to a reduction in overall unemployment, increased incomes and enhanced resilience.
The Business Acceleration for Youth project was designed to support this process. This five-year innovative project is funded by USAID Malawi and spearheaded by the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Embracing a resilience-led sustainable strategy, the project aims to enhance the resilience of youth and women-led enterprises, including vulnerable households in various districts in the Southern part of Malawi, namely Balaka, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Nsanje, Thyolo, and Zomba. This will be accomplished through the provision of Business Development Services that promote the establishment of growth-oriented, sustainable firms capable of securing and effectively utilizing investments.
During the initial sessions of the project's Incubation program in Mangochi, David Slane, the project's Chief of Party, highlighted the alignment of the initiative with the USAID/Malawi Country Development Corporate Strategy (2020-2025). The project aims to contribute to Malawi's economic development and strengthen resilience by investing in the country's youth and small and medium enterprises.
"The purpose of this incubation program is to support the development of your businesses, test the proof of concept, and establish the business's internal structure, enabling it to grow. Our goal is to provide a supportive environment, access to resources including finance, assistance in transforming your ideas into viable businesses, guidance in navigating the challenges of starting a business and business mentorship. This will increase your chances of building successful and sustainable enterprises,” said Slane.
Currently, the project is conducting trainings for 250 participants, with 50 individuals in each district. These participants form the inaugural cohorts 1 and 2 of the Business Acceleration for Youth project Incubation Program in Zomba Urban, Zomba Rural, Mangochi, Chikwawa, and Thyolo. Out of the 250 participants, 57% are male, while the remaining 43% are females. Regarding their business status, 43% of the participants are already running businesses, while the remaining 57% have business ideas but have not started their ventures yet. Additionally, only 14% of the participants have registered their businesses. Recognising that lack of business registrations inhibit business’ ability to attract finance to grow, the remaining 86% will receive assistance with business registrations.
These youths have embarked on an exciting entrepreneurial journey armed with innovative ideas, passion and drive to grow their businesses. Together, they represent a diverse range of business sectors namely, agriculture, agro-processing, ICT, fisheries, forestry, sustainable energy, media among others.
The incubation program is one of the project's key components, focusing on supporting the development and growth of 450 early-stage businesses in the 9 target districts through training, coaching, and access to finance. As part of the program, the participants have the opportunity to secure funding of up to $2500. This financial support is allocated to 200 businesses that demonstrate promising potential for growth and success, primarily based on their business ideas and pitching skills.