Afro-diasporic linkages & Entrepreneurship Education

Tracker & Alpha Phi Alpha’s ‘Men in the Making’ Program

Sabre Collier is a Skoll Scholar and a Shell Foundation Fellow. This is the third in her series of posts from Johannesburg, where she is working with GroFin. GroFin finances small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa.

Tara Sabre Collier

Tara Sabre Collier

Africa is championed as the globe’s next economic frontier, with capital flows reaching all-time highs.  Yet this glorious FDI boom has a major pitfall.  Poverty at the grassroots level has barely budged in the past decade, largely because Africa’s economic expansion has created insufficient jobs.   Today, the region has some of the world’s worst unemployment rates, which has dangerous implications for the next generation.

Reportedly, over 600 million jobs need to be created by 2020 just to keep employment levels the same in the developing world.   With half its population below 25, sub-Saharan faces a demographic dividend like no other.  The risks that youth unemployment portend for delinquency, crime, violence and even terrorism have already been flagged in academic and multilateral research.  We know we can’t depend on manufacturing or services sectors to employ all these youth and much must be done to transform the agricultural sector for adequate income generation.

In urban Africa, many of these youth have already decided to take life by the horns and become self-employed.  But it’s been proven that entrepreneurs of necessity rarely make major economic leaps forward.  It’s a problem that governments, NGOs and international development agencies all recognize and have been rushing to solve, in a flurry of advisory services, innovations, policy recommendations, incubators, etc.

South Africa has one of Africa’s most developed entrepreneurial ecosystems, as far as enterprise training, incubation and start-up capital, which is why it’s so frustrating that SA’s youth unemployment rate is actually still the 3rd highest in the world.  Better harmonization and new solutions must be developed to grow entrepreneurship and the private sector inclusively, in order to avert a crisis here.

The African diaspora is a huge untapped resource in this push for sustainable entrepreneurial and business development in Africa.

Why are Afro-diasporic linkages so compelling to promoting entrepreneurship and private sector growth in countries like South Africa?

Well, firstly, the African diaspora is huge! In the Americas alone, the Black population is nearly 200 million, with 40 million US African-Americans and nearly 100 million Afrodescendant Brazilians.  Also, the global African migrant population is 140 million, mostly in Europe and the Americas. In addition, Afrodescendants and the rest of the global African diaspora bring immense financial and human capital that can accelerate Africa’s trajectory.  For example, the value of remittances from African Diaspora migrants far exceeds all development aid from the entire Western world .  And this is just pure transfers, it does not even consider the regenerative potential from business linkages between Africa and the African diaspora. Moreover, the African diaspora brings high levels of tertiary education, technical skills and new commercial networks that can benefit Africa.  US African-Americans alone so economically powerful that, as a nation, their GDP would be the 16th highest in the world– imagine the potential for trade with Africa!

This is why I get so excited about organizations like Africare, Homestrings.com as well as DAIN Network that leverage Diaspora linkages to economically empower Africa.

And this is why I was enthused to discover this diasporic partnership in the form of Project Alpha, a new youth entrepreneurial training program, launched by Tracker and Alpha Phi Alpha!

african-diaspora-group

Instructors and participants of Project Alpha after a training session

Tracker’s Men in the Making partnership with Alpha Phi Alpha has leveraged African-American technical and business expertise to enrich the lives of young South African entrepreneurs, many of them entrepreneurs of necessity.  One of South Africa’s largest vehicle tracking device companies, Tracker started Men in the Making as a way to provide career guidance to high potential adolescent boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. Today, Tracker has close to 6,000 Men in the Making beneficiaries throughout the country.  As part of its Project Alpha initiative, Tracker partnered with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity to establish a youth entrepreneurship program for at-risk South African males this year.

A bit of background about Alpha Phi Alpha: Founded in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is a historically African-American collegiate association that unites African-Americans, the African Diaspora, and people of color around the world. It is embedded with the African-American community’s fight for civil rights through eminent leaders such as: W.E.B. DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Edward Brooke, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Andrew Young, William Gray, Paul Robeson.  And it recently launched its South African Chapter Rho Phi Lambda.

The Men in the Making entrepreneurship program was designed by Dr. Richard Hayes, a Professor of Entrepreneurship & Management at Hofstra University and also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.  He designed the program to help youth analyse the business model canvas and then tailored for youth as well as local context.  Project Alpha’s seminars meet at the University of Johannesburg, where Professor Hayes is also coordinating an international entrepreneurship exchange program.  At the end of the course, students compete and are judged on their business plans, which this year included solar cars, organic disinfectant, smartphone app for exercise and insulated school shoes!  For the next intake, Project Alpha will integrate a social enterprise component in which participants design business models around the needs of their own communities.

In comparing the legacies of segregation and the path for inclusive development in USA and South Africa, Dr. Hayes references “middle men minorities” as being driven to entrepreneurship.  He explains,

“For groups that were excluded from mainstream economy, the only solution was to build your own.  This gave rise to “protected enclaves”- kind of like markets with limited competition because they were cloistered due to segregation.  This may have been healthy at the time but it also contradicted cooperative economics in the broader scheme of the country.  Even now, if we are not allowed to be part of the mainstream economy, through having access to jobs, one of the best solutions is to build our own economy through entrepreneurship.”

Given the size of the Base of the Pyramid market in South Africa (an estimated 50% of the population is below the poverty line), there is a huge untapped market that Dr. Hayes students are uniquely prepared to understand and to serve as entrepreneurs.  The onus is simply adequately preparing their skills and business models, and facilitating the capital and linkages to make these models a reality.

On this Dr. Hayes emphasizes

”The intellectual potential is there- now it’s just what can we put in place to cultivate it. Young African minds are not given enough credit- these are kids from the township, out in the West Rand yet with support and role models and access to the right resource, they rise to the occasion.  If placed in the right positions and given the right opportunity, there’s no limit to what they can do.”