(Photo courtesy of StartUpAfrica)
Erastus Mong’are was in Kenya during the post-election crisis in 2007. He witnessed firsthand the utter violence that infamously ripped, gauged and burned its way through his home country’s social, political and economic fiber. Yet, somewhere within that chaos, Mong’are found inspiration.
“I met a group of young people who were in support of the opposition leader who had lost the election, and was trying to engage them in why they were willing to risk their lives [violently protesting],” he recalled. “They justified by saying the opposition leader had promised young people employment while he was in office. They had lost hope.”
One of those protesters was a 23 year-old college graduate with a degree in engineering. He was looking for a job, but couldn’t find one. Mong’are said that interaction was his “wake-up call.” He began to wonder how many educated young people were in the same boat.
Then, he had an idea to help those young people help themselves.
He put together a coalition of like-minded individuals, and together they launched StartUpAfrica — a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young people in Africa by providing them with the resources they need to be their own job creator.
Headquartered in Wilmington, StartUpAfrica partnered with the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship three years ago to host the Diamond Challenge, a global youth business plan competition. This past April, 131 schools from five states and six countries participated.
“High school students are interested in participating in something beyond classroom work and realizing they have the power within themselves to be innovators and creators of wonderful ideas that can lead to big initiatives in their own communities,” Mong’are said.
For example, the school that won the Diamond Challenge national competition in Kenya devised a way for farmers to preserve their crops. Though their country has taken steps to help them implement it, getting to that point was no cakewalk — especially because that school does not have computers or internet access.
Mong’are said those students had to access Diamond Challenge materials and training from a town almost an hour away from their school. Another school in Uganda wrote up its business concept on paper and mailed it to Delaware.
“Young people are seeing opportunity in challenges people are facing every day,” Mong’are said. “To me, that’s an indication that Diamond Challenge is working.”
It is — but the organization is not without setbacks.
Without proper funding, StartUpAfrica is unable to provide the manpower necessary to take on any larger initiatives. “This is a big undertaking that cannot run just with a share of a few volunteers,” Mong’are said. “As the initiative has grown, we’ve come to the realization that we need part-time and full-time staff to manage the program successfully in Kenya.”
Somehow, StartUpAfrica is still making it work. Later this month, it’ll be hosting training sessions for teachers in Africa who want to know how to instill a sense of entrepreneurship in their students.
“The time is right for youth entrepreneurship globally,” Mong’are said. “[Youth in Africa] want to succeed.”
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