GES call to entrepreneurs to ignite economic growth for Africa

Since 2010, when President Barack Obama presided over the first Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Washington, D.C., it has expanded to a global event, subsequently hosted by the governments of Muslim majority nations, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Morocco. This past weekend, the focus shifted to Africa as the U.S. president travelled to Nairobi where he joined Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on stage for GES 2015.

The promise of high-growth entrepreneurs is just as high in Kenya as in more advanced entrepreneurial ecosystems. The Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) offered a preview of its 2016 report to be released this November, showing that Kenya’s performance in tech transfer is far above the regional average. Kenya is also a top country in the region for R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Another Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) member Endeavor Insight also recently put the spotlight on Kenya, showing that scale-ups have created 72 percent of new jobs in the past three years, despite representing only five percent of Kenyan firms. However, given the country’s projected population growth of 3.4 million additional people by 2020, Kenya will need to create over 3.9 million new jobs for young people. Several other countries share this is enormous challenge.

In order for Kenya and the Sub-Saharan region to grow and add more jobs, economies will need a new wave entrepreneurship. Experts at the GES this weekend argued women and youth are in the best position to create a strong current that can drive new wave of high-potential startups.

The Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) is keeping track of improvements in this regard across 77 countries, but data for Sub-Saharan countries is scarce. Of the nine countries included in the report, South Africa leads the way in the region, and ranked 36th globally.

The Summit kicked off with the GES Youth + Women event, featuring opening remarks by Akon, a Grammy-nominated R&B and hip-hop artist and entrepreneur. Born in St. Louis but raised in West Africa, he founded the Akon Light Africa project, an initiative to bring solar power to streets and households across 14 African countries. He was joined by Julie Hanna, Executive Chair of Kiva, the microfinance platform that has lending teams focused on youth and women.

Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, announced a new exchange program to help young female founders in Africa grow their startups and reach new markets, the Women’s Venture Xchange—Africa. The pilot program – starting in Nairobi and Kampala – will serve as an exchange and mentorship program for high-potential women entrepreneurs, tapping the partners and programs of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, the Case Foundation, Mara Foundation and the U.S. State Department.

President Obama announced that the Administration’s goal to generate over a billion dollars in private investment for emerging entrepreneurs around the world by the end of 2017 has already been exceeded. Half of this goal will be specifically for women and young entrepreneurs.

Other programs focused on women and the young highlighted at the GES included:

African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that targets women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa to promote business growth, increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), create better business environments, and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities.

Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which is creating four regional leadership centers in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa to improve the availability and quality of leadership training programs and professional development opportunities for young African leaders. In addition to in-person training and opportunities, the YALI Network provides more than 130,000 members with virtual resources and vibrant physical spaces that equip young African leaders with the skills and connections they need to improve their businesses, communities and their countries.

The focus on youth and women wasn’t confined to Kenya and the GES. The WiSci STEAM Camp opened on the same day as the GES and will continue through August 15 at the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda. The camp brings together 120 high school students from across Africa and the United States who have demonstrated interest in the STEAM fields — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — and have leadership abilities. The program is part of LIONS@FRICA, an initiative founded by the U.S. Department of State and Global Entrepreneurship Network with Microsoft, Nokia, DEMO Africa, VC4Africa and other partners to help entrepreneurs start and scale new businesses throughout Africa.

GES organizers brought mentors to Kenya to help the selected promising growth-oriented startups from across the world and instill a mentorship culture among this cohort of entrepreneurs. In addition to Airbnb’s Chesky, three additional rockstar entrepreneurs were in Nairobi to demonstrate their commitment to serving as mentors and global ambassadors: Steve Case, Chairman and CEO, Revolution, LLC; Julie Hanna, Executive Chair of the Board, Kiva; and Daymond John, Founder, FUBU and CEO, Shark Branding. The four serve as part of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, a group of America’s most respected business creators who have committed to sharing their time, energy, ideas, and experience to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs around the world.

African leaders will meet again in the next two years, culminating in the convening of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in March 2017 in Johannesburg. Expect many lessons to be shared as Africa positions itself as ground for policy and program experimentation. As Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL said, “Historically, Africa has been viewed by many as a problem to solve – but now there is a growing recognition it is in fact an opportunity to seize and entrepreneurs are leading the way.”