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YALI Network members: How to succeed as an entrepreneur
November 17, 2016

Patrick Stephenson, Macon Phillips, Mariam Njai, Daniel Bonsu at Tech Camp in Ghana
Patrick Stephenson, Macon Phillips, Mariam Njai, Daniel Bonsu at Tech Camp in Ghana (State Dept.)

YALI Network members shared their success stories and advice for fellow entrepreneurs with IIP Coordinator Macon Phillips. Patrick Stephenson, Mariam Njai and Daniel Bonsu (pictured above) attended an IIP Tech Camp in Ghana in May. Afterwards, Phillips sat down with them to discuss entrepreneurship in Africa.

During the roundtable discussion, Stephenson revealed his two-step plan for governments to better support an entrepreneurial environment.

  1. Universities should offer the study of entrepreneurship to their students.
  2. For those who have already finished school, there needs to be an atmosphere that can foster entrepreneurship outside of academia. According to Stephenson, programs like the World Bank’s Private Sector Development Project create this type of entrepreneurship-friendly environment for recent graduates and young professionals.

Njai and Bonsu encouraged young people to resist the archaic idea that having a white-collar job is the only way to make money. Young people need to think outside the box to discover new career opportunities in fields like fashion design or music.

The three entrepreneurs discussed the difficulties of sustaining social entrepreneurship projects like Njai’s Give1 Project Gambia. Ventures like hers are difficult to fund, but her team created unique ways to raise money, including lunch sales and movie nights. Stephenson suggested social entrepreneurs find reliable methods to supply funding. “The model should be sustainable to a point where without you, the community can be able to do it,” he said.

Phillips expressed his hope that YALI Network members will develop their own projects, NGOs or organizations, learn from their experience in the field, and use what they learn to advocate on behalf of their cause. “What is an entrepreneur if not someone who is taking self-initiative?” he asked.

With the hope of improving the Network and developing an entrepreneur-friendly environment, Phillips asked these Network members how YALI can facilitate more connections among its members.

Bonsu used his social enterprise, the Troski Journal, as a reference point for the YALI Network. His Facebook photo blog tells the stories of African residents, with the intention of creating mutually beneficial networks with potential benefactors. Bonsu and Phillips agreed that Network members are developing solutions for the same problem without collaborating with one another. The lack of idea distribution hinders the success of these projects. Bonsu said development needs to be a holistic effort instead of being divided by region.

Njai suggested Network members utilize the YALI Network social media platforms like its Facebook page and YALI face2face to collaborate with other members working on similar projects. The sharing of strategies will aid young leaders as they work to develop and rebrand their continent.

“When we begin to put these efforts together from a more connected perspective, we can transform Africa the way we want it, whether politically, economically or reforming the civic engagement space,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson founded AFRINVEST LLC, a frontier markets advisory firm, and is a founding member of the Young Professional Economist Network. He currently works as the director for research and honorary head of the Centre for Economic Governance and Political Affairs at the Imani Centre for Policy and Education.

Bonsu recently completed his undergraduate coursework in management information systems at Ashesi University, where he was awarded the university’s Entrepreneurial Spirit and Student Personality awards for his contributions to youth development and entrepreneurship. He created the Troski Journal to connect grass-roots residents with potential benefactors.

Njai is the founder of Gambians Against Domestic Violence & Exploitation, head of fundraising for Give1 Project Gambia and the finance officer for Educating For Africa’s Future.

Interested in taking the next step with your business? Check out our #YALIEntrepreneurs page.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blog posts contributed by members of the YALI Network.