The RUFORUM Entrepreneurship Challenge Program

Africa is poised to become a central player in global economic arena within the next 30 years. Africa’s centrality by then will be too hard to ignore as the current growth patterns and rising entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial spirit is relatively high; this propelled by her  young and vibrant youthful population (more than 80% of the global youth population live in Africa)[1]. Africa’s huge natural resources base as well as a rapidly growing and expanding service sector and rising agribusiness sector embodies Africa as the next global economic powerhouse. At the heart of Africa’s growth is addressing how youth and its young population can rapidly and sustainably be brought into business innovation and active and full participation in the economic activities of the continent. This is particularly important because some 78% of the more than 200 million young Africans in sub-Sharan Africa region live on less than US$2 a day, with 48% barely surviving on less US$1 a day. Certainly Africa’s ‘youth bubble’ is evident but the private sector growth rate is not catching up and is unable to absorb the current numbers in the age group 15 to 24 years; this will certainly become more challenging as Africa’s population is set to more than double by 2050. The solution to this pattern is to pragmatically engage youth in business innovation and engaging them to actively participate in the economic activities. Doing so however requires concerted efforts in addressing a series of constraints youth face along the business innovation and enterprise creation process including among others limited access to financial services, a lack of mentorship and limited platforms to engage at a global, and regional level to leverage from those that have achieved in business and enterprise development. These constraints limit the success of disruptive business ideas among African young entrepreneurs and innovators. Despite such challenges, the entrepreneurial spirit in Africa is resilient and the surge is even greater today.

Evidence emerging from within Africa indicates an engaging youthful population. For example; by 2013, close to 200,000 youth had opened savings accounts; 41% of whom being young women and girls. This action had led to a collective savings of about US$7 million[1]. Youth entrepreneurship therefore represents a critical component of Africa’s growth and development engine. Building on this kind of momentum will accord Africa’s youth the opportunity to invest in Africa and within Africa with locally available and mobilized credit. With the anticipation that by 2025, most of Africa’s communication and activity engagements will be connected through the mobile technologies, it will thus eventually become easy to know the number of young Africans with business innovations and developed enterprises like we currently know the estimated number of jobless and unemployed young Africans. One of the actions towards achieving this kind of needed transition is to facilitate the youth opportunities to benefit from inclusive financial sector services through collaborative interventions with a diverse range of actors at various levels (macro, meso, and micro and client level).  Secondly, training and mentorship is an important component for successful enterprise development; Africa critically lacks this as less than one in four Africans has indicated having received and/or having direct access to training to grow their own business. However, amidst all these, there is a glimmer of hope and success straddling over Africa; every year Forbes has been naming 30 most young promising young entrepreneurs in Africa and this number has been growing and so has been their stature of their business innovations and enterprises that are addressing real critical socio-economic problems and creating jobs.

Emerging business innovations and enterprises including the achieved successes in a complex business terrain has demonstrated that Africa has some of the best and brightest young entrepreneurs. Their desirousness to transform their thoughts to business and their ability to stay in business despite the various bottlenecks associated with doing business in Africa. The several ideas still under translation to vibrant businesses and those that are already in operation require a strategic awareness raising and taking right steps to provide the youth with opportunities and platforms for mentorship. Young African business innovators and enterprise developers are in need of platforms that provide them with opportunities to tap into strong business networks and further showcase the burning desire to create innovative, often disruptive solutions to complex African challenges. These sort of platforms provide the young entrepreneurs with relevant experiences that money cannot buy; the expertise, know-how, morale, network and the understanding of the local, national and regional context for succeeding in business. It is against this background that the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), The MasterCard Foundation, Gulu University and Egerton University have launched the RUFORUM Entrepreneurship Challenge Program (RECAP).  

RECAP purpose and objectives

The RUFORUM Entrepreneurship Challenge Program (RECAP) is an innovative program that builds on the successful student enterprise scheme operated by Gulu University and Egerton University through which student business ideas are incubated with technical assistance and financial capitation through a revolving fund. The RECAP has been expanded into an accelerator program that is institutionalized at an applicant member university to facilitate student’s innovation and business incubation. Through the RECAP, agricultural universities will have the opportunity to establish Agribusiness incubation Centers (AIC) as part of operationalizing the Entrepreneurship Challenge Program to foster the further development of innovative business ideas leading to products and/or services on national to regional scale. The AIC will then serve as a hub that will provide opportunity to students and other innovators and entrepreneurs to design and validate their business models and products and test their viability for success in the real world.  Therefore, the objectives of the RECAP are:

  1. Provide RUFORUM network universities with opportunity to innovatively develop, mainstream and institutionalise entrepreneurship and agribusiness in the university structures
  2. Provide universities opportunity to create an enabling environment through which students and university academics and private sector work together to support students to design, develop and validate their business ideas, models and products and translate them into meaningful and viable enterprises.
  3. Support universities to develop an innovation ecosystem; social, technological and business innovation that supports student’s mentorship in entrepreneurship and enterprise development as well as enhances technical support, skills development, networking and engagement with industry.
  4. Support university transformation process as innovation and incubation hubs for creating a cadre of entrepreneurial graduates with high success transition levels in the employment and job-creation as well as influencing national and regional social and economic transformation.  

RECAP implementation arrangements
The RECAP will be implemented through a competitive special window call open to all RUFORUM member universities to submit their proposals seeking to establish and host an innovative Agribusiness incubation Centers (AIC). The competitive proposals under the RECAP call will under double-blind peer review and evaluation and assessment to identify the most competitive AIC project propositions. The RUFORUM Technical Committee shall select the deserving projects that will receive the grant awards. Each call cycle will have up to four AICs establishment awards provided. All projects shall run over a period of 2-3 years.  

Expected outcomes
Through the RECAP, the following are the expected outcomes over the course of implementation:

  • Universities institutionalise entrepreneurship and agri-business training in the university structure and operations
  • An innovations ecosystem; social, technological and business innovation takes route in African universities
  • University students with greater transition potential and with well aligned skills sets are produced in African universities
  • Universities transform training processes to take into consideration the business and product development essence
  • Student incubators and incubates produce viable products and services and better their skills in entrepreneurship, enterprise development and business development
  • Universities strengthen their linkage with the private sector, increase networking with other partners and increase on the breadth and quality of mentors available to students. 

[1] UN Capital Development Fund 2013: Insights from youthstart up programme. http://uncdf.org/sites/default/files/Documents/yfs-bus-case.pdf

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