Building Africa’s next innovators: The sahara impact fund fellowship example
If you ask me today what I think is/are the most important skill(s) required for Africa’s sustainable development, without batting an eyelid, I would undoubtedly name the inseparable duo: “critical thinking and problem solving.”
To attempt to narrow down the most important skill to a particular field or subject matter would be a gross underestimation of not just what is required, but of Africa’s potential. Critical thinking leads to problem solving, as the latter is unable to thrive without being handheld by the former.
One of the core attributes I learnt very early on in my career journey with the Sahara Group was that problem solving is a critical skill required to operate in a terrain like sub-Saharan Africa. As an organisation rapidly expanding its global footprint, every ‘Saharian’ understands that they are hired, first and foremost, as problem solvers. It is no wonder, that one of our most popular maxims at Sahara is, “impossible is nothing.”
As the world’s challenges become more complex and global in nature, the importance of this skill and how it translates to innovation cannot be overstated, and in Africa, underdevelopment, population explosion, climate change and the need for energy transition have brought to light the need for Problem Solvers. Thankfully, we have quite a few of them on the continent.
With an agile youth population of over 60 percent, Africa boasts of many eager beaver problem solvers. Nonetheless, despite the prevalence of enthusiastic minds, a persistent problem has been finding the right platforms to support and showcase their solutions for the level of visibility required to make significant impact and scale their ventures.
How often have we randomly come across a young African on social media with an innovative idea, prototype or solution but without the funding or backing to support their dreams of being innovators and solution providers to some of Africa’s most pressing challenges? Dreams are either nurtured or they die, but it takes resources to nurture them.
The Sahara Impact Fund was birthed as a solution to nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit inherent in African youths from different walks of life, by equipping them with the skills and funding required to scale their enterprises to the next level, particularly around social entrepreneurship. Beyond the seed funding and business modules undertaken by the fellows, one of the aspects of the programme I’m perhaps most excited about is the mentorship scheme.
As an organisation founded by young entrepreneurs in 1996, we at the Sahara Group, appreciate the need to provide guidance to the next generation of Africa problem solvers as they develop solutions to some of the continent’s environmental and social challenges. This year, each participant has been assigned a mentor from the Sahara Group, bringing to bear not just professional experience, but an independent view to guide them in structuring and scaling their social enterprise.
These mentors are senior members of staff who have volunteered their time as part of their commitment to making a difference in the lives of African youth trying to navigate their way on the journey of impactful leadership. Understanding that sustainable development is a collective responsibility will hopefully heighten our individual sense of responsibility to search out opportunities to make a difference in our everyday world.
•Ejiro Gray is Director at Sahara Group Foundation.
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