Up&Ap: Josh Adler on creating the new generating of Africa’s young entrepreneurs

For over two decades, he is dedicated his time and experience to developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Through the African Leadership Academy, he partners with other institutions which share the same vision to spur entrepreneurial leadership among young people by teaching, designing and testing what has been developed to foster more young African entrepreneurs through the Anzisha Prize. Here is the story of Josh Adler, the executive director of the Anzisha Priz…

QUESTION: Who is Josh Adler? Give us a background about yourself

Josh Adler: I am an organization builder with almost 20 years of global experience in the business, education and non-profit sectors. Currently, I am the Vice President of Growth and Entrepreneurship at African Leadership Academy where we are building a movement to inspire and support very young Africans with leadership potential pursue and succeed in entrepreneurship.

Q: What’s the relationship between African Leadership Academy and Anzisha Prize?

JA: African Leadership Academy (ALA) seeks to transform Africa by developing a powerful network of over 6,000 leaders who will work together to address Africa’s greatest challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and accelerate the continent’s growth trajectory. 10 years ago, African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation partnered together to create the Anzisha Prize. Both the academy and the foundation identified an opportunity crisis to solve for the rise in youth unemployment on the continent. So, the question was how do we increase the number of young people choosing entrepreneurship as a career and how do we support young entrepreneurs who are already on their entrepreneurial journeys? With bold ambitions to solve these questions, the Anzisha Prize began.

Q: What informed African Leadership Academy’s decision to establish the Anzisha Prize?

JA: African Leadership Academy’s mission to develop the next generation of African leaders includes the determination to increase entrepreneurial leadership amongst young people. We knew that there were more young people on the continent whose entrepreneurial journeys could be accelerated if they had the right support. The Anzisha Prize was established to leverage the strength of African Leadership Academy’s entrepreneurial teachings, designs and testing that has been developed to foster more young African entrepreneurs. It was also an opportunity to service an age group (15-22) that has already shown an aptitude for entrepreneurship and are running businesses that we feel is often overlooked.

Q: What does your work at Anzisha Prize involve on a day-to-day basis?

JA: I oversee the entrepreneurship programs at African Leadership Academy which includes the Anzisha Prize. My day-to-day work includes strategically driving our theory of change of developing successful entrepreneurial businesses run by young people that employ other young people. I also use my platform to inspire those within and outside of my network to encourage many more young people to choose the path of entrepreneurship and then support them better once they start.

Q: How does Anzisha Prize engage (or work with youth entrepreneurs) and why the particular emphasis on the 15 – 22 year demographic?

JA: We have several activities geared toward supporting and celebrating very young entrepreneurs (VYEs). Our fellowship program is a suite of services that invests in the individual as well as their venture. We offer a commitment of support for up to 3 years or up to the age of 25. We’re intentional in supporting under 22-year-olds because this a crucial age group we feel have been underserviced within the youth entrepreneurship sector. VYEs face several challenges, including a lack of support from parents and other people in their network and finding it difficult to sell their products or services because people think that they are too young. These issues are often systemic, suggesting a need to approach them from different perspectives. Entrepreneurship is not always an obvious career move for young people, it is necessary to promote it as a choice amongst African youth in multiple spaces including media, universities and schools.

Q: There are currently several programs and initiatives that organize a contest where youth entrepreneurs and (or innovators) present their projects and ideas intending to attract investment. What is unique or different from the Anzisha Prize approach?

JA: What sets us apart, is that we provide support to very young entrepreneurs under the age of 22. We see the contest part of the program as a form of recognition to the entrepreneurs that we find across Africa but we are increasingly focused on supporting young entrepreneurs beyond the contest. Our fellowship program is tailored to help entrepreneurs scale their ventures and provide opportunities for them to improve their business acumen and leadership skillsets. A few of the services that we provide are highlighted below:

  • One-on-one sessions with the Anzisha Team: Our entrepreneurs can have one-on-one meetings and calls with the Anzisha team to discuss issues and opportunities related to your business.
  • Access to finance: Our entrepreneurs have the opportunity to apply for the Young Entrepreneur Fund which is a matching fund that has been created with the objective of de-risking and incentivizing potential investors to invest in very young entrepreneurs.
  • Wellness conversations: Anzisha entrepreneurs will have access to a wellness team that will provide mental health support.

Q: Since the Prize was established in 2012, how many youth entrepreneurs has it supported via investment in their ideas (or projects) and are these projects still running to date?

JA: We have 122 fellows in our program. In our most recent analysis, 77 of our 122 Anzisha Fellows had created over 2000 dignified work opportunities and 56% of those jobs were for young people under 25. In addition, 3 of our Anzisha Fellows have placed a total of 825 people in jobs of which 60% were under 25. The Anzisha fellows have raised $7,785,184 in the total value of further investments and grants received.

We will be selecting 20 more entrepreneurs this year as we continue to celebrate young Africans who are relatable examples of what it means to pursue entrepreneurship at a young age on the continent.

Q: From the projects you’ve supported (or financed) as part of the Anzisha Prize, which ones specifically stand out for you (and why), and what has been their impact within the various areas (sectors, industries or communities) where they operate?

JA: Some of our memorable entrepreneurs are Karidas Tshintsholo from South African and Joan Nalubega from Uganda.

Karidas Tshintsholo was born in Enkangala Township near Pretoria, South Africa. His sole caregiver was his mother, who was a domestic worker. After starting multiple other businesses as a young entrepreneur, Karidas decided that he wanted the road less travelled by his peers by pursuing a successful career in agriculture. He stands out to me because he is an example of how young Africans need to stop thinking negatively about agriculture and start viewing it as a revenue-generating and job-creating opportunity throughout all our communities.

Three years ago, Karidas and his business partner founded Khula; an (agritech) business that connects clients (processors, supermarkets, and restaurants) to farmers directly through an online application (app).  His team have won the MTN business app of the year award. Khula has over 3,000 farmers signed-up on the platform and they have over 10,000 hectares under production, making them the largest commercial farm in South Africa

Growing up in an orphanage, Joan often found herself falling ill with Malaria, a disease that remains all too pervasive in her country of Uganda. As a response to this, Joan founded Uganics, an organisation that aims to combat malaria by producing anti-malaria products: a long-lasting mosquito repellent soap for children and families. Nalubega’s story is inspiring and stands out because she has worked hard to realise her dream while proving that social enterprises can be both profitable and make an impact.

Q: Give us highlights of the VERY YOUNG entrepreneur’s scenario which the Anzisha Prize team released recently

JA: The Very young entrepreneur’s scenario highlights how investments in supporting successful transitions from school and university directly to entrepreneurship could unlock significant employment gains in Africa. The project kicked off in late 2018 with a green paper and series of participatory workshops to explore what the future might hold for Very Young (15 to 25-year-old) Entrepreneurs in Africa. Dozens of organisations participated over several months, with clear recommendations emerging for 5 key stakeholder groups – Educators, Parents, Investors, Incubators and Policy Makers. Most interestingly, a pattern emerged around who the most important yet poorly served stakeholder group is; parents. We really wanted to respond to this lack of data around the questions we were dealing with in a way that could credibly influence policy. Key insights from the report were the following:

  • Very young entrepreneurship sits at the intersection of three established policy spaces – education policy, small enterprise policy and youth policy – and often gets lost in between.
  • While there are many initiatives taking place to support the growth of (youth) entrepreneurship in African countries, there is very  little  evidence  available to  measure progress and  determine impact, and even less so when the focus is on very young entrepreneurs.
  • Very young entrepreneurs create jobs for other young people across the continent, despite the lack of investment in this age group.
  • Very young entrepreneurs have less access to credit than older entrepreneurs. Innovations in lending and investment are needed to support the job creation potential of very young entrepreneurs.
  • For many very young entrepreneurs, the dominant source of financing remains family and friends.
  • Early exposure to entrepreneurship and quality entrepreneurship education integrated into existing education systems is essential to foster entrepreneurial aspirations.

We are hoping that this research leads to far more organisations that are trying to tackle employment and education in Africa focusing their energies on parents.

Q: What can we expect from the African Leadership Academy and Anzisha Prize going forward as relates to youth-centred initiatives or projects?

JA: It has been 10 years of supporting and celebrating very young African entrepreneurs and we’ve amassed some great partners whose visions have merged with ours of showcasing the very best of Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs. As we look back on our shared achievements with our fellows, Anzisha partners and friends, our excitement for the future is palpable. The road ahead is an exciting one.

Our work will continue to delve deeper and champion the importance of youth entrepreneurship on the continent. Excitingly, as we look towards the next 10 years, we are encouraged by the changing narrative around youth entrepreneurship on the continent and are here to support the new wave of young entrepreneurs.

Join us as we celebrate 10 years of Anzisha by watching videos of successful young entrepreneurs at the Anzisha website or download our latest report here.

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