Since traditional teaching methods are no longer sufficient to educate students to meet the expectations of employers or the rigorous demands of an entrepreneurial career, preparing students for full participation in the economy is a daunting task across the world.
But four African universities participating in the Talloires Network’s Youth Economic Participation Initiative, or YEPI, seem to have struck the right formula.
The use of business incubators, entrepreneurship training, community engagement and mentorship – with a mix of interventions to meet specific contextual demands of regions, countries and industries – is paying dividends.
YEPI is a programme run by the Talloires Network of engaged universities, funded by a 2012 US$5.9 million grant from MasterCard Foundation, to motivate change in the way universities across the globe prepare students for economic life after graduation.
Eight universities on four continents were each given three-year YEPI demonstration grants, which allowed them to deepen programme impact, expand their work in this area, and invest more resources in learning.
The universities of Cape Town, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering – 2iE – in Burkina Faso, shared their experiences at the Talloires Network Leaders Conference held near Cape Town from 2-4 December.
Demand driven engineers
The Ouagadougou-based 2iE was born out of the 2005 merger of two institutions – the Rural Equipment Engineering School and the Rural Equipment and Hydraulic Technicians School. The institution enrols more than 2,000 students on-site and about 1,500 in online courses.
Bernard Bres, 2iE Technopark director for technology transfer and entrepreneurship, said it had an international platform dedicated to student employability, and supporting business, innovation and entrepreneurship.
2iE offers undergraduate and masters level training in fields such as water and sanitation, civil engineering and mines, and environment and managerial sciences.
“Our business school combines a mixture of technical and managerial skills,” Bres told University World News. “We train engineers, entrepreneurs and responsible professionals, capable of [tackling the] challenges of Africa’s development.”
The institution currently has 75 industrial partnerships, forged to absorb students. It holds yearly meetings between industries and students to share information on the actual demands of industry.
YEPI feeds into the business incubator, an on-campus ecosystem that combines training, research and business development for students and recent graduates of the institute. Bres said management research to enhance training was encouraging.
The formula had resulted in more than 95% of alumni working in Africa and 76% finding a job within six months. Of these, 38% are in engineering, 29% environment, 14% energy and 19% water – and 90% work in the private sector. “Over 80% of our graduates are either working, studying or have started their own businesses,” said Bres.
South Africa’s young employers
The Raymond Ackerman Academy, or RAA, is a post-school academy hosted at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus.
“Youths who have not had the opportunity, due to various socio-economic factors, academic, or financial constraints, to achieve a tertiary education, but have shown entrepreneurial tendencies and display the drive to better themselves, are our targets,” said Elli Yiannakaris, director of RAA.
“We offer an innovative six-month, full-time programme in entrepreneurial development.”
The programme is run twice a year and involves an average of 180 students, with about two-thirds of participants drawn from Soweto, a huge residential area south of Johannesburg. The academy, which has operated since 2006, has graduated over 900 graduates.
“Success is a result of the supportive journey we are able to travel with the students,” Yiannakaris told University World News.
“The quality of responses to idea generation and testing, business skills development, personal and professional development as we build their confidence, has also helped,” she said.
RAA also runs a postgraduate support programme – the Graduate Entrepreneur Support Service or GESS, geared towards graduates and alumni who have or want to start businesses. Since 2013, RAA has received funding from YEPI to boost GESS.
The aim is to link solid ideas to students’ personal vision, provide one-on-one mentorship and group personal development sessions, attend to specific field requirements, fund assets and working capital, and ensure exposure to a broader business network.
Yiannakaris said a bi-annual review of 444 alumni revealed that 400 were ‘friends’ on the Raymond Ackerman Academy Facebook page, 268 were working, 55 owned their own businesses, 36 were still studying, 19 were looking for employment and only 50 were not contactable.
In 2014, she said, 10 small- to medium-sized enterprises were on sound footing, over R1 million (US$86,000) had been raised in grant funding and business linkages and R1 million in direct advertising for one small media company. Sales for nine months reached R1.76 million and 32 students had full- and part-time jobs.
Yiannakaris said despite this success, integration of knowledge, skills and personal development into desired entrepreneurial behaviour and skills was a long process.
Developing monitoring and evaluation systems that track improvement such as social betterment was also difficult. Scaling the programme required more resources. Further, there was little engagement and experience exchange among the eight YEPI funded universities.
The East African equation
When Dutch-funded entrepreneurship project SPARK was launched in Rwanda at Umutara Polytechnic – now the University of Rwanda’s Nyagatare campus – in 2011, there was little indication that it was a going to be a big pipeline to train student entrepreneurs, said Paul Sserumaga, a lecturer in the school of animal sciences and veterinary medicine and project coordinator of Solve the Equation East Africa, or SEE.
SPARK trained more than 600 students in entrepreneurship and helped develop over 33 business start-ups, laying the foundation for Solve the Equation East Africa. With funding from YEPI, the project was scaled up.
“A regional baseline study was conducted and we had the same concerns and differences among youth,” said Sserumaga. “It became logical to share this model.”
SEE eventually became a collaborative project conducted at four regional universities – the University of Rwanda’s Nyagatare campus, Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Nairobi in Kenya and Muhimbili University in Tanzania.
The initiative offers in-service training in entrepreneurship and applied business management, pre-service courses in entrepreneurship, business incubation and mentorship of entrepreneurs to improve their overall competency. The incubation centres have the support of the universities and they can be constructed at an estimated cost of US$12,000 each.
Sserumaga said the SEE partners had successfully shared small grants for regional benefits and combined human resources, which had sparked interest from organisations like the Kenya Commercial Bank to give start-ups guaranteed loans.
Punching above economic woes
paNhari, an NGO affiliated to the University of Zimbabwe, has been preparing students and recent graduates with non-cognitive life and workforce skills to cope in a country long stymied by economic problems.
Many students are accustomed to the traditional university experience where they learn how to retain information and pass exams, but have little knowledge on how to succeed in the broader world, said Marla Chaneta, paNhari’s operations officer.
Its incubator programme gives young people knowledge to apply at work or in self-employment such as perseverance, motivation, risk aversion, self-esteem and self-control.
“It has become increasingly evident that the strengthening of non-cognitive skills alone will not suffice as students need support not only in resources but also believing in their abilities to excel and impact on the growth of a nation,” said Chaneta.
She said the programme allowed students the opportunity to excel through mentorships with captains of industry while providing a safe setting agreeable to personal development.
“The presence of those who have gone before and have experienced success has grown individual confidence and is greatly assisting in the redefinition and growth of projects and ideas,” Chaneta concluded.
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