Government focuses on entrepreneurship to counter joblessness

The government of Cameroon has introduced a student entrepreneur programme to promote entrepreneurship in its higher education system, including public and private higher institutions.

According to the Minister of Higher Education, Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo, the initiative was inspired by a 2001 law which orientates the higher education sector and lays down mechanisms for the development of the entrepreneurial spirit of young students.

In a document detailing the framework of the student entrepreneur programme, the minister said the project “aims, among other things, to strengthen the practical training of students, to promote the socio-professional integration of graduates in innovative and competitive sectors and to encourage the creation of businesses”.

In more hands-on terms, key elements of the programme entail access to various training or coaching sessions organised by business incubators, access to a group workspace (co-working), a flexible timetable, considering the possibility that the business creation project becomes a graduation project, personalised support and follow-up by academic and professional supervisors, participation in additional training sessions, particularly in the field of business creation, business management, law copyright, participation in seminars and conferences related to business creation and support in finding funding sources.

The initiative comes at a time when the higher education ministry is acknowledging the need to support innovative business ideas, given that university graduates find it difficult to gain employment after graduation.

According to the World Bank, youth unemployment in Cameroon stood at 6.64% in 2021. University graduates form part of the figure, which is why the government hopes that helping students become entrepreneurs while studying can lead to a paradigm shift.

Education stakeholders are hopeful

“It’s a good initiative. If well implemented, it could help young Cameroonians in universities to gain employment,” says Njijong Marcelus, the rector of JSF Polytechnic, a private higher education institute in Buea. He is optimistic that the programme will empower students in his school, who are already benefitting from some in-house entrepreneurial training.

Kudi Honore Bache, a nursing student at JSF Polytechnic is no stranger to the business world. He was a poultry farmer but decided to return to school when his business crumbled just two years after its creation.

“It failed because I had little knowledge and limited capital. The location of the business was also not favourable,” Bache told University World News.

However, with the coming of the student entrepreneur programme, he looks forward to benefitting from the scheme so he can revive his failed business.

Through the programme, approved student entrepreneurs will be supported in finding sources of funding and will also be trained in aspects such as business plan design and project presentation techniques.

“I will apply for the programme,” Bache revealed, adding that “my main goal is to minimise unemployment and to help develop business ideas for other people who have limited knowledge of starting up a business. I also want to contribute to the economic growth of the country.”

He believes his business would be successful after benefitting from the year-long programme, because he would have been well trained by his assigned supervisor and tutors.

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint for socio-economic prosperity and peace. The Ministry of Higher Education believes the businesses to be created through the student entrepreneur programme will contribute to Cameroon’s economic growth and development, thereby supporting the country’s dream of emergence by 2035.

While rolling out the scheme, some higher education stakeholders say they will take into consideration aspects such as fighting against poverty and hunger, while also promoting quality education, decent work and economic growth, as prescribed by the SDGs.

“It’s important that we use the SDGs to orientate the students to get into whatever they want to do… When selecting our students for the programme, we have to guide them to make sure they work in line with the goals,” Marcelus emphasised.

He also said special attention will be paid to students in bakery and food processing, whose projects would likely centre on food transformation. “There’s a lot of food wastage in Cameroon, so we want to see people add value to raw food.”

To Shaveline Ngowo, a student in bakery and food processing, benefitting from the programme will enable her to fulfil her desire of giving back to the community once she becomes financially independent as an entrepreneur. In particular, she wants to help in the fight against poverty in her community.

“I don’t feel good when I see others get stuck, and I want to be a helping hand to many,” Ngowo said. “With me being sponsored in my particular domain, I believe I’ll help the community, especially those stranded and frustrated in the conflict-hit zones,” she added.

A challenging venture

While university students nurture high ambitions for the programme, award-winning entrepreneur and business coach, Dr Javnyuy Joybert cautions them to beware of possible challenges they would likely face.

“Challenges can scale from funding issues, tough competition, economic hardship and inflation,” he noted, advising that the student entrepreneurs “anticipate some of these challenges and have a plan of action on how you’re going to circumvent them, adapt and keep your business running.”

In order to thrive in their businesses, Javnyuy also recommends; “understand your terrain, economy and country. Read the tax law, tax code, finance law and regulations governing your industry.”

As universities start to roll out the student entrepreneur programme, some officials are urging the Ministry of Higher Education to select experienced professionals to run the incubation centres and train the student entrepreneurs, for the programme to be more efficient and sustainable.