Guinea Youth Success Story

Dare to InnovateFounder Wiatta in Guinea Classroom.jpg

Since  2013  Dare to Innovate, a nonprofit youth-led movement to end unemployment in West Africa , has been bringing youth into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Africa has a youth unemployment crisis. According to the World Bank, 66% of young people in Africa are unemployed and underemployed. Not only does this lack of employment negatively affect the young person in the here and now, but being unemployed when you are young is associated with lifelong unemployment and if they do find work eventually, a lifelong reduction of wages. It sets off a cycle of generational poverty. It is more than a crisis. It is a tragedy to rob young people of the opportunity to put their skills and energy into building a future for themselves, their families, and their countries.

 In the Republic of Guinea, where Wiatta Thomas and Meghan McCormick served as Community Economic Development Volunteers in the Peace Corps, the stats are even more stark; 70% of young people are out of work or education and even more are underemployed. Wiatta and Meghan bonded their first night in Guinea. Despite having just completed a near two-day journey, the two stayed up late into the night discussing how entrepreneurship could be a tool for inclusive economic development. It was not just the start, as they say, of a beautiful friendship, but a lifelong partnership to create the conditions for youth entrepreneurs across West Africa to thrive. During their two years of Peace Corps service, Wiatta and Meghan along with 5 other volunteers and partners from local nonprofits and private enterprises, founded Dare to Innovate.Co founder Meghan with New School founder.jpg

Dare to Innovate (DTI) is a nonprofit youth-led movement to end unemployment in West Africa through investments in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In 2013, DTI ran its first accelerator program for 21 young people from across Guinea. “At the time, we didn’t call it an accelerator. We didn’t know what that was. We called it Dare to Innovate: The Conference for Social Entrepreneurship,” said Meghan. What made their program unique was that it searched for “positive deviants” who had the drive to use for-profit businesses to solve social problems in their community. They didn’t come into the program with an idea, but rather built their concept during the program through an ideation process that DTI developed. In that first class, businesses were started in the food security, education, public health, and waste management sectors. Despite Guinea being a really difficult market for entrepreneurs, many are still operating today. One entrepreneur, Darius Barry, is now the largest employer in his hometown of Dalaba, Guinea. To date, Dare to Innovate has trained 8,000 entrepreneurs and invested in 65 companies which are currently employing over 400 people.

That was the beginning of DTI, but as innovation is in our DNA, we have continued to adapt our programming to amplify our impact. Our core accelerator program is great for a small percentage of youth who have an entrepreneurial mindset and have the capacity and resources to grow an idea into a company employing 10 or more peers. DTI wanted to also create solutions for young people who are more likely to succeed in self-employment rather than as employers. Across the African continent, most small businesses are actually sole-proprietorships meaning they do not create employment for anyone except the owner-operator. This model generates income, but rarely is able to achieve a scale and the standardization necessary to create wealth. DTI’s Social Franchise model aims to change that.

Through our Social Franchise model, DTI designs a value chain for a specific product and our entrepreneurs own a unit of production within that value chain. While entrepreneurs focus on production, we are able to use our scale and influence to purchase inputs at bulk prices, standardize processes and products, and negotiate profitable end-buying contracts with commercial buyers, developing the rest of the value chain. By creating an economy of shared services, we increase access to resources and reduce costs for energy, water, space and human resources. And the entrepreneur still owns their own business!

DTI’s flagship Social Franchise is Urban Aquaponics. We train young people to be AquaFarmers who collectively own a system which grows high-value, niche produce which is typically imported into Guinea, for consumption at upscale hotels and restaurants, thereby increasing revenues for AquaFarmers and repatriating money spent in international markets, while reducing carbon emissions due to importations. Each 12’ x12’ Aquafarm creates employment for 5 youth and our pilot Aquafarm has trained 25 young women to become franchisees, currently supplying 3 of the top hotels and restaurants in Conakry. Profits from a single franchise give each franchisee 4 times the average salary in Guinea. DTI also runs SOUGUIPAIN, a social franchise bakery and AgriHub Foods which produces dried fruits and other agricultural products.Guinea Greenhouse.jpg

What’s especially exciting about the Social Franchise model is that the start up costs for a franchise are only between $5,000 - $25,000 per franchisee allowing for individuals and smaller donors to sponsor the start-up costs of a franchise. Once the model has been sufficiently de-risked, the private sector can finance these costs through the lease of start-up kits or other debt agreements.

“Our adapted social franchising concept allows us to support more young people to have decent employment opportunities with real incomes that give them the ability to support their families and communities, becoming actors in the development of their country,” said Wiatta. In the West African context, the future of economic development rests in developing sustainable value chains. Dare to Innovate believes that social franchising and shared economies even the playing field giving more young people and women access to resources and opportunities and is working to prove it.

Article provided by:

Jim Louttit

RAGCED Past President


Read count: 227