West Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (WASEN) is a community of African Entrepreneurs devoted to decreasing youth unemployment by empowering job seekers to become job creators. WASEN also support the entrepreneurs through research, quality training, and mentorship.
We had the opportunity to email interview the founder of WASEN, Isaac Aggrey, who’s part of the Africans Building Africa movement:
- What event led to the start of WASEN?
Africa most especially sub-Saharan Africa currently faces chronic unemployment problem, especially for youth under age 35. In the face of this chronic unemployment, the youth feel disempowered, frustrated and disoriented. This has key implications for political, social and economic instability as can be evidenced by the global increase in protest in other continent, many fueled by youth frustration and unemployment.
The growing youth bulge and impending youth unemployment is leading to a host of social ills ranging from rural-urban population migration, exacerbation of traditional gender disparities, and environmental degradation as unsustainable natural resource management practices are used in order to simply earn a living.
Graduate unemployment is gradually becoming endemic but contrary to the thinking that governments’ failure to create more jobs is the sole reason for the high rate of graduate unemployment, the institutions that have been mandated to train these graduates for the job market have also played a huge role in denying the graduates they train in order to be employed.
One of the most important factors contributing to youth unemployment in Ghana is the relatively low levels of skills among young people. The Youth need to be prepared to redefine “jobs” based on shifting opportunities and continue to adapt to bridge the skills-opportunity gap. To do that, the youth have to cultivate and exercise the skills of the future that can help them create solutions for complex problems while in turn bringing value to the labor market and creating demand for their skills.
Acquiring these much-needed skills, leadership (courage and confidence as initiators), hands-on problem-solving (creativity, agency for change making and critical thinking) and teamwork will enable young people to be at the helm of reconstruction and development of Ghana.
The long-term solution to Ghana’s unemployment crisis is to create a nation of entrepreneurs and not a nation of job-seekers and thus necessitated the founding of West Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (WASEN).
WASEN seek to reverse the youth unemployment trend through appropriate research, quality training and the relevant mentorship programs that respond to the needs of entrepreneurial development of young people.
Entrepreneurship has been the critical engine of economic growth in many developed nations. It has been a key driver of innovation, creating new industries, and opening new markets that promote job creation yet in Ghana, not only is the environment challenging, but there is also a widespread culture that does not recognize or reward entrepreneurial endeavors. This is due to the fact that entrepreneurship has not been celebrated as a preferred career path.
Current initiatives to promote youth entrepreneurship, mentorship and financial support are mostly based in developed countries, making youth programs patchy and of limited relevance due to the costs involved in the transfer of skills. Access to capital and financial support for youth entrepreneurship development in Ghana remain major obstacles and have alluded to the shallow and limited understanding of entrepreneurship activities relative to counterparts in developed nations
Isaac Aggrey founded WASEN after his executive MBA program.
- Who are your donors or are you self-sustaining?
WASEN currently do not have any donor support but has offered a wide range of revenue-generating services to support social enterprises, SME and start-up growth whiles delivery reasonably priced services (training, resources, information, conducting surveys, conferences, roundtables, accounting, legal, registration, partner search etc.)
- What are the key growth, successes and challenges of WASEN?
The youth of Ghana lack the necessary skills-set and the financial might to earn a decent living. Some of these young people strive to start their own business but profit-motivated financial institutions are less inclined to help them because they lack collateral as well as the experience of handling loans. These challenges, coupled with the lack of investable enterprises, highlight the need to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem and increase the number of enterprises particularly youth enterprises that can eventually become self-sustaining in the long term.
It is based on this that WASEN Ghana initiated series of entrepreneurial training programmes targeted at unemployed youth, SMEs, Start-ups, young entrepreneurs and students to inspire and encourage them to develop and take initiatives, responsibility and respond to the societal challenges. Participants become more knowledgeable about business and financial responsibility.
While finance is the main central theme, participants also learn about entrepreneurship, leadership, marketing, relationship-building and other valuable concepts and insights related to the business world.
The training program is organized, prepared and conducted using Beginners Learning Methodologies that comprise sets of training techniques and also taking into consideration special needs of young people with no prior knowledge of business.
It is aim at motivating participants to consider entrepreneurship as an alternative and a viable option for self employment and wealth creation. Participants involved in training are imparted with skills on various areas of new venture creation. They gain skills, knowledge and motivation to start and run their own businesses. It is envisaged that, by the end of the training program, participants should be able to produce and submit bankable business plans that would be submitted to our network of impact investors and other financial institutions for further support.
As a national organization, working to influence policy outcomes, and working with others to better understand the concept of social entrepreneurship has become extremely challenging.
- What is the current position of WASEN?
As WASEN aspires to be a great regional network of social entrepreneur’s and enterprises, we recognize the tremendous impact that partnerships can have on developmental issues and we therefore commit to working together with businesses, civil society, SMEs, government and investors to meet a shared objective.
Consequently, WASEN Ghana is a partner to the Accra Regional Leadership Center in support of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), and has collaborated with European Union Young 20 (EUY20), an official youth engagement group of the G20, Global Partnership for Youth in the post-2015 Development Agenda (GPY2015), Africa 2.0, United Nations World We Want program, and impact investors to scale the development impact of youth initiatives and local entrepreneurs across Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa.
- How many members do you have? Do you cover all the countries in West Africa? If not, where are you active?
WASEN is deeply involved in building consensus with other stakeholders needed to promote growth, create wealth and sustained socio-economic prosperity particularly for social enterprises in sub-Sahara Africa. It is a membership based organization and currently operates from Ghana only with over 300 start-ups, SMEs and social enterprises as its members.
- What are your current areas of focus?
WASEN focuses on issues of poverty, inequality and good governance to achieve meaningful and measurable impact. Our commitment is to nurture innovation, pioneer new fields, expands access to resources, and ultimately generates sustainable impact for women and young people.
- How active is WASEN in policy forums in the different countries?
Many young people in Ghana have raised criticism towards the design, planning and the formulation of national policies, especially the youth policy as it fails to meet the appropriate plan of action. The role of policies must aim at strengthening the involvement of citizens particularly the youth; however development of policies have become more of a framework than a concrete action plan that meets the needs of the citizenry and promotes the expectation of their sustainable development.
Young people account for nearly 40% of the 25 million inhabitants in Ghana who lack access to basic services. The youth make up the majority of the population yet development issues disproportionately affect them.
This program is designed to engage young people in identifying their needs and diagnosing the challenges they perceive in their localities in order to inform public policy for review.
The program feels keenly responsible to engage the youth of Ghana in participatory leadership in order to prepare them for greater opportunities in the future.
The ultimate goal is to close the feedback loop by adding citizen’s voice in decision making to advance development goals in Ghana. To do this, a platform is created for productivity, service reform using citizen-centric web and mobile technology within a more holistic user experience. WASEN has promoted discussions on various topics of interests incorporating views and aspirations of ordinary citizens to drive improved policy formulation on each specific area and has gained valuable feedback to improve services across government departments and agencies.
WASEN is a member of the Open Government Partnership supplier community and has been researching in new kinds of technological, citizen engagement projects and are increasingly working in networks and coalitions, such as Open Parliaments, Open Contracting, Open Data, Open Legislature, Extractive Industries and Fiscal Open Working groups building the standards and political will necessary for effective transparency through disclosure.
These groups hold the promise of radically transforming the way government and societies work in order to analyze and solve governance challenges related to transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.
- Do you have a formal office? How many employees do you have? Do you have branch offices?
Our main office is situated in Accra, Ghana. The member team consists of 10 visionary entrepreneurs, passionate about transforming their communities.
- How do you see WASEN into the future?
Creating social change in Africa takes time and lots of effort and there are real challenges around identifying the most powerful levers for change and allocating organizational resources accordingly to get the best returns / results.
Africa is seeing a new operating models and new ways of thinking about social problems (such as social impact investing), and that has been a very positive development by WASEN’s work.
Initiatives created by WASEN have become much more innovative and agile as a result and now better understands the challenges faced by marginalized communities.
WASEN seeks to develop a new financial products designed and matched to social enterprises, SMEs and start-ups with ability to pay, thereby allowing the capital to “go to work” and reducing risk of default for the impact investors and foresees this as a model to revolutionize the way funding is apportioned to support social enterprises, start-ups and SMEs in Africa.
WASEN is tirelessly taking action to ensure a developmentally sound and innovative future for African women and young leaders. WASEN aims to open various centers of learning and professional development to support women and young leaders of Africa.
WASEN further seek to solve community and broader development problems and therefore would work in close partnership with other stakeholders – private sector, government, civil society and the development community – to leverage significant funds and align complementary programs in order to achieve impactful goals.
- Do you think it’s better to operate as a regional network or do you think it would be better to have various networks for each country?
The key thing is identifying areas where social enterprises and entrepreneurs can work together to solve shared problems regionally. The Social Entrepreneurship concept needs to be understood properly so regional networks everywhere could innovate and improve over time.
We also need social entrepreneurs in these regions who are very passionate and well prepared to achieve real results as well as impactful goals in each region.
Limited regional integration has been a constraint on Africa’s ability to accelerate equitable growth. Closer regional integration will help tackle the region’s most pressing supply-side constraints by enlarging markets, generating economies of scale in provision of public goods and services while facilitating greater global trade alliance.
The formation of African Social Entrepreneurs Network (ASEN) seeks to foster the decentralized but coordinated development of Social Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprises, SMEs & the African Social Economy. It will do this through the explicit mandate from its core affiliates, South Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (SASEN), East Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (EASEN), West Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (WASEN), Central Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (CASEN) and North Africa Social Entrepreneurs Network (NASEN).
The main goal is to ensure that ASEN’s objectives are guided by the most effective way of supporting regional SEs to achieve their corporate aims, and the long term development of the Social Economy across Africa come through.