Sunday Magazine

Foundation lifts Abia youths with entrepreneurship grants

 

It was a dream come true for Abia youth entrepreneurs who had struggled to establish their businesses after they had acquired the requisite skills. Funding is critical in the quest for self establishment among the youths after acquiring a skill.

 

Great ideas that could transform into wealth for the individual and society are in most cases, stalled by lack of funding. It is no longer news that unemployment is one of the major social and economic challenges that has remained intractable over the years in Nigeria. Measures taken by the government to reverse the trend have not yielded the desired effect.

 

Though the aphorism that government cannot provide everything for the people remains true, yet it is still the responsibility of government to provide the enabling environment for individual creativity and innovation to thrive. In order to bridge the huge unemployment gap individuals and organisations have taken initiatives to assist those who lack the resources to power their entrepreneurial flair.

 

It is in recognition of the fact that government alone cannot provide employment for the teeming youths; the difficulty in accessing facilities from financial institutions; the restiveness of idle youths emanating from frustration and hopelessness; and the propensity to crime when there is nothing to engage the energetic youthful population, that a Non- Governmental Organization, Foundation for Youth’s Creativity and Empowerment (YCE Foundation) provided financial incentives to over 20 youth entrepreneurs in Umuahia, Abia State capital, recently.

 

The event organised and executed without much hype, was one of its kinds. Aside the first, second and third prize winners who went home with a cheque for #500,000, #200,000 and #100,000 respectively all the participants went home with #20,000 each. The grant, according to the organisers, is to enable them grow and expand their businesses to the point of employing and empowering others.

Driven by a combination of passion and compassion, the Abia born, youthful Executive Director of YCE Foundation, Zimchim Andrea, said it was a matter of concern that youths were wasting the productive years in idleness and therefore had to support them financially to interpret their dreams of not only being gainfully engaged but creating the environment that will engage others thereby reducing unemployment, political slavery and the consequential anti – social behaviours.

 

It is of interest that the entrepreneurs who took turn to make presentations on their fields of engagement were either university graduates or undergraduates. They had acquired the skill after or during their years in school. But to all of them, they had reached the point where further progress or expansion became difficult without fund.

 

The participants came from different fields of endeavour ranging from agriculture, garment and leather works to food processing. Others had skills in perfume making, internet/online marketing and fast food business.

 

They had sent their entries earlier to the organisers who assessed them based on set criteria. The star prize winner of N500,000, Princess Ebubechi Shola Olaleye, while making her presentation unveiled the employment and revenue potentials of food processing and preservation.

 

According to her, sadly it is among the neglected sectors. She disclosed that the sector has a revenue potential of N10 billion annually. Olaleye, a graduate of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU), Abia State, said she was shocked by the level of food wastage in the country even when it has yet to attend food sufficiency.

 

Olaleye who resides in the commercial city of Aba, Abia State, with her husband, her partner in the business, also disclosed that 40% of foods in Nigeria get wasted. The development, she said, tasked their creativity and they began to think of how to reduce the wastage through processing.

 

She said: “Now we are providing access to processed foods and storage. We recognized the lapse in food packaging and processing and we took advantage of it. And our processed foods are natural, no preservatives, no additives.” She explained that at the moment, instead of seeking to be employees, they are employing others including the rural women who hitherto left their unsold items to rot and waste.

 

The mother of one, who was visibly overjoyed at the grant, said she had prayed and looked forward to a day when she would have the money she needed to transform her business. She said they would deploy the money in actualising their dream of establishing a standard food processing and preserving enterprise. The grant will also help them recruit more hands and reduce unemployment.

 

The second prize winner of N200, 000, Ikefuama Okechukwu’s passion is in making shoes that can compete in quality and beauty with world class shoe factories. Okechukwu said he was challenged to embark on the production of quality shoes by the tag of inferiority placed on Aba made shoes.

 

“I was spurred into footwear making to change the notion that Aba made is inferior. My vision is to make quality products that are at the same time affordable. My target is to be the producer and distributor of the brand in Africa and the world.” Like the first prize winner, Okechukwu is a university graduate and also plies his trade in Aba.

 

He said he was motivated when he saw that people could pay the high price for foreign footwear and reject local products as inferior. Upon the realisation, he horned his skill, which he acquired in the Ariaria shoe plaza in Aba, after graduation. Now he is not only self employed, he is looking to expand his scope to international boundaries.

 

The third prize of N100,000, went to a fast food entrant. Incidentally, he was the last to present his proposal yet he won to the amazement of other participants. With the grant he poised to compete with notable franchises in the industry.

 

How did YCE Foundation get the vision? According to Andrea, the journey for the actualisation of the Foundation’s vision had been long and tortuous but rewarding. “For me, the journey started really long time ago when I was in school. I saw that idle hands are indeed the devil’s workshop.

 

Early this year, I just finished my college and I came back to Nigeria and coming into the country, seeing the dire situation everyone was in was worrisome. I worked around the project. The unemployment we have in Nigeria is one of the major problems.

 

And because we have a leadership problem I saw a need to sensitize the people to their political rights. But not just the political rights as what the  government can do for the people, you start getting people to think of what they can do for their communities themselves if they have the resources.”

 

She believes that political rights awareness/ empowerment among youths cannot be achieved in isolation of economic empowerment. She thinks that for youths to take their proper place in the political sphere they must be financially empowered. Otherwise the tendency to continue to mortgage their future will grow with the pervading hopelessness.

 

With the offer of N5000 or even less, they sell their votes not knowing it is their dream life they batter. Andrea said: “Our aim is to raise people who not only empower themselves but also have a means of empowering their communities.

 

For instance, the first prize winner, the reason she won is because apart from the people she hires by herself, she also goes through the process of hiring contract workers.

 

So depending on the volume of work, she goes into the community and she looks for old women who have nothing to do and she gives them something to do.

 

That’s the kind of people we are looking for. So we know that by empowering her, we are not just empowering her alone, we are empowering a whole community and as she grows that community grows. And that is what we are looking for as we go forward with the project.”

 

The YCE Foundation Executive Director said she had done similar empowerment across the world including Ireland and USA where she had her tertiary education, and plans to expand subsequent empowerment projects especially with increased donor response.

 

“We were fortunate enough to get the Swiss Embassy to give us our first big grant. And going through this based on the feedback we receive from them we can go for more donors.

 

The more money we have the more we can do. No one person, not even Dangote, can solve the problem of Nigeria alone. “We want people to know what their rights are as citizens when it comes to the political space, but we also want them to know that you cannot leave everything to government.

 

So as individuals you decide the things you can help in your community. And of course, people can’t come out and start talking about politics if they are hungry.”

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