How Youths In Malawi Are Embracing Entrepreneurship To Secure Their Future
Idrissa Usher Hussein, 26, founded Climax Fashion Designs in 2015, a business that specializes in designing and sewing both male and female attire.
Hussein says he started as a young tailor on a microscopic scale with a US$100 capital and a sewing machine he had bought in South Africa and another given to him by his father.
“In 2011, I went to South Africa to work as it is common among most Malawians,” Hussein recounted.
While in South Africa, he convinced himself to learn design, a field he has been passionate about since childhood.
“Then I enrolled with Bow Africa Fashion; I was working while at the same time doing school,” he told RuralReporters.
After completing his education, Hussein returned to Malawi and opened a tailoring shop.
“At first, I was doing it at home, but when my customers were multiplying I had to find a shop,” he said.
The support he received from his father in addition to his savings helped him refocus his business.
“I had a second-hand sewing machine that I bought in South Africa and another one that was once used by my father. I had MWk75 000 (US$100) as Capital, I used MWK50 000 (US$67) to pay for two months’ rent for a shop and MWK25 000 (US$33) for materials,” Hussein explained.
Hussein says setting up a foundation for his business was not that easy. Many times he considered giving up the idea due to difficulty in building trust with new customers and the discouragement from friends.
“It wasn’t easy at my age for people to trust me with their work,” Hussein said. “Also finding good materials for my work at first wasn’t easy, and finally my mates were mocking me that I’m running a business meant for older people, and that was a huge discouragement for me to [the] extent that I nearly quit.”
Personal determination and resilience kept the Malawian entrepreneur on track amid these challenges and others attacking businesses in Malawi, such as persistent power outages and competition from similar trades.
“Since I let go of discouraging comments from friends, things are moving better, and my life has changed for the better though some challenges still exist,” Hussein said.
He added, “Right now I do business with people across Malawi, and sometimes I receive orders from outside Malawi, South Africa to be specific.”
Hussein has created employment and a secure livelihood for himself and other youths in Malawi who work for him. He currently has three employees of which two are on a permanent basis, while one is learning on the job.
Hussein has become a big advocate for youth entrepreneurship. His vision is to continue growing and expanding his business while at the same time providing skills development as well as mentorship to young people who think they do not have the potential to achieve what he has achieved.
“It is possible for Malawian youths to excel in business. All that is needed is hard work; I once doubted that it is not possible to develop a business in Malawi, but now I am a living example,” he said.
Malawi is currently facing a serious youth unemployment crisis with the highest working poverty rate in the world. According to the report of the National Statistical Office and International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2013, only 11.3 percent of the working population was in a formal employment and the figures for those under 35 are worse.
With formal employment providing opportunities to the few that have formal education though, with meager salaries, some young Malawians are looking to agriculture, migration, and entrepreneurship as alternative means to securing their future.
But agriculture is not the first choice for many. Although the sector contributes 80 percent to the country’s economy, it is often shunned by youths who prefer to migrate to neighboring countries to seek greener pastures.
Hussein’s entrepreneurship journey and that of many others are proving to be a sustainable way to fight the growing unemployment and youth poverty in Malawi.
“If we go the entrepreneurship way, we will be solving some other challenges that young people face,” said Agatha Njunga Silungwe, regional program coordinator of Network for Youth Development.
She says many young people embrace social vices and risk behaviors such as prostitution to secure their future because they do not have or know about better options.
“So if we empower young people so that they are economically independent I think we will be solving a lot of other challenges that young people face,” she said.
Making resources such as start-up loans and fostering an enabling environment for small-scale businesses would be proper incentives to promote youth entrepreneurship, she said.
Young people can also thrive by combining resources with peers to start a new venture or expand an existing one.
Zenak Matekenya, 34, is a pioneering partner of Zakwathu Communications, a multi-media company based in the commercial city of Blantyre, a company that he co-founded with 34-years old Mike Mataka and 25-years-old Charles Kabena.
“Before 2015, each one of us had [pieces of] equipment and was doing his own business focusing on small events like weddings, birthday parties and engagement ceremonies,” said Matekenya. “In 2015, the three of us agreed to come together and form one company, and that was after a year of discussions.”
Setting up was not that difficult for the team because each already had the tools they needed to do the work.
“We just brought the equipment together, got our company registered, and off we started,” he explained.
Matekenya said the idea of coming together enabled them to venture into bigger projects. Although they are yet to create permanent employment opportunities for other youths, the company offer part time jobs on a regular basis.
For Matekenya, there is still a lot of gaps in the area of promoting youth entrepreneurship in Malawi.
He says, “I feel like there is a gap. Loans are not easily accessible in banks and money rendering institutions [because] of the collateral needed for someone to qualify for a loan.”
“A good number of youths are willing to venture into entrepreneurship all they need is motivation – like making loans accessible and incorporate a component of entrepreneurship training,” Matekenya said.
He added, “Government should [increase] their efforts in an era where youth unemployment is rising by allocating a fund supporting youth entrepreneurship and avoid politicizing it. Non-governmental institutions should also come in and help.”
Matekenya said that aside from these interventions by government and non-governmental organizations, youths should strive to start their businesses from scratch.
“As youths, they should not just be idle, they need to be innovative and think big. They should venture into entrepreneurship with the little they can afford and after that wait for assistance to grow,” he said. “There are people who started small and are now big so as youths they need to emulate that.”
“Also, no man is an island so they should consider coming together as a group and work together if they are to succeed,” he said.
The Government of Malawi has put in place different programs to promote youth entrepreneurship.
They once introduced a special fund, Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDEF), that was meant for youths to access loans for their businesses but the plan did not succeed as some of those that received loans defaulted in their repayment.
Henry Mussa, Minister of Labor, Youth, Sports, and Manpower Development, says with what happened with the fund they have for the meantime shifted their attention to entrepreneurship skills development.
“What the government is saying is that not all of our youths are skilled entrepreneurs, most of them have no skills on how to run a business, so the government is now teaching or introducing skills development in entrepreneurship through community-technical colleges,” Mussa said.
In Community Technical Colleges, youths are taught practical skills in ICT, tailoring, plumbing, and welding.
“Each college there [has] an entrepreneurship subject,” he said.
Mussa says tackling the burdens associated with raising capital for youths to start a business plan will become a priority for the government only after young people are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to run a business.
“The question of capital has a challenge before you understand how to run a business, government is saying we cannot continue giving out money as we did with YEDEF, where we lost a lot of money in billions there because money went to youths who had no idea on how to run a business,” he explained.
“So this time around we are starting with teaching them how to run a business from there then we will look at how to access financing. You may have heard that Malawi government soon will be establishing Malawi Development Bank and we also have Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (MERDEF), in all these there shall be a window for youths to borrow money for their businesses at reasonable interest rates,” Mussa said.
The government also have plans to reach out to youths in rural areas and those without formal education but who have the potential to excel in business.
“There are youths that have inborn talents; soon there shall be a collection of data to know who is doing what so that we subject them to cash programs on entrepreneurship skills, once they go through that program they will be receiving certificates qualifying them to tender processes and access to loans,” Mussa said.