A must-consult, Didier Acouetey is the expert on issues related to employment, training and SMEs in Africa. Precursor, he founded the AfricSearch cabinet twenty years ago to answer the African brain drain. His creed: value African skills.
Thanks to Africsearch, you are one of the pioneers who bet on Africa, by the promotion of skills, at a time marked by Afropessimism. Why was it so important?
At the time, we were students in Paris. We campaigned for the pan-African cause united in the association «African Renaissance», of which I was a member with several African executives in the mid-1990s. Through our work, we realized that the rebirth of the continent will pass through the human resources. A question at the heart of Africa’s development. This led us to create AfricSearch. At that time, no one was betting on the continent but we were counting on the big changes to come which we were actors. European societies did not necessarily believe that this elite, this African skill existed at the time. And we returned the issue to them in a form a question: «What about us, what are we? ». It was about demonstrating that talents exist and make them available to Africa. Especially at that time, these multinationals were doing an Africanization of their teams present in Africa, another opportunity for African executives.
Since then, you have been focusing on entrepreneurship and training. What do you think are the skills needed by the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
I emphasize two things. The first is the need to strengthen technical and scientific training. Today, the institutes estimate that only 2 to 3% of Africans are trained in these sectors. However, we see that science and new technologies are at the heart of all current transformations. Innovation remains the key to accelerating development. But Africa is not training enough in these sectors. Then the second element is the need to train differently. The finding is twofold: 80% of new businesses that will exist in the next fifteen years are not yet known, according to the study of an American think tank with Dell Company, as well as 30% of skills. The way we train Africans must integrate the issue of adaptability, openness and entrepreneurial capacity. These basic trends must structure the way in which training on the continent should be considered.
Confronted with more challenges, should women be given specific support?
No. These big trends apply to women and men. That said, we notice that women have a very developed entrepreneurial spirit in Africa. Even if they have not necessarily studied. This is the story of the Nana Benz, most have not studied and yet they have developed a sense of trade formidable. How to assist them to create champions as we see in men? There is no such thing as luck. Funding for women entrepreneurship needs to be reviewed. Banks need to take inspiration from the concept of tontines, which is part of African culture to imagine new forms of financing for women. In an environment dominated by men, we must value the entrepreneurial experiences of women. Disseminate these success stories and theorize them. Many scientific elements can be drawn from these exceptional achievements. Women need to be more involved in the lives of the chambers of commerce and share their experience. We must reinvent the chain of training, pedagogy, transmission of know-how, theorization and instruments, assistance for this women entrepreneurship. Especially since women adapt much faster to change than men.
With the SME forum that you have initiated, it is about giving visibility to African champions in the making, both men and women
Indeed. And I realize that women have an extraordinary capacity for resilience. Because the environment does not necessarily favor their development, because the financing tools, specific support do not exist … Getting in this ecosystem and to make its business flourish with the D system – like hustling – requires a strong capacity to rebound and innovate. In addition, it should be noted that most women entrepreneurs operate in the informal sector. Much more than men. We can change these situations to turn them into champions thanks to specific support. The question lies in financing in order to action lever effect. A career path like that of Marie Konaté, CEO of PKL (Protein Kissée-La), remain an example. You have to be Wonder Woman to survive in this context. Women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa remain invisible. In our forums, we try to integrate a maximum of women. For the moment, we are reaching a rate of 30%. It is not sufficient. Women need to be at the forefront. In the past two years, women won the SME of the Year Award!
Set up these platforms, SME forum, WIA Initiative, to connect, support and value women, is this the purpose?
These networks first make it possible to value the talent of these women and to accept that they deserve at least a treatment equivalent to men, or even differentiated. The fact remains that women still face more challenges, so we should not discriminate them more, if not positively. Things have to move in that direction.