The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) brought nine entrepreneurs within its Youth-Led Entrepreneurship Portfolio to Washington, D.C. and Maryland this month for a week of workshops and Congressional meetings. The group is among the most impactful young men and women USADF has invested in during recent years, and they represent the agency’s continued support of the U.S. government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
Hailing from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda, this group of YALI Fellows’ visit was the culmination of an eight-month business practicum they participated in with the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and QUEST Honors Program. USADF staff worked with university faculty to develop the curriculum, and the YALI Fellows began the Entrepreneurial Problem Solving and Innovation Practicum last October online from their home countries.
The YALI group spent the next several months engaging with university faculty (Dr. Joe Bailey, Dr. Christina Elson, and Dr. Rajshree Agarwal) and dozens of QUEST students through emails, conference calls, and video sessions. Divided into teams, the students advised the entrepreneurs on areas such as quality management, process improvement, system design, and strategy concepts. Examples included helping the YALI Fellows improve their marketing materials and investor pitch decks, as well as researching their business markets to make recommendations as to whether they should raise or lower the prices of their products.
Kémo Touré Jr. is a YALI Fellow from Senegal who participated in the QUEST program. He’s the founder and CEO of Wutiko, a digital platform for job searching and professional networking (read a 2018 USADF article about Kemo and his startup). From the beginning of the practicum with the university, he knew the area in which he wanted to utilize the students.
“I knew that marketing is one of my challenges; I don’t have a marketing background,” Kémo said. “But today, marketing is the number one priority for Wutiko. I shared as much info as I could with the students, and they started working on a marketing strategy. I got a lot of feedback from them. Their recommendations were very critical – some recommendations we already knew, but the fact that we got all of these fresh ideas about Wutiko is very valuable. I’m going to work on applying some of these concepts.”
The university hosted an evening reception for the QUEST students and YALI Fellows. USADF President and CEO C.D. Glin greeted them at the event, thanking the students and fellows for their commitment and the university for its valuable partnership in this inaugural program.
USADF wanted to make the most of the young entrepreneurs’ visit to the Washington, D.C. area so, in addition to the group’s commitments at the university, their schedules included meetings at USADF’s office and on Capitol Hill (the fellows also enjoyed a Saturday of touring national monuments and museums).
USADF hosted a lunch-and-learn, inviting all staff to learn more about the YALI group. Each entrepreneur gave an “elevator pitch” on his or her company and fielded questions from USADF staff. A few days later, three of the YALI Fellows had the opportunity to present their work to USADF’s Board of Directors.
USADF also coordinated meetings with the staffs of several U.S. Congress members, taking a select group of YALI Fellows to Capitol Hill for meetings across two days. Congress appropriates funds to USADF each year, so this was a chance for Capitol Hill to get a glimpse of the significant impact U.S. tax dollars have, via USADF’s programs, in creating prosperity and stability and developing future trading partners in Africa.
Adjo Dede Asare, CEO of Alfie Designs, is one of two YALI Fellows who USADF flew in from Ghana for the week. The meetings on Capitol Hill had a profound effect on her.
“For me, it’s been an eye-opener to see – the seed capital that was given to me – where it came from, and the people who actually thought about it to put it into law,” Adjo said. “I feel [the U.S. Congress] wants to do more for Africa, and they really want to understand what this funding is doing for us. As USADF is giving to individual African entrepreneurs, for us to be able to explain our lives, explain our stories and the changes we’re making has really been a blessing for me.”
The USADF YALI Fellows who completed the QUEST program are:
Founder, Shepherds’ Mills
Adjo Dede Asare
CEO, Alfie Designs Ltd.
Founder and CEO, Stawi Foods and Fruits Ltd.
Co-founder and CEO, Cherehani Africa
Dr. Charles Immanuel Akhimien
Adepeju “Peju” Jaiyeoba
CEO, Mother’s Delivery Kit
Kémo Touré Jr.
Founder and CEO, Wutiko
Thubelihle “Thuba” Moyo
(and business partner / YALI Fellow Morwesi Ramonyai)
Technical director, Borena Energy
Sheillah Bagayana Mutetire
Co-founder and CEO, ShiShi International