December 8, 2017
A few years ago, a group of young armed men attacked a university professor near Nairobi. During a shootout with the police, the leader of the group was killed. He was a university graduate. Ahuma Adodoadji, social entrepreneur and founder of AFRILINK, told me this story to illustrate why he does this work. He questions why highly skilled and educated young people––whether in the United States or Kenya––would turn to crime and violence. He attributes this to a wider societal problem, youth unemployment; “Our neglect of these young people. It’s unconscionable”.
Ahuma Adodoadji founded AFRILINK, an international business accelerator, to address the huge and multifaceted issue of youth unemployment in Kenya and Ghana. “In Kenya, the country graduates about 800,000 students from the tertiary institutions [every year] and the formal sector is only able to absorb about 150,000”. AFRILINK provides young entrepreneurs with “business skills training, mentorship, and access to investors and finance.” Ahuma is driven by the vision that with the right tools and support, young people will not only be able to create jobs for themselves and their peers, but also tackle society’s most pressing problems. “The youth, they are the future. When they are successful all of society is successful.”
Ahuma went to school in Ghana, attended university in the UK and has worked in major international organizations (like CARE and the Carter Foundation) in the United States. After spending 35 years in international development and humanitarian relief, he founded AFRILINK. “I have been privileged that I’ve served globally. But as I come to the end of my career, I want to focus on Africa and bring all of this experience and expertise to focus on the youth of Africa.”
As Ahuma and I talked about his life, passions and vision for AFRILINK, it became clear how essential his experience in international development has been to the formation of AFRILINK. In our conversation, he mentioned four major lessons he learned through development that have informed his “social enterprise” approach to youth unemployment:
First, he is critical of the old, rigid paradigm of international development where the West generated and dictated what strategies, policies, and money countries in the Global South would use. Ahuma said in the past, “whoever pays the piper played the tune”. This is unsustainable and changing. He sees hope in the new generation of people working in international development. He envisions that they will become advocates for young people in the developing world.
Second, “most people in the developing world have very clear ideas about what their issues are and about what the solutions might be and what kind of role they want their partners to play” and therefore should be central in designing the solutions.
Third, “we’ve [historically] created a very insidious culture of dependency which has to be broken to move things forward”.
Fourth, governments need to be active partners, not bystanders.
AFRILINK incorporates all of these lessons by positioning young people as the innovators, architects, and owners of their own solutions. Ahuma draws inspiration from small business in the United States and the global social enterprise movement. “Small business is the backbone of the US economy… Why don’t we try to replicate the same sort of thing by providing young people the tools to create business… Businesses that respond to real problems”. Ahuma welcomes partnerships with American mentors, technical partners, and investors “in that order.”
Social Enterprise Greenhouse and AFRILINK have been close friends since their founding when both organizations shared a small shipping-container-turned-office in Olneyville. SEG first connected AFRILINK with talent to build up the organization, and has shared lessons learned in building a business accelerator model.
“We are thrilled to see his achievements to date and are exciting to see his continued progress,” acknowledges Kelly Ramirez, SEG’s CEO.
In looking towards the future, Ahuma mentions: “We hope that when we achieve our breakthrough, we won’t be inward looking. We’ll be outward looking. We’ll still be looking at partners in the West to share your skills with us [but] there may be things we’ve learned that we can share, too”.
Inclusive Enterprise Development Manager
Preetilata graduated from Smith College with a degree in Economics and Global South Development in May 2016. Her experience at various community-based organizations in the United States and Bangladesh has fostered a deep commitment to social and economic justice. Prior to joining SEG, Preetilata did research with the Department of Women and Gender at Smith College on histories of Third World women’s movements. She also worked with doulas of color who are advancing reproductive health outcomes for marginalized communities in New York City. Preetilata is excited to be working with individuals who are redefining economics and traditional business models to center community impact. When she’s not at work, Preetilata is getting to know Providence or helping out at a local farm in Cranston, RI.