BAMAKO, Mali — The Entrepreneurial Development Center, or EDC, a nonprofit organization founded in 1958 and dedicated to improving “education, health and economic opportunity worldwide,” is working through their International Development Division to combat poverty in the African nation of Mali. It is doing this with a project aimed at providing out-of-school youths with a basic education and helping provide them the skills to launch their own businesses.
A land locked low-income nation in sub-Saharan Africa and one of Africa’s major cotton producers, Mali suffers from a high rate of poverty within its borders. 43.6 percent of Mali’s population qualifies as impoverished, according to the World Bank. This makes Mali one of the 25 poorest nations in the world.
Achieving independence from France in 1960, Mali did not become a democracy until 1992. Since the 1990s, Mali has suffered from a series of continual conflicts in the north of the country where both the nomadic Tuaga people and the Saharan branch of al-Qaeda have fostered dissent and fought the government. In 2012, France intervened in the nation taking back several cites that were taken from government control by al-Qaeda. It is within this strife-filled and conflict-prone context that Mali has developed its high poverty rate.
The project is known in English as the Mali Support to Youth Entrepreneurs Project; however, it is better known by its French name Projet d’Appui aux Jeunes, or the abbreviation, PAJE-Nièta. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development USAID and running from 2010 to 2015, several partner organizations also help the EDC with this project. Notable partners are the Association Jeunesse Action Mali, Catholic Relief Services and Swisscontact, a “ business-oriented independent foundation for international development cooperation.”
PAJE-Nièta’s aim is to empower 10,000 out-of-school youths to become youth entrepreneurs in their local communities. It is attempting this by providing basic education to these youths, consisting of lessons in both literacy and numeracy as well as offering technical training and leadership development. Even if the youths involved do not achieve entrepreneurship, hopefully they will still become more employable as a result of these lessons, in either an urban or rural setting.
Volunteers must be willing to live and serve in a target village where they will be stationed for 18 months. Before this stationing, however, there is a three week training period for the volunteers, with an evaluation at the end. After passing the evaluation, the volunteer then is sent to go educate and promote entrepreneurial activities in a village. Volunteers receive a small monthly stipend for their services.
This system of volunteers, who come from Mali, is beneficial both to those, the youths in the villages who never finished their schooling, and also to the volunteers themselves. Once in the villages the volunteers began teaching basic literacy and numeracy and math, as well as helping young men and women develop business of their own, such as soap making, or starting a restaurant.
The benefits for the village and out of school youths is clear, however, what is less obvious is the benefits for the volunteers themselves. Apart form the monthly stipend, the volunteers are also learning important skills, such as computer literacy, writing a curriculum vitae, and learning how to manage a classroom, all of which could be helpful to their future careers.
With currently 182 volunteers in service across Mali in the final phase of the program by 2015, it will have trained 421 volunteers. One volunteer named Mariko had this to say about her experience: “I am very proud of my mission. In just one year, I helped 35 people in the village become literate, and I also helped them increase their access to employment. This is a great personal achievement.”
These 421 former volunteers then are one legacy that this program will leave behind in 2015 when it ends. Another legacy will be the amount of start ups and businesses this program has helped achieve. Currently, there are 7,000 youths being taught in Mali right now, and 3,000 have already been reached in earlier stages of the program. Of these 3,000 already reached, 2,783 youths have launched micro-enterprises.
One of these individuals is 23-year-old Bakone Doubmbia. This is what she had to say about her experience: “Before the project, I used to sell odd items here and there, but I did not make much money. Today, I make three types of soap, right here in my village. In two or three days, I sell all the soap, and I make a profit. ”
The EDC, then through PAJE-Nièta, is reaching out to Mali’s youth, and through promoting entrepreneurship, is fighting poverty in the area. The EDC recognizes that Mali to progress as a nation cannot simply rely on direct transfusions of money, which would make it overly reliant on foreign support but must become, instead, self-reliant. And through PAJE-Nièta, the EDC is helping this happen by empowering the entrepreneurial spirit of Mali’s youth.
– Albert Cavallaro