Tommie attended the Open Innovation Africa Summit in Nairobi last November and was inspired to combine his love of teaching with his academic background in business and marketing. In order to increase his incubation knowledge, he went to South Africa for infoDev Incubation Training in March and attended the 4th Global Forum on Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Helsinki to complete the remaining training modules.
Using a non-profit model, Tommie hopes to use business entrepreneurship to enhance Botswana’s human capital and bolster social change. A university degree is no longer a guarantee of employment; increasingly, many graduates face unemployment or having to take a job in which their degree is irrelevant. In addition, despite having high rates of youth literacy, 94% for males between ages 15-24 and 96% for females in the same age group (UNICEF), after the initial 10 years of compulsory state education, some students are unable to attend university because of entrance exams, limited space, and tuition fees. For those students who do not continue along the academic route, they can enroll in vocational training or apprenticeships (SACMEQ); however, still others end up in menial jobs or unemployed.
Tommie hopes that focusing on youth in the 18-25 year old bracket will go a long way in starting to change the Botswanan market from one of job seekers to one of job creators.
In 2009, Youth unemployment was around 40% (Trading Economies) and Tommie estimates that in 2011 around 50% of working age youth are unemployed in the Post-Global Economic Crisis marketplace. As more and more former students approached him with possible business plans or to look over grant applications, Tommie decided to formalize the process and dedicate his time to helping youth achieve their business goals.
While initially on a volunteer basis, Tommie will be providing meaningful work to at least two former students- one who will join as a finance officer and another who has a diploma in secretarial studies. He plans to start with two companies that will rent space in his incubation facility and then expand after recovering his initial investment. The companies in the Global Youth Alliance will be encouraged to work in a range of ICT related fields to address local needs, such as agricultural and natural resource diversification, easing manufacturing processes, increasing Botswana’s global profile, and sharing knowledge among students. Tommie says he will maximize his incubatee list by recruiting as many virtual companies as possible.
Even though Tommie is hoping to start a non-profit incubator as a social entrepreneur, he faces the same barriers that challenge many SMEs and business entrepreneurs. Access to finance remains a difficult hurdle for him to overcome. While he has used his own funds to make initial investments in renting facilities, he needs other sources of funding or grants to assist him with procuring ICT infrastructure and technical materials.
As a method for raising funds and gaining visibility for the incubator, Tommie is hoping to create a summer learning opportunity for high school students around the global. Starting with students in Botswana and Finland, Tommie will create a two week long camp focused on entrepreneurship skills, financing, marketing, and cross cultural exchange. Tommie also has received permission from the Botswanan Ministry of Education and Skills Development to sponsor ICT Clubs in local high schools to start students on the path to entrepreneurship and catch those early on who might otherwise fall through the cracks of higher education.
There’s no doubt that Tommie’s is an ambitious and rigorous project. However, his practical background in education, government, and business give him the tools he needs to work towards his dream. His enthusiasm for and dedication to the youth of his country and his belief in Botswana’s ability to use local ingenuity to solve pressing local problems provides an inspiring example for social and business entrepreneurs in Africa and around the world.