Before I just wanted a job, now I want my business to grow.
Many initiatives exist to provide young Burundians with technical skills. However, technical skills alone are not sufficient to enable a young person to successfully open a sewing business or a carpenter’s workshop. Entrepreneurial savoir-faire is needed to turn technical know-how into economic activities that are not only livelihood-sustaining but professionally fulfilling. This is something SPARK could offer.
SPARK believes in synergies and complementarity between development initiatives and therefore designed a project to pick up where others left off: in 2021, 150 young people who had either received technical training and/or psycho-emotional skill training in the framework of projects set up by War Child or Swisscontact, or had graduated from a vocational school supported by ENABEL were selected to participate in an entrepreneurship boot camp.
These 150 budding entrepreneurs represented 50 small businesses. 40 of these small businesses were then selected based on their potential to develop a strong business plan. They were supported in this endeavour by the business coaches of AFORGER (Association des Formateurs GERME), a local partner with whom SPARK has been working for over two years. At the end of the process, a business plan competition was organised. The 15 best business plans were rewarded with a “matching grant”, where SPARK would fund 50% of the purchase price of the equipment needed to implement their business plan if the entrepreneurs were able to come up with the remaining 50%, either by investing themselves or by obtaining a loan.
All 40 small businesses were coached for a few months. The coaching allowed 35 of these 40 businesses to get officially registered, which is not only required to ensure a business operates in compliance with the law, but is also a mandatory step in order to request a loan. SPARK and AFORGER also organised “matchmaking” events with micro-finance institutions to allow the young entrepreneurs to better understand the opportunities offered by such institutions and the terms and conditions attached to these opportunities. SPARK’s support has enabled these small businesses to grow and prosper, and most importantly to create jobs. In total, 127 additional jobs were created.
Encouraged by this success, SPARK and AFORGER renewed their partnership in 2022 and 40 SMEs are currently being coached to strengthen and scale up their businesses. This has included tailored training on marketing, supply, stock management, cost calculations, accounting techniques and human resources. In addition, a number of SMEs have benefited from technical coaching to improve the quantity and quality of their production. The business coaches also provide support in access to finance. As a result, 30 SMEs have introduced a loan request, out of which 15 have already been accepted and 7 have already been paid out. So far, the growth of these SMEs have generated new 508 jobs!
Jonathan’s copy, print and photoshop
Jonathan is a 35-year-old university graduate who was unemployed but had always been fascinated by new technologies and felt there were opportunities in this field. Jonathan participated actively in SPARK’s entrepreneurship boot camp and decided to start a copy, print and photo shop together with 14 other youngsters. Their collective contributions allowed them to purchase second-hand equipment to get started.
Jonathan learned a lot not only from the boot camp but also during the training session. “I have learned to plan. I now set goals for our business and take out a calendar and plan out how we are going to get there by a certain date.” The support of his business coach furthermore gives him the confidence to be ambitious. “Before I just wanted a job, now I want my business to grow and prosper and I know it is possible.”
The boot camp and coaching have also focused on understanding supply and demand. “During the boot camp, I learned to look at the market and to identify opportunities. For instance, we are very close to the Rwandan and Congolese borders. Lots of people need official documentation, which includes passport photos. We decided to use the prize money from SPARK’s business plan competition to invest in a camera to set up a small photo studio to enable us to take passport photos.”
During coaching sessions, the business coach taught Jonathan to go one step further and develop a marketing strategy. “Instead of sitting in our shop and waiting for clients to drop by, we have been encouraged to go out and actively find new clients. Now, we have 15 clients who pay a monthly fee for our services, including schools, court houses and local administrations.”
Goreth’s sewing workshop
Goreth could not find a job with her university degree in public health but had always had a talent for sewing. She bought her first sewing machine with funds she had received from a family friend who was very impressed by a shirt she made for her husband. She then participated in a sewing training organised by Swisscontact. The 30-year-old seamstress was such an outstanding student that she is now among the trainers for Swisscontact.
Goreth opened her own sewing workshop but struggled to grow her business. “The boot camp and coaching taught me how to plan the expansion of my business and how to acquire new clients.” Her client base and the number of orders have been increasing steadily since. She now has 6 sewing machines, 1 buttonhole sewing machine and 1 embroidery machine that she purchased with the prize money from SPARK’s business plan competition. This allows her to employ 10 people. In addition to producing apparel, Goreth also offers training services.
Entrepreneurs’ next steps
Jonathan has ambitious plans for his business. He wants to open two new branches where he has identified opportunities: one in the provincial centre of Cibitoke and one next to the local government’s offices. He also wants to obtain a loan to acquire a more powerful printer. “Schools now come to us to print their exams and in those periods we have a hard time keeping up with the demand”. Goreth wants to start selling fabric in addition to her sewing services. For now, customers must bring their own fabric but she has realised that many like the fabrics she picks out for herself and her family and would like to buy those too. Goreth also wants to expand her training business. “I want to give others a chance to learn skills that will allow them to provide for their families.”
Jonathan’s advice to other young people is to get up and look for opportunities. “You have to create your own job. Team up with others to gather sufficient funds and invest in a business.” Goreth believes young people should learn skills that are in demand. Given the limited opportunities of Burundi’s labour market, even university graduates like her have much to gain by learning technical skills. “These skills are also very useful for women and enable women to become breadwinners for their families. My husband has no job at the moment so I provide for us and our children.” Both entrepreneurs underline the importance of believing in yourself and in your skills.