“You cannot change a system that you are not taking responsibility for”
Mr Sidibe, are young people in Mali’s rural areas sufficiently represented in politics and business?
No, they are not. The Government of Mali and development partners do not sufficiently involve young people in the overall process of elaborating and implementing the country initiatives. When they do happen to be involved, those representing them barely understand the real challenges of rural youth. In Mali, many initiatives have been undertaken on paper to facilitate rural as well as urban youth and women’s representation or involvement in politics and business. Yet very few are applied and taken off the ground. But I am very positive now regarding the level of awareness among young people towards political challenges and business opportunities. When travelling to villages, one can notice along the way the efforts young people are undertaking on the ground to positively change things. Many of them are starting their own businesses in the fields of agriculture, information and communication technologies, training and capacity building programmes, adding value to agriculture products through processing, etc. It is also good to see the keen interest taken by rural and urban youth in politics. They recognise that you cannot change a system that you are not in and are not taking responsibility for. This was illustrated by the recent communal elections in October 2016, where we had many young people running to become mayor. I have hope, and I believe that things will change for the better in the near future.
What needs to be done to improve the situation?
We need to involve rural youth from the beginning to the end of development initiatives. It is time for government and development partners to include them in the inception of projects and programmes. They should not be considered merely as beneficiaries but also as partners. It is time to decide for youth with youth instead of deciding for youth without youth. I believe they know their problems better than anyone else. To gain government and partners’ respect and attention, young people need to be structured in order to be able to hold government and development partners accountable for their promises. Please, rural youth, let’s be supportive among ourselves in order to invest the political life of the country, for we represent a great share of the population.
Are there positive examples from other countries to set out from?
Recently, the Green innovation centre of Mali, funded by Germany’s Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation through GIZ, initiated a partnership with Live Your Dream and another company in order to elaborate a concept note about opportunities for rural youth in agriculture. To set out from other examples, we travelled to Côte d’Ivoire, where GIZ is implementing a project on the cocoa value chain. There, we learnt about their strategy to create opportunities for rural youth. This project has established business centres where they receive trainings on cocoa production best practices, from production to harvest. After the trainings, the participants then sell their services such as cleaning, spraying cocoa farms, etc. to other farmers in need of services. Also, during the G20 conference in Berlin, I met Biswick Luwayo, a young leader from Malawi who is doing permaculture, which has had many positive impacts in his community. I also spoke to Abdoul Razak from Togo, who is conducting an entrepreneurship project on city gardening. These examples have inspired me a lot. I believe there are many other initiatives that can help to transform Africa’s future.
Which skills do young people need to better perform their role?
I believe that everything rises and falls with leadership. With good leadership skills, which pave the way for clear vision along with setting good examples, young people will start performing better. They can dare to start their own businesses and thrive. We need more entrepreneurs in order to create more jobs. We need to incorporate entrepreneurship and leadership in the education programmes. I trust Mali needs more young people to learn practical skills in farming, breeding animals, carpeting, welding, construction, mechanics, plumbing, engineering, etc. We also need to format the mindset of young people. We have to help them gain self-confidence. They need to volunteer more and be civically engaged in order to solve the basic problems of the community. They should no longer be waiting for development projects and government to solve some of our basic problems.
How does Live Your Dream help here?
We provide many services to our clients such as capacity building in leadership, communication, governance, youth development, civic engagement and entrepreneurship. We organise English courses for professionals and students. We provide social media community management services to organisations and private businesses. We offer coaching and mentoring programmes to young people and professionals. And we develop our courses by using the Internet and books. Personally, I believe that YouTube is a university which contributes to positively shaping my life.
What have you learnt from your experiences so far?
I have learnt that self-employment is very rewarding, even if it is challenging at the beginning. In my young journey as an entrepreneur, I have learnt that failures and mistakes help grow. If an entrepreneur is a problem solver, I say then that Mali or Africa should be giving birth to a million entrepreneurs each year, because our problems are many. Let’s keep in mind that every problem is an opportunity. The paradox of Africa is that it is the richest continent with the poorest population. But I believe our generation will put an end to this.
Are you networked with other organisations?
Yes, I have already partnered with two US-based organisations, Common Pastures – an NGO that provides opportunities for small farmers and their families to reach their highest potential while improving the environment – and Bell Care – a company that provides creative and educational opportunities for all ages, through arts-based programmes and events designed to teach life-skills for positive growth. I am in contact with other organisations through their leaders, whom I met in Africa, Europe and USA during leadership conferences and seminars. Through Common Pastures and Bell Care, two trainers volunteered to Mali in January 2017. They came and conducted community development training in my community in partnership with the town hall in Kalana. During this training, over 100 people were empowered.
Has your own training sufficiently prepared you for your work as an entrepreneur today?
I have not at all regretted my English degree and my bachelor in business administration. However, with my passion for leadership and community development, a degree in governance or decentralisation would help me a lot. But today, thanks to the Internet, I am developing my skills in many other fields such as leadership, communication, agriculture development and, more importantly, youth development.
Imagine you were an advisor to the Malian Government. Which recommendations would you make?
I want the government of Mali to make rural areas more attractive through agriculture development. I want them to adapt our education system to reflect the real needs on the ground. As already mentioned, we need more electricians, welders, carpenters, doctors and mechanics rather than lawyers, historians, psychologists, etc. So I would advise the Mali government to improve governance and invest in projects with a bigger impact such as agriculture development, building hospitals, roads, and schools, and providing clean water and electricity in order to change the face of our rural areas.
I believe that if we make rural areas more attractive today, we will give young people hope, and prevent them from ending up in negative situations such as getting into the hands of terrorists or nearly dying attempting to migrate to better opportunities.
Alfousseni Sidibe holds a “School of Computer Science and Management” degree in Business Management and Administration and an English degree at the Faculty of Letter, Languages, Arts and Human Sciences of Bamako. Besides being founder of the “Live Your Dream” start-up in April 2016, he set up the first English Toastmasters Club in Bamako in January 2015. The Toastmasters Club is an international NGO that promotes speaking in public and effective communication. Alfousseni was among the 1,000 fellows in 2016 to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a programme initiated by US former President Barack Obama to train the future generation of Africa in leadership, entrepreneurship and public management. At the G20 conference in Berlin, Germany, he was chosen to be the spokesperson of G20 and Africa youth at the opening ceremony.