Last month I was invited to speak at a Youth Employment Conference organized by the Ministry of State and Ministry of Labor in Cote d'Ivoire. It was an incredible experience and I wanted to share the speech on this blog as it relates to Sarafina and what we stand for.
Chères invités, son Excellence Mr. Daniel Kablan Duncan, le Ministre d’Etat, Ministre de la Formation de l’Emploi, des Affaires Sociales et de la Formation Professionnelle, et ADEA, je vous remercie pour cette opportunité de vous adresser aujourd’hui. Cet un grand honneur et événement très spécial pour moi car mon père était Directeur dans le Ministère de l’Emploi dans les années ‘90s. On peut dire que c’était dans mon destin d’avoir cette passion pour la création de l’emploi en Afrique. Je change en Anglais maintenant car vous m’avez dit que vous cherchait une anglophone et je suis plus a’laise en Anglais.
My name is Bita Diomandé and I am half-American, half-Ivorian. I’m here today to speak to you as an entrepreneur and member of the African diaspora in the US who is looking to come back home. I’m currently a second year MBA student at MIT Sloan, where I focus on entrepreneurship in developing countries. My passion lies in economic development and job creation in Africa. Today I would like to speak about my own entrepreneurial experience working in Africa, and the challenges I’ve seen with small businesses, the need to develop our local industries, and concerns facing the diaspora.
Three years ago I started Sarafina, an e-commerce fashion company, with the aim of promoting fair trade fashion and creating sustainable employment opportunities in Africa and Asia. You see, to me it is not enough to just create jobs but we have a responsibility to equip our workforce with the skills needed to function in the global economy and to pay our workers a minimum that will allow them to benefit from a higher standard of living. To date we source from 5 difference countries including Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda, Liberia, and India where we support employment for over 40 women. What I’ve learned through this experience is that we have an immense pool of talent with the skill and ambition to compete in the international fashion industry. All that is missing is access to capital and opportunities for growth. If we want to talk about youth employment it’s imperative to focus on the role of small businesses in creating innovation and employment opportunities. What we need is access to capita and mentorship. For the past month and a half, I have been in Abidjan looking for suppliers to manufacture men and women’s apparel at an international quality standard. During this time I have met an incredible group of small business owners who all have the same issue- inability to scale. In addition to issues related to capita, we need more African entrepreneurs who can advise small business owners about building businesses in Africa while competing in the global economy.
My second point relates to building local industries to participate in the global economy in a way that benefits African countries. I’m talking specifically about promoting agricultural productivity value addition. Focusing on building industry to generate wealth within the country and creating employment opportunities rather than continuing to export raw resources and not capturing the maximum wealth. I have heard many good things about the Fond Nationale de la Jeunesse and its focus on agricultural productivity value addition and it gives me great hope to see this direction for Cote d’Ivoire.
Finally I would like to end with concerns facing youth in the diaspora. As a member of the Africa Business Club at Sloan, I have met many other African students across the country. I can tell you that we have a big contingency that wants to come back home. Issues that are often raised include: Will we be able to continue to have political stability in our respective countries? Will we be able to find comparable job opportunities? What happens if we are not well connected, will we be hired based on merit? Will we start developing our local industries? I believe that many will start to come back to Africa, I know I will. The future is bright, opportunities are many; however, our success will depend on our ability to grow our small businesses and protect our local industries to compete on our own terms.