Lessons that Propel Entrepreneurs


charis takoradi


Submitted by: Charis Jung

As an Entrepreneurship & Innovation Intern, my work with YCI involves teaching entrepreneurship workshops and organizing the Micro-Enterprise Conference, a culminating event for the workshop participants. In line with YCI’s focus on improving youth livelihood, these workshops are offered to young entrepreneurs in the Takoradi-Sekondi region who are passionate about pursuing their business ideas, or are already operating their own businesses. The start-ups vary in products and services, ranging from hair stylists and fashion designers to caterers and maize/rice vendors. The entrepreneurs also have different levels of business education with many of them having little or no prior business training.

In Ghana, the informal sector is a large contributor to new employment opportunities, and it represents a growing segment of the workforce in Africa. Over 90% of businesses in Ghana are small and a medium-sized enterprise, which means many people make a living for themselves through their family businesses or start-ups. Both the active informal sector and the widespread SMEs are evident in Ghana, where you can witness stores, street vendors, hawkers, and small family shops in neighbourhoods. The reason for focusing so much on youth is because 26 to 35 year-olds own over 30% of Ghana’s SMEs. In other words, they are the driving force of the economy. These are the same people who drive innovation, adapt quickly to changes and work with passion.

I’ve now completed three out of four modules for the Entrepreneurship Workshops, and it’s been a humbling experience. It’s been rewarding for me to facilitate these workshops, covering introductory business concepts that will hopefully give the participants that extra edge to steer them towards success in the marketplace. It’s remarkable how simple lessons on branding or cost and pricing strategies can make a large difference for these young men and women, as they find ways to differentiate themselves from competitors in their respective industries.

I’m all the more excited because I’ve witnessed how this program has made a difference for some entrepreneurs who participated in last year’s pilot program. For instance, Joseph who is a furniture-maker at By Grace Furniture went from working with “rough plans” for the past eight years to applying strategic goal-setting this year. The workshop motivated Joseph to start building his own furniture showroom, design a large signage/banner for his storefront, and print additional business cards for effective networking. The showroom had only been an idea prior to the workshops, but the sessions pushed him to put things into action. “I learned the importance of advertising through different methods, like the signage, and complementary [business] cards. Now, I print pictures of my furniture on calendars and distribute them to companies and banks,” Joseph told me enthusiastically during our interview. It was evident that Joseph had been deeply impacted, and I’ll continue to work with the anticipation that we see more stories like his in the near future.

Charis Jung, Youth Entrepreneurship & Innovation Intern, Ghana

An Interview with a Takoradi Entrepreneur

By: Charis Yung

I had the great privilege to interview a local entrepreneur. It was an opportunity to tune into what seemed like a thriving business, a success story. The business is a smoothie store that opened up earlier this year and has been doing very well. It sells fresh fruit smoothies and other snacks including pancakes, meat pies, pizza, and spring rolls. The owner, in her mid to late 20s, is a bright woman with a strategic mindset.


An excerpt from the interview

Why did you start up your own business? How did you come up with your business idea? Any inspirations?

I wasn’t from Takoradi, originally. But I’ve been living here for a couple of years, and I noticed that there was nothing like this store [Squeeze] around here. There are smoothie stores in Accra. So, I went to Accra to learn to set up a store and to get ideas.

Who are some of your main competitors? Did you gage your competition prior to setting up the business? Where are they located? Did you select a strategic location?

There have been a number of people asking me about the shop. Other people bring ideas and ask me if I plan on expanding or partnering with anyone. As of right now, this is what I have to work with, so I’m not expanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if new smoothie stores opened up in Takoradi in the next couple of years. People want to replicate good business ideas.

Yes, I picked a strategic location. There are many corporate banks around here; there are also many expats because of the nearby port [Takoradi harbour]. I was targeting these types of customers [wealthier individuals].

How do you measure success? According to your measure of success, how successful has this business been so far?

I look at the future of the store, and if more people are getting to know the store. I look at increased awareness. Yes, I think I’ve been very successful so far. I even had some media stations [radio stations] coming to offer advertisement on their stations. I couldn’t say yes to all of them, but now I’m advertised on some of them.

What do you think draws your customers?

I think the signage [large storefront] was a big initial draw. I had the signage put up around two months before the store opened, and had people coming in to ask what this was. Then they became anxious for the store to open, and wanted me to open up quickly. Also, on the initial day, I offered smoothies for free, which caught people’s attention even more.

How do you perceive the role of customer service in this business?

Customer service is very important. I hired employees who had very good customer service skills. I always tell them to smile, because they’re the face of the business, the first point of contact with the customer. If they don’t have a nice smile, it’s going to drive away customers. I’m also thinking of bringing in some training for my employees on customer service.

Charis is a Youth Ambassador with YCI currently working in Ghana. For more information on how you can get involved, visit http://www.yci.org/html/volunteer/globally/calendar.asp


First Week in-Country and Ghana’s History Lesson at Cape Coast

By: Charis Yung

It has been one week since my arrival in Ghana. From the sound of the rooster crowing in the morning and neighborhood children giggling happily outside, to the busy honking noises on the streets, they’re all becoming more familiar. Although May and June are part of the rainy season in Ghana, I’ve found the weather rather sunny with occasional rain showers. When the sun is out, the days are still hot, with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius with humidity, but cool breezes flowing under the shade is helping me ease into the heat and welcoming me to learn more about this beautiful country.


After the first three days in Accra and Takoradi, I traveled to Cape Coast to join in with five other volunteers who are staying in the Eastern region of Ghana. Apart from walking along the scenic beaches of the Atlantic Ocean along the coast, the visit to the Castle was a phenomenal experience. At first, I had been skeptical and somewhat frustrated by the mandatory guided tour that came with a hefty entrance fee for foreigners. However, a pre-tour walk around the museum completely changed my perspective and appreciation for Ghanaian history of the African slavery trade. Although I’d briefly learned about the African slavery trade and independence movements in school, it had been awhile since I last encountered the subject and had not known that the Castle would contain so much history within its walls. Exploring the museum, I was impressed by the descriptive timelines. They laid out the painful history behind European colonization and the role this particular Castle and the surrounding ports played in the imprisonment, containment, separation, death, and brutality of the people who were captured and sold to different continents.


Ghana had been known as the “Gold Coast” during colonial times due to its richness in natural resources, particularly gold. This made it a coveted area for European powers to vie for, and its strategic geographic location along the Atlantic coast developed it into a prominent trade area. Out of the thirty castles located along the Atlantic coast, about twenty-seven castles are located in Ghana, which testify to its key position in the Triangular Trade between the Americas, Europe and Africa. Beyond the trade of goods, slavery trade was widespread and active until the eighteenth century.


During the tour of the Cape Coast Castle, I had the opportunity to listen in on detailed descriptions on the parts of the castle. I was struck by the irony between the beauty of Cape Coast and the cruelty of the atrocities committed, which almost seemed more punishing. Hearing the side of the story from the victimized party was invaluable, told with much more pain and reverence than I had ever experienced. Back home, topics surrounding the African slavery trade, independence movements of African colonies, and African-American segregation had always been filtered through Western lenses, inevitably biased towards its authors. Thus, this visit to Cape Coast was one that has helped me to appreciate and understand the Ghana’s pride on being called the “Hope of Africa”, as symbolized by the black star on its national flag.

Charis is a Youth Ambassador with YCI currently working in Ghana. For more information on how you can get involved, visit http://www.yci.org/html/volunteer/globally/calendar.asp

LEADER Team Second Update: Q & A


Meet Benedict. Like many Ghanaians, Benedict has a day job – working with our local partner, the Entrepreneurship Training Institute, as a successful Account Officer. But also like many Ghanaians, Benedict dreams of someday starting his own business to help both his family and his community. Benedict is also currently a student with the LEADER Project’s entrepreneurship course and was one of the first students to participate in our one-on-one coaching sessions for entrepreneurs.


Q: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start a business?


My mom is a physician assistant so she has a medical background. I have realized that first aid is a necessity and a requirement by law, but not many people or businesses are fulfilling this. Therefore, my business idea is to sell first aid kits and provide first aid training. I see that there is a need for this product that everyone wants but the product does not exist.


Q: How have you found the LEADER Project to be helpful?


Initially I thought entrepreneurs are people who have lots of money or a big business but I see now that you just have to prioritize and start with what you have. Looking for opportunities – especially with today’s cases – these are not things that people in Ghana would have thought of. Now I see all of these problems as opportunities.


Q. What does success look like for you and your company?


Success would mean a lot – just the fact that people mention your name and say “this is a thing Benedict is doing” would mean a lot. Success also means that people are safe in their house. If people have first aid in their house, they can tackle medical problem like bleeding before getting medical personnel, which can be expensive.


Q. What is some advice you would give other entrepreneurs?


It’s really not about money; it’s about getting the idea. Being an entrepreneur means looking for a problem you can solve.

LEADER Team Ghana update


Since 1991, the Ivey LEADER Project’s vision has been “To equip entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs, with the business decision-making skills to progress the prosperity and well-being of the regions in which they live.” In recent years, LEADER has expanded our focus from simply inspiring participants to “think entrepreneurially” to also enabling the launch and scale of their ventures. During the three weeks that we spend in Ghana, we provide both teaching sessions and 1-on-1 coaching to achieve this goal. Our curriculum uses cases and lectures to give participants the tools and knowledge to achieve their business goals. However, it is essential that these participants continue to receive support even after the project has ended. The partnership established between the Entrepreneurship Training Institute and Youth Challenge International makes this possible.


The participants we have been working with over the past few days have demonstrated a strong interest in launching new ventures. Most have an idea and are looking for validation and guidance to take the next step. One thing that has surprised us over the past week is students’ interest in gaining access to capital and funding. This is the biggest challenge faced by entrepreneurs in Ghana. As a result, we have adjusted our teaching points to address the idea of a “lean start-up” to further cater our curriculum to the needs of our entrepreneurs.


Thanks to YCI, we are able to extend the impact of this program beyond our three-week engagement to a more comprehensive entrepreneurial support system. As we continue to develop our curriculum, this increased engagement provides greater learning opportunities for both the entrepreneurs and the Ivey LEADER Project.


“Karibu”: Inclusion in a Word


The greatest challenge of my latest trip to Zanzibar, was balancing my enthusiasm for exploring the island and meeting new people, with my need to protect my safety. Though I come from East Africa, and had traveled to Zanzibar a few times previously, I was unsure of how to protect my safety amidst unfamiliar surroundings, unknown people, and a lost language. Swahili was my first language, but I lost much of it after my Toronto elementary school principal told my parents to switch from speaking Swahili to speaking English with us at home. With my limited ability to communicate, when I first arrived in Zanzibar, I was wary of strangers, while surrounded by them. I was warned by colleagues, and my homestay family, not to walk alone after the sun set at 6:30pm.


As I started to learn my way around, and relearn Swahili, I felt more comfortable. I started to walk longer distances on my own, even after sunset. One day as I walked along the ocean in Stone Town, a man greeted me with a big smile and enthusiastic “Hello Sister!” Another called out to me, from a bench nestled in a parkette, to say “Hello. Nice to meet you. I appreciate you,” and yet another said “Karibu!” Swahili for “Welcome.” I was surprised and reassured at the same time. Surprised at their kindness, warmth, and generosity to a stranger. And reassured that the region of my ancestors still reflected the warmth I remembered, the warmth I long for when I’m in my Toronto home.


I often find it hard to express complex and intense emotions in words. But the word “Karibu” says so much. It captures the heart of Tanzanian and broader East African culture. It is used so frequently, as a greeting to welcome you to a place, and then again when saying “goodbye,” letting you know that you are welcome again, or that you are always welcome. It is one word that evokes powerful emotions, and feelings of inclusion. I think we should use the word “welcome” more in our English interactions.


In East Africa, it is so ingrained that it is even spoken in unexpected places and interactions. One Sunday, a colleague and I were anxious to get one more weekend swim in before I left Nungwi, the village she was based in, to take the bus back to Stone Town. We didn’t want to swim at the local beach where we were, because women did not typically swim there. We walked to a nearby large, expensive, hotel, and approached the security guards behind the gates. We asked if they could let us in to use the beach in front of the hotel. While confirming, then explaining to us that they could not let us in, they couldn’t help saying “Karibu” multiple times.


Another time, my colleague and I stopped at a high school ,mid bike-tour ,to use their bathroom. It was a Sunday, so we weren’t expecting any students to be there, but there were a number of them using the classrooms to study for upcoming exams. A peer school monitor in a special uniform approached us, and started explaining his role. I braced myself for him to reprimand us for coming onto the school property, and politely but firmly ask us to leave. Instead he said “Karibu. You are welcome. A school is a place of learning, so it should be open to anyone.”


Even when “Karibu” isn’t expressed explicitly, an implicit welcome infuses the way people treat each other. I was warmly and immediately welcomed into my Youth Challenge International and Zanzibar Youth Forum work teams, as if I had always been a part of them, and always would be. If I faced any professional or personal challenges, my colleagues took responsibility for them as if they were their own. Our project goals were collective goals that we all contributed to achieving. We supported each other, and worked together to problem solve and address project challenges big and small. We celebrated our achievements together. I wanted to bring that approach home with me.


One evening at sunset, I went for a swim in the ocean in front of a Stone Town hotel. I was reveling in the beauty of the water with flecks of orange from the surrounding sunset dancing in the waves. A group of young men started swimming towards me, and I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to get the attention of one of my colleagues who was swimming with me, but he had gone too far out into the water for me to get his attention. So I instinctively swam away from them, feeling grateful that I was a strong swimmer. They called out to me, “Zanzibar ni mahali ya amani!”/“Zanzibar is a peaceful place!” and I laughed at their audacity. “We just want to talk with you,” they added. I slowed, then stopped, and relaxed into the calm water. I let them catch up with me and welcomed them with a smile. We talked and laughed as the orange sky enveloped us with warmth.


Farah N. Mawani, Youth Innovator in Zanzibar, 2014


Full Circle: Zanzibar to Toronto and Back



We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Elliot


When the former Director, Program Development at Youth Challenge International (YCI) asked me to work with them in Zanzibar, she was as enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with me as I was to work with them. She added, “I know it’s very short notice. Is it possible for you?” I responded without hesitation, “It’s Zanzibar. I will make it possible.”


The work involved collaborating with YCI Zanzibar and the Zanzibar Youth Forum (ZYF) to focus test a sexual and reproductive health manual with youth peer educators. It was a fortuitous integration of my early public health career in reproductive health and my more recent focus on building capacity for peer support to promote health. But for me, there were even stronger pulls towards the exciting opportunity.


For me, going to Zanzibar was coming full circle. I was going back to the country my grandparents, and parents migrated from. And I was going back to the last place from which I communicated to my dear friend Josh Fattal, before he was captured by Iranian forces and held hostage in Iran for 2 years and 2 months. Both circles I longed to close to fill the fissures in my life’s journey.


On the long flight from Toronto to Dar es Salaam, where I stopped for an orientation session with YCI Tanzania staff before heading to Zanzibar, I listened to iTunes on shuffle to help me relax and doze. I was jolted out of my reverie by the sound of my late grandfather’s voice coming from iTunes. I had forgotten that I had uploaded a recording an uncle made of my grandfather telling his life story. I had it on iTunes for some time, but found it hard to listen because even though it’s been years since my grandfather died, I miss him a lot. This time, as I was flying towards Tanzania, the country he made his home since childhood, seemed like the ideal time to listen.


I knew he had gone to Tanzania from India as a child, but much to my surprise, as I was listening, he told the story of going to Zanzibar at the age of 12 to work in a shop owned by his father – a shop that sold things from the plantations. So my great grandfather lived and worked in Zanzibar for some time, and my grandfather with him. My trip there grew in significance instantly. I imagined him wandering the streets of Stonetown, making his way to and from the plantations each morning to gather produce for the shop.


When I shared that story with my Zanzibar Youth Forum, and Youth Challenge International Zanzibar colleagues, they welcomed me as one of them. After my first meeting at Zanzibar Youth Forum, we walked out onto the street so that I could catch a bus to the YCI office. Taxi drivers, assuming I was a tourist, called out to me asking if I needed a taxi. My key ZYF liaison called back to them (in Swahili of course), “She’s not a guest! She’s from here. She doesn’t need a taxi!”


I beamed with historical pride, and the warmth of inclusion. Those deep feelings carried me through my transition from feeling overwhelmed in Zanzibar, with everything including food, language, transportation, cell phones, internet, and more being different, to feeling welcome and at home there. I have come full circle.


Farah N. Mawani, Health Innovator, Youth Challenge International


Check out our summer and fall line up of incredible health, environment, and education programs in Tanzania here(Link this -http://www.yci.org/html/volunteer/globally/calendar.asp. Check back for more blog posts from Farah’s experience with the Zanzibar Youth Forum soon.