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The LEI Program helps a young entrepreneur tackle food insecurity

Aug 20, 2021

Food insecurity has been an issue in rural East Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic – along with drought conditions and below-average rainfall – has made it worse. But in the face of this adversity, it is the youth of East Africa whose entrepreneurship & literacy programs are helping to solve problems and leading the way for their community. 

In Tanzania, where recently there have been very high levels of food insecurity, it is against this backdrop that a young entrepreneur named Zainab has pursued her desire to start a papaya farm. In the face of food shortages, even limited production from an individual farmer can make a difference in an individual or a family receiving the nourishment they need. 

It’s widely accepted that proper nutrition (along with education and sexual reproductive resources and knowledge) are big social determinants of health for young girls in rural East Africa.  

Helping to solve the region’s food poverty issues may not have been Zainab’s primary motivation. But she seized the opportunity to grow her leadership skills at a young age by being active in school and participating in Asante Africa’s 2020 Leadership & Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI) Program.       

The LEI Program works with the academic and professional community to teach young people the skills they need to become leaders, pursue employment opportunities and start their own businesses. But along the way, there are added literacy program benefits. Students ultimately expand their perspective by collaborating with peer groups, learning how to engage within their community and gaining the confidence that comes through a higher level of knowledge.  

Enabling African youth through community involvement & literacy programs

Zainab’s entrepreneurial spirit was evident early on, as she moved her way up through school. A year before graduation she joined the Asante Africa program at Ubiri secondary school. In the LEI program, the school’s teachers work with Asante Africa on a set curriculum so that everyone is aligned to support the student’s growth in the best way possible. 

In 2020, East African youth empowered by LEI initiated over 200 businesses and 57% of those who started new businesses were girls. The community’s support of girls is critical given the enormous social and cultural challenges they face in rural East Africa.      

In the LEI Program students take part in cross-border collaboration and a summit. It is here that Zainab and LEI participants in other East African countries can come together to learn aspects of running a business and create business incubation opportunities with the support of community leaders. 

It can’t be understated that for young women growing up in rural communities, the opportunity to travel beyond their neighboring communities is a rare one, and can make a huge impression. For Zainab it had a formative effect.    

“I was able to participate in the summit, which was conducted in Nairobi, Kenya,” recalls Zainab. “I was so happy because it was my first time crossing the border and I’ve been excited for that my whole life. Asante gave me the opportunity to attend that summit and make me feel like I was special.” 

During the summit Zainab’s confidence grew, helping her meet and make new friends from neighboring countries she otherwise might not have known. Together, they learned some principles of entrepreneurship, as well as ICT Training (information, communication, technology). 

Young entrepreneurs leading the way

There’s a strong track record of students who have been able to help support their families and communities by creating businesses in food provisions, agriculture, and food security with the help of these literacy programs. Whether cultivating, growing, and selling crops or opening shops and bakeries, Leadership and Entrepreneurship program students and their peers are leading and making inroads for rural communities regarding social determinants of health.

Zainab is a part of this change. “After the summit I started the plantation of papaya based on the knowledge I learned. With that plantation of papaya I now have almost 10 trees. At first we just ate it at home, I wasn’t selling it. But I want to expand my plantation of papaya and to start another garden of vegetables (for sale).” 

2020 was a challenging year in the face of the global pandemic and to manage the health risks the LEI summit was mostly virtual, though a handful of students, Zainab included, were able to attend in person. 

At the summit, there was a strong focus on using digital tools to design and advertise the participants’ businesses. Zainab appreciated this aspect because these literacy programs showed her how to use digital tools to create presentations that can be used to pitch her business or advance her learning.   

She returned to Tanzania a more confident entrepreneur who was inspired to go back to school to start her college education with a concentration in public service. 

Surely, there are challenges ahead for Zainab’s papaya plantation. Monitoring groups believe that rural East Africa, an example of global food security issues, will remain a hunger and food insecurity hotspot as a result of the COVID-19 variants, conflicts and climate change.

However, the potential of young, educated, and ambitious entrepreneurs is limitless and history has taught us they usually find a way.

“Thank you to the Asante Africa Foundation! They gave me the power to start a small business and to gain confidence in myself so I can learn how to help my community.”  

Written By: Christopher Bass linkedin