Connecting African entrepreneurs with London businesses

‘If you want to change things, start with women. They have the potential to change society quickly, because they work in their homes, increasing awareness among their children and relatives. They can make their fortunes through non-traditional avenues, and secure livelihoods for their families and communities.’

Maisson Hassan is a young female entrepreneur from Sudan who started her business, Fandora, with two friends and just US$50. She now oversees a team of 30, designing and making Sudanese handcrafts from local recycled materials and organising workshops for women and girls at schools, cultural centres and prisons.  

Maisson’s business was boosted by a £5,000 grant she received through the British Council’s Mashrouy entrepreneurship challenge. Described by the Guardian as ‘Dragon’s Den meets The Apprentice’, the competition is part of a series across Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan to support young entrepreneurs. The initiatives have directly engaged 12,000 entrepreneurs and reached a further 20 million young people. Annually, an average of 34 per cent of the applicants are female.

‘Entrepreneurship is a way to escape from unfortunate conditions – from war, economic problems and unemployment. Instead of waiting for the perfect job, you can create your own,’ adds Maisson.

‘I used the Mashrouy grant money to buy sewing machines and tools. We rented a space to run our business and took on 17 part-time contractors. Through our recycling and handcrafts workshops and training, women can learn skills and start their own businesses.’

In March, Maisson and 13 other young entrepreneurs from the challenge series visited London as part of the British Council’s Entrepreneurial Africa London Showcase. The event, which attracted more than 100 participants, gave the entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to learn from UK business experts, connect with the London start-up community, and find potential partners to help scale their businesses.

Over three days, the entrepreneurs attended training workshops, study tours and open talks with UK entrepreneurs. They also had the opportunity to pitch their businesses and participate in a panel discussion on innovative approaches to supporting entrepreneurship in Africa.

The event was part of the new Entrepreneurial Africa programme, which offers ways for young African entrepreneurs to connect with the UK. It encourages entrepreneurial skills, creativity and innovation among young Africans, demonstrating how, through entrepreneurship, they can change the way they live and contribute to Africa’s socio-economic development.

The programme highlights why entrepreneurs like Maisson are so important for Africa’s future. She is a role model and champions change for Sudanese women. UNESCO has appointed her the Sudan Country Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, and Fandora provides much-needed employment opportunities for young women in Sudan, where the unemployment rate is currently almost 20 per cent.

Find out more about the Entrepreneurial Africa initiative and the London Showcase Event.

 

June 2016