Interview with Celestine Okeke, Head of MSME-AGI, a Nigerian support organisation for micro and small businesses
MSME-ASI is an advocacy organisation that seeks to improve the conditions under which micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs) operate in Nigeria. MSME-ASI guides policy makers and shapers in enacting policies and regulations that are not only friendly but encouraging and appreciative of the peculiarities facing MSMEs in Nigeria.
We recently caught up with Celestine Okeke, Lead Partner at MSME-ASI and mentor for the national YouWiN business competition we recently reported on.
What problem does MSME-ASI seek to address?
MSME-ASI seeks to address amongst other problems facing youths in Nigeria, the rising challenge of unemployment, violent extremism and political apathy. We are hoping to drive entrepreneurship among Nigerian youths as a genuine tool to addressing unemployment while designing and deploying income generating activities as a way out for youths involved in violent extremism.
We are also of the belief that an economically empowered youth would have more interest in politics and moving the country forward.
What is your target group?
We are targeting youths between the ages 18-35 years in Nigeria who are engaged in absolutely no economic activity and or gainful employment.
Can you tell us about the projects you have organised in order to achieve your objectives? What is your organisation’s most popular project with young people?
We have organised a series of programmes including the set-up of business hubs in schools that teach students the practical skills and business acumen required to become entrepreneurs. We also started a youth- in –agriculture project helping young people start small-scale farms on an experimental basis. Lastly, Project 18-35, which we designed to deploy income generating activities for young people aged 18-35 who do not have any gainful employment.
Project 18-35 is the most popular of all our initiatives. It has a very visible impact, as it takes youths off the street and gives them a reason to go on.
What has been the impact of your organisation?
We have helped a significant number of young people engage in income-generating activities rather than staying idle at home or searching for non-existent white collar jobs. We take these young people through a planning process whereby they can work out a step-by-step plan to start micro entreprises and grow them into small businesses.
We have also established an incubation hub for women in business here in Abuja, it is a membership based which helps them access the right knowledge and other non-financial support services that can help then continue to develop their businesses.
We are currently working with the relevant public and private sector bodies to address the issue of street hawking in our city Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital. Our objective is to help move street hawkers into corner shops that would be specially built for them and enable them to generate more sustainable income.
Have you encountered any obstacles when running your programmes / projects?
The greatest obstacle has remained getting young people to embrace the projects, as many of them remain persuaded that seeking white collar jobs [which more often than not do not exit] is the only thing they can hope to do. We also have great challenges navigating through the bureaucratic bottlenecks in the Nigerian civil service and of course, capital and finance, we never seem to have enough.
How can private enterprise best support youth in Nigeria?
Private enterprises can support Nigeria’s young people by paying closer attention to the issue of youth unemployment. Private enterprises should work more closely with organisations like ours to develop income generating activities for young graduates as well as those who never had the chance to go to school in the first place.
Nigerian millennials and generation Z are in dire need of a strategy that would help them gain employment without them having to go miles seeking fruitlessly finance and technical expertise. We need a conducive ecosystem for their business enterprises to thrive.
How did you celebrate the UN International Youth day on August 12?
We are running a campaign around notable motor parks in Abuja where unemployed youths go every day to earn a living. We are going to run interviews with some of the youths we meet there and suggest they join our programmes.