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Dare to Innovate: Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurship for the Future

Guinea (West Africa) is a country of great need and limitless possibility. Despite millions of aid dollars and precious reserves of untapped minerals beneath its soil, Guinea's development lags behind others in the region, with youth unemployment at 61%. DTI has created an ecosystem of socially-minded individuals and entrepreneurs, fostering the exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources, catalyzing and promoting the social entrepreneurship movement in Guinea. By providing cutting-edge curriculum, collaboration with motivated thought-leaders and access to top-level training and mentoring, DTI challenges youth to design and jump-start their own social enterprises, becoming actors in Guinea’s economy and developing it from the inside-out.

Photo of Hilary Braseth
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Guinea is a country of great need and limitless possibility. The current system of aid is not working to pull Guineans out of poverty, and the country’s development lags behind others in the region. Ranked 178th out of 186 countries on the Global Human Development Index, Guinea’s GNI (PPP) per capita rests at 941 (constant 2005 international $), which is the eighth lowest globally. Furthermore, Forbes recently cited Guinea as the third-worst economy in the world; while thousands of Guinean youth graduate university every year, the job market is stark: 61% of Guinean university graduates are unemployed. Despite heaps of valuable, untouched resources embedded within the country's soil, this segment of the population (educated, unemployed youth) is arguably Guinea’s most tragically untapped resource. And with many social problems facing the country including food insecurity, malaria, socio-economic and gender inequality, ethnic tension and illiteracy, youth unemployment often receives the less-than-necessary attention it deserves.

Dare to Innovate (" Osez Innover", in French) meets the unemployment challenge head-on, leveraging social entrepreneurship as a means for empowerment and sustainable development. Social enterprises measure profit in two ways—the financial gain of shareholders and the social gain for stakeholders—using profit as a tool for sustainable social change. By leveraging social entrepreneurship, Guineans are empowered to start businesses and lift themselves and others out of poverty, creating employment, generating income, combating social issues and developing their country from the inside-out.

The mission of DTI is to create an ecosystem of socially-minded individuals and entrepreneurs that fosters the exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources, catalyzing and promoting the social entrepreneurship movement in Guinea. By providing cutting-edge curriculum, collaboration with motivated thought-leaders and access to top-level training and mentoring, DTI challenges youth to design and jump-start their own social enterprises, becoming actors in Guinea’s economy across all sectors, from agriculture to education and health.

The prototype of DTI was launched in 2013, taking the Peace Corps’ national Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program (YETP) to the next level. All 1,000+ Guineans who had graduated from YETP were eligible to apply; 120 applied and 21 were selected to attend a weeklong conference on social entrepreneurship. The conference occurred in August 2013 at an organic Farm in rural Guinea, at the recently opened “Dare to Innovate Center For Excellence and Human Development”. The DTI founders built the DTI curriculum organically, pulling from the world’s pioneering innovation techniques and thought-leaders including Acumen’s Human Centered Design, Harvard Business Studies, USAID Guinea’s Innovation Unit, Outward Bound, Future Search Methods and the expertise of Gulay Ozkan (entrepreneurship expert for emerging economy contexts).

The weeklong social entrepreneurship conference was followed by a month-long research and development period (R&DP), during which experienced mentors were recruited and trained to support these youth in forming a business idea, conducting market research, writing a business plan and perfecting a presentation. After supplemental regional trainings on how to leverage technology in research and presentation, all participants presented their business plans to a panel of judges from the public and private sectors.

Seven entrepreneurs were selected as winners and received a percentage of their start up costs. These projects included a for-profit composting system, an early childhood education center, a mobile veterinary clinic, composting public toilets, a tutoring center, an extermination service, and an organic banana plantation. Other non-winning ideas included a yogurt transformation business, a potato conservatory, nutritionally-enhanced Moringa bread and a seed bank, which won “Honorable Mention” from the DTI judges. The non-winning ideas were exposed to microfinance lenders and other financing institutions during the judges’ deliberation period, encouraging all participants to seek other financing options to jump-start their ventures even if they did not win.

As of July 2014, five of the seven winning ventures have already begun generating revenue and the final two are nearly ready to open their doors for operation. The winning entrepreneurs are work closely with DTI’s partners to conduct follow-up and evaluation, create finance plans and provide ongoing support. By creating this ecosystem of support, DTI is helping to close the enormous pioneer gap that exists in Guinea by providing funding and training to youth who wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain the resources necessary to turn their entrepreneurial dreams into a reality.

For more information on Dare to Innovate, please visit our website where we post our resources and weekly articles on development, entrepreneurship, social innovation, the global economy and more. Or, find us on Facebook and/or Twitter (@DaretoInnovate).


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Photo of Matthew Wilson

yes, but what does the program look like if it is built around Ghana's needs, and not what we might think is best for them

Photo of Hilary Braseth

Hi Matthew!

We appreciate your feedback, and agree. This program was built with, around, by and for Guineans, who are the true stakeholders of the project.

Were Ghana to implement a similar program, it would require a similar research phase that was conducted in Guinea, implicating human-centered approaches to dig to the multifaceted roots of unemployment causes.

What we've found from our contact with many other West African countries---Ghana included---is that youth unemployment, low economic development and similar market landscapes provide a homogenous-like scenario across multiple West African nations. This does not exclude, however, the important steps that would need to be taken in order to implement a program like DTI in Ghana---most importantly a group of Ghanians who were ready to take it head-on and lead the implementation on their own soil, with the support of the greater, global DTI community, if desired!

Thanks for your thoughts--are you involved with youth unemployment in Ghana?


Photo of Matthew Wilson

not yet, I would like to do work in Africa. Just really passionated about seeing help come with a human centered approach, rather than best practice models, which I imagine could feel culturally imposing. Glad to hear you are using a human centered approach

Photo of Hilary Braseth

Absolutely, and very neat--do you know where in Africa you'd like to go?

After working in Guinea for 2.5 years, it's quite interesting to see how much aid money is misdirected and not being used to build sustainable, meaningful projects. Of course, other factors contribute to the continuous "falling-short" that we see from noble development initiatives (like political instability, hostile economic environments, lack of infrastructure, corruption, etc.), however in our belief, research, cultural understanding, human-centered approaches and individual economic empowerment are the true bearers of sustainability.

This is why DTI doesn't tell its entrepreneurs what to "entreprendre" (or create)---it provides the tools for how to build a basic enterprise, offers mentorship and support where desired, and leaves the creation up to the Guinean dreamers!

See a few of our entrepreneurs who won the 2013's competition in our video section! Thanks for your thoughts.

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