The term ‘millennial’ conjures up images of a self-absorbed group of individuals who have a strong sense of entitlement, desire instant gratification and constantly seek validation. This generation is thought to lack focus because they have grown up surrounded by numerous distractions, the key one being social media. They are impatient because they have always had so much at their disposal, that to have to wait for anything they desire is almost asking too much of them. When held up to the light, however, does this description suit the industrious self-starters that are emerging across sectors worldwide?
Despite all that has been said, this generation has also been described as the most purpose-driven and potentially the most entrepreneurial of all previous generations. Many an innovative start-up has been formed as part of millennials’ growing need to solve an existing problem while creating their own opportunities. From Fintech to fashion, millennials across the continent are monetizing their talents and abilities as well as building doors into industries where previous generations had to knock.
The desire of millennials to venture on the entrepreneurial path may be attributed to several factors – some of them have already started a ‘side hustle’ by the time they are in university and believe that once they graduate, they will have what it takes to turn it into
a huge business. Some cannot find a job after graduation and decide to chart their own path, rather than stay at home waiting for that big opportunity which seems to keep eluding them. Of course, there are also those who enter into business because it is trendy to call oneself an entrepreneur.
Across the continent, stories of millennials launching innovative, problem-solving businesses abound. Whilst there is a general uptick in the prevalence of activity across the continent, there seem to be certain entrepreneurial ‘hotspots’ where for a number of reasons, there appears to be a wave developing. Kenya in East Africa, Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa, South Africa and Zambia in the southern Africa region and Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in the Maghreb are all experiencing a swing from traditional 9 – 5’s to entrepreneurial, owner-managed businesses. The facts are that this switch is driven by the millennials and is predicated on two powerful and related forces. The first is that Africa has a young demographic profile. A Geopoll survey indicates that for the continent, the oldest millennial is around 38 years of age with the youngest being about 23 years old and they represent 30% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people.
The second is that the average African millennial was born already exposed to technology and they are able to harness this exposure to their advantage. In most of the regions earlier described as hotspots, mobile phones are ubiquitous. This has enabled a leapfrog effect for these millennials giving rise to a generation that is comfortable with technology and thinks of solutions that leverage tech.
The result – a group of people who bristle at rigid structures and inflexible routines and combine their natural curiosity with bold creativity and a mastery of technology to create groundbreaking business ventures. Let us be clear – their innovations are not technology solutions so they are not all programmers or geeks. They typically provide solutions that tackle daily lifestyle inefficiencies and transform traditional products and services to better connect to their values and lifestyles.
Whatever the reason for entering into business, the emphasis for the millennial, is to carry out work which is personally fulfilling and which allows them to achieve work-life balance. Millennials are generally more socially conscious, making them passionate about causes they believe in. This underpins much of what they choose to do. Perhaps, having been born right when technology was expanding put the millennials at an advantage as they understand and are better able to use it to their advantage – for example, engaging customers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media.
For the millennial entrepreneur to thrive, they will need to truly understand their business, learn to collaborate with others who bring different strengths to the business and be patient in nurturing the business to growth.
It is interesting that despite millennials’ proclivity to be enterprising, their main descriptors remain those of narcissism and self-obsession. Perhaps, by appreciating the innovative contributions made by millennials across industries, we can show our support and encourage ethical, sustainable and successful businesses and business practices. There is much that the older generation can learn by getting rid of the negative association we make with the term “millennial” and beginning to view this cohort as groundbreakers in the new normal. This approach will break down barriers that will inure to the benefit mainly of the older generation and ultimately work to the advantage of
societies as a whole.
By: Mrs. Audrey Mensah