For Olivia Malala Rakotondrasoa, creating and managing her own company had been a dream for as long as she could remember. But she had no clue which industry to invest in before she signed up for the Young Women Leadership Program (YWLP), created by the Madagascan nongovernmental organization Youth First.
YWLP invites women ages 15 to 24 to work in groups of four to develop and present a project. The projects are assessed at the end of the program, and the top five are awarded 1.6 million Madagascan ariary ($475). Ms. Rakotondrasoa, a communications major, suggested that her project team work on ideas around the Moringa tree, which grows all over Antsiranana, the region of Madagascar where she grew up. “We use its leaves all the time to prepare romazava (broth), but they hold significant nutritional and medicinal value,” she explains.
It took the team the entire four training sessions of the program – spread over several weeks – to finish the “Moringala” project, as they named it. “We decided to use the product for cosmetics,” Rakotondrasoa says. The women gained knowledge and inspiration from the program, from meetings with mentors recruited by Youth First, and from other entrepreneurs’ experiences they heard while visiting companies.
But the final jury did not select Moringala, and Rakotondrasoa’s teammates also gave up on the project. “Not all those who participate in YWLP want to become entrepreneurs, or at least not immediately at the end of the program. Some of them want to pursue their studies, others want to discover new professional opportunities before embarking on their career,” explains Tina Andriamahefa Razafinimanana, founder of Youth First. The most important thing is that through the program “these young women found something meaningful; they realized what they want to do and defined what they want to become,” she says.
With the blessing of her team, Rakotondrasoa continued the Moringala project alone. During the two years that followed, she was named one of five laureates for an entrepreneurship program set up by Madagascar’s Ministry of Industry in 2016. In 2017, she was invited to participate in The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program, based in Nigeria. She won the Madagascan Future Agro Challenge that same year, representing her country in the global version of the competition. Her products – soap, massage oil, and tea – all made of moringa leaves, are currently available in several hotels and beauty salons in her native Antisiranana.
Like Moringala, many projects undertaken by these young women have seen the light of day. Some have gained serious recognition, thanks to YWLP. One of them is GasGasy, an organic and eco-friendly fertilizer. Its founder, Rebecca Andrainarisandy, was runner-up for the Anzisha Prize 2017 for young African entrepreneurs. Others include Healthy Girl, which promotes menstrual hygiene through sanitary towels made of washable cotton, and Funny Design, which creates hassocks and jewelry out of recycled clothes and plastic bottles. Today, the revenues of both startups fund a social reinsertion center for young women in Madagascar.
Created in 2011, Youth First launched its initial YWLP program in 2014 to help young women commit to a project but also to bolster their leadership skills, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Over four years, the nonprofit diversified its activities, becoming a resource for supporting and promoting programs targeting Madagascan youth in general, and young women in particular.
For the past two years, the NGO has also been running a weeklong national conference for young people. Participants receive training in leadership and have the opportunity to meet inspiring people. In 2017, a similar program to YWLP was created for young men ages 15 to 24. Recently, an international humanitarian organization asked for Youth First’s support to launch a leadership training program in four rural areas of Madagascar, to boost rural entrepreneurship among young farmers.
Since last year, Youth First has participated in the Erasmus + Breaking Cycle program against gender-related violence, as part of a network of associations from six different countries funded by the European Commission. For all of these programs, the nonprofit can count on the support of the young women who have completed the YWLP program, many of whom volunteer while carrying on their studies or professional careers.
For Rakotondrasoa, the YWLP experience bolstered her determination to become an entrepreneur. Thanks to the training program, she says she developed the self-confidence, leadership, and advocacy skills needed to pursue her dream.
This story was reported by L'Express, a news outlet in Madagascar. The Monitor is publishing it as part of Impact Journalism Day, an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project organized by Paris-based Sparknews, please click here.