In the United States, a college degree is seen as a ticket to a better paying job. Sadly, that is not the case in Benin, Africa.
Although they have spent years going to school, new college graduates in Benin face limited employment opportunities. According to UNDP Africa, over 67 percent of Beninese ages 15-35 will not find paid employment, including many who hold college degrees. Those who are lucky enough to find employment will often settle for jobs well below their skill sets. Also, over 80 percent of Benin is underemployed, according to UNDP Africa.
Stukent wants to help change that.
In November 2019, Stukent CEO Stuart Draper went to Benin to join forces with the van Duyse Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (VELI) in helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn how to create their own business opportunities in Benin.
“I truly believe that education helps solve the poverty problem, but if you don’t have entrepreneurs that are starting businesses and creating jobs, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve educated them, because there’s no work to do,” Draper says.
The VELI organization helps young entrepreneurs and college students by acting as “a training center, a micro-financing center and a business incubator.” Students first learn English and are then taught business and leadership skills.
In 2018, Stukent paid to put 10 students through the program. After visiting Benin and seeing firsthand how the program is changing lives, Stukent increased their donation to over $20,000. This will cover a full-ride scholarship for 50 additional students. In addition, Stukent is going to provide free courseware for all of the thousands of students in the school to learn more about using social and digital marketing to grow their businesses.
In addition to Stukent’s CEO, Senior Course Consultant Connor McCook and small business owners Larry and Debbie Draper (Stuart’s parents) also went to Africa. The group spent an average of 6-8 hours a day advising students on various business ventures and addressing large groups of students.
“They [VELI] put us to work” Stuart Draper says. “We spent 6-8 hours every day teaching. They have plenty of students who want to learn.”
Among the students who met with the Stukent team was Marie Danielle, who creates and sells purses, paper tablets, and other items using “wax,” a traditional Beninese fabric (worn by Marie as pictured). Stukent purchased over $700 USD worth of inventory from Marie to help her grow her company and will use the products as swag to spread awareness of VELI at upcoming educational conferences in the U.S.
The Stukent team also met with David, a VELI graduate and owner of a palm oil company in Togo. David founded his business after attending the VELI program. He now employs several people and is looking to expand his business to other countries.
Another student, Corinne, used her skills from VELI to launch a successful hair salon and is now looking to expand her business into manufacturing beauty products she can sell to other salons and customers.
“She had all these really good questions,” McCook said. “We gave her examples of how other companies in the U.S are doing things that would match her business.”
The need for entrepreneurs and business opportunities in Benin is dire. The current poverty rate in Benin is 46.4 percent, meaning more than 4 in 10 Beninese live below the poverty line. According to VELI, more than 75 percent of the country lives on roughly $2 USD per day. The cost for a 1-room apartment with no running water costs a minimum of $24 USD per month, leaving very little left for families to pay for things like food (1 kg of rice costs $1.20 USD) or transportation to work, which can cost up to a dollar a day.
“They spend so much time just trying to survive that they don’t get to spend very much time thinking about their future,” Draper says. “One of my favorite things about the trip was seeing these people with really brilliant minds who have the tenacity to go make things happen.”
If you would like to get involved in helping entrepreneurs in Benin, you can email VELI founder Gregory van Duyse at [email protected] for more information and to learn how you can contribute to their mission.