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 as to which industry to invest in before signing up to the Young Women Leadership Program (YWLP), created by the Madagascan NGO Youth First.
YWLP invites women age 15-24 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 (USD 500).
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. She explains:
We use its leaves all the time to prepare romazava (broth), but they hold significant nutritional and medicinal value.
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 took 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. To Rakotondrasoa’s great disappointment, her teammates also gave up on the project. Tina Andriamahefa Razafinimanana, founder of Youth First, explains:
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.
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 adds.
For Rakotondrasoa, the experience bolstered her determination to become an entrepreneur. With the blessing of her team, she continued the Moringala project alone. Thanks to the training program, she had developed self-confidence, leadership and advocacy skills, as well as the capacity to seek out and gather resources – and she was off to a flying start.
During the two years that followed, the young woman 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 third edition of The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, based in Nigeria.
She won the Madagascan Future Agro Challenge that same year, representing her country in the global version of the competition in Turkey, in April 2018. 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 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.
Among others are Healthy Girl, which promotes menstrual hygiene through sanitary towels made of washable cotton, and Funny Design, which creates hassocks and jewellery 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 make solid commitments 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 reference for supporting and promoting programs targeting Madagascan youth in general, and young women in particular.
For the past two years, the NGO has been also running a week-long 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 age 15-24. Recently, an international humanitarian organisation 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.
This article was published as part of impact journalism day, an international initiative involving more than 50 media outlets worldwide, highlighting local solutions to global problems and spreading stories in the first step towards change.