Alieu Jallow became a dear friend to me during a time when he took me in as a volunteer at the American Corner, a place owned by the American Embassy with a purpose of providing books and learning tools to youths in the Gambia. Alieu is a hard-working young man, who never seems to stop surprising me with new projects or rewards. He is currently working on a project that enables young entrepreneurs with their start-ups in the Gambia. I wanted to look into his history to see what has shaped him to become such a clever young man.
Alieu was born in a small village in the North Bank Region of the Gambia, called Kerr Ardo. During his childhood days, he used to watch his Grandfather, the great Alkalo of the village settle disputes and family matters. At the age of 12, he left Kerr Ardo to attend Karewan Upper Basic School. When he went on to Secondary School, he tells me that ”Since it was my first exposure to the city, I had to learn to adapt to the cultures and environment, even though it wasn’t very different”. Alieu then continued his studies and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of the Gambia.
Like any other student with high aims and goals, Alieu has been practising math problems all night, studying hard for exams but also walked long distances to be able to get to school. Therefore the bicycle he received from his mother when he was about to start the University gave him relief to have more time to study and more energy. Alieu does not only value his academic education but also the experience that life gives, especially the mentors who have helped and challenged him to strive higher.‘”I am a student of life, learning everyday from everyone that I meet. I find my strength in helping others by impacting lives around me. From my family to the everyday person that I have the opportunity and means to help.”’
Alieu has worked on many different projects from an intern at the American Corner to the Business Development Manager of the American Chamber of Commerce. But the main passion and the red line in Alieu’s work is inspiring youths as well as creating a platform for them to develop their entrepreneurship. Most young people in the Gambia, despite the economic situation and financial constraints have refused to let poverty and the lacks of opportunities determine their future. Alieu has created a place where they can strive to set up businesses. Young entrepreneurs from all over the Gambia attend the incubator program started by Alieu. There are currently 20 businesses in the incubation program that have gone through training in capacity building in business and entrepreneurship. The young entrepreneurs have access to office spaces and facilities at the incubation centre. The program is working on creating the necessary entrepreneurial ecosystem for young entrepreneurs to develop and grow. The incubator program provides guidance and support for young entrepreneurs from specific industry experts, especially when banks and financial institutions do not offer them loans nor any financial support. The lack of financial support to young entrepreneurs results in 80% of businesses in the Gambia to fail in their first five years of operating. Therefore the importance of the incubation program is of high value to help the young entrepreneurs overcome these challenges. A new start-up incubator centre in Kanifing is set to open officially in October. The aim is to provide finances as well as mentorship to young entrepreneurs to further be able to expand to a network of entrepreneurs and mentors not only in the Gambia but also throughout the African continent.
The dedication to youth’s entrepreneurship is Alieu’s answer on how to put Africa on the map as a strong and prosperous continent and not to forget. In his own words ”My vision, as well as my dream, is to build a generation of entrepreneurs across the African continent that will champion change and who will provide solutions to their communities. Nothing comes easy if you truly desire change. You have to be an agent of change yourself, with the right mind-set and leadership.”