Level Up 2023 – Business Event
Palais des Sports, Yaounde, May 5, 2023
Keynote Address by H.E. Christopher J. Lamora, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon
- Mr. Secretary General of the Ministry of Youth
- The representative of the Ministry of External Relations
- The Representative of the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development
- The representative of the Ministry of Communication
- The Vice President of the Cameroon Football Federation
- Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am beyond pleased to be here today for this event showcasing both the proven success and the tremendous potential of young Cameroonian entrepreneurs.
I’d like to thank the organizers — Mr. Thomas Nkeh, Mr. Gerald Chiatoh, my good friend Mr. Timothy Fai, and their partners for gathering such a dynamic, diverse, and interconnected group of participants and speakers. I also want to recognize the many established entrepreneurs, corporate executives, sports icons, personal development experts, and other leaders who will be joining you over the coming days for dedicating their time to share their journey and struggles, provide some best practices and lessons-learned, and mentor this next generation of Cameroonian leaders and business entrepreneurs.
I equally commend the young Cameroonian entrepreneurs present here today. This event is a great opportunity for you to share your experiences and endeavors, to learn, to network, and to build beneficial relations and partnerships.
The Level-Up symposium is an excellent platform to nurture entrepreneurship and leadership capabilities, which are critically important to the socioeconomic development of any nation, particularly in Africa and in Cameroon where the population is so young. Effective youth participation in society and the economy is indispensable for Cameroon’s sustainable growth, and those of us in a position to do so need to support initiatives that engage and advance opportunities for the young people coming up behind us.
You know… Many young entrepreneurs throughout history and across countries and cultures were initially dismissed as dreamers – as idealists with funny new ideas or unrealistic notions of fame and fortune. And of course, not every new product will sell, and not every new business will succeed. But without dreamers, we wouldn’t have the automobile or the airplane. We wouldn’t have lifesaving medical technology or the ability to predict major weather events. And we wouldn’t have Instagram or WhatsApp.
I know that that last one – a world without social media – is probably unthinkable to all of you assembled here to today. Even I have a hard time sometimes remembering life before Facebook. But now all these things and more are our everyday reality because some young person dared to dream.
The U.S. Government wants to help you realize those dreams. Promoting economic growth and two-way trade and investment between the United States and Cameroon is one of our key priorities. And part of how we do that is through trainings and exchange programs to develop the next generation of Cameroonian entrepreneurs and business leaders. We also organize seminars to build skills and foster networks to create synergies. Let me highlight just a few examples that showcase our commitment to young Cameroonian entrepreneurs.
Our Economic Section and the Embassy Branch Office in Douala facilitate trade missions that expose Cameroonian businesspeople to the American business model and create connections with U.S. businesses that hold the potential to result in joint projects. We also hold seminars to forge linkages between U.S. and Cameroonian businesses.
For example, last year our Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise — or “POWER” — program trained and connected 40 Cameroonian women entrepreneurs to the U.S. Small Business Administration (roughly the equivalent of your Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises) and to U.S. business professionals. These women entrepreneurs, in turn, created the Women Up Africa association, which is a growing continental association of over 15,000 women from Cameroon, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad who produce a variety of products targeting niche markets in the United States.
Sometimes, though, local entrepreneurs – even those with great ideas and a real desire to succeed – lack the business acumen or other skills to get their ideas off the ground. As part of our varied efforts to help address this, we offer several exchange programs in the United States for young Cameroonians to hone their entrepreneurship and leadership skills. These programs include the Young African Leaders Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship, TechWomen, Tech Girls, and the International Visitor Leadership Program.
Over the years, more than three thousand youth from Cameroon have participated in these programs. Maybe there are at least a few alumni of these programs here this morning. If you’re an alumnus or alumna of a U.S. Government exchange program, could I ask you please to stand up and be recognized?
We’re very pleased that numerous young Cameroonians have become very successful after their exchanges and, perhaps more importantly, are giving back to the next generation.
Valerie Neim is a perfect example. Valerie is an alumna of our International Visitor Leadership Program. Next month, she will launch the first edition of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs in Cameroon, to empower women with the skills to launch and develop successful businesses. This initiative will combine intensive localized coaching and mentoring in partnership with U.S. organizations to enhance core business skills.
Let me tell you a story. A fable, really, from Aesop. In short, a thirsty crow comes upon a bottle that has a small amount of water in the bottom. But he can’t get his beak far enough into the bottle to drink, and it’s too heavy for him to knock over. So he finds a pebble and drops it in. Then another, and another. And gradually, each pebble he adds displaces the water just a little bit more, until he’s put enough pebbles in the bottle that the water rises to where he can reach it and quench his thirst.
In this same way, entrepreneurship – even on a small scale – has the capacity to serve as a country’s engine for prosperity. Every new business is a pebble added to the bottle of Cameroonian economic growth. But the entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be conducive to the fast flow of talent, information, and resources to help entrepreneurs fulfill their needs at each stage of growth. This is why the U.S. Embassy works with Cameroonian and international partners to build the capacity of young Cameroonian entrepreneurs to enable them – that’s you! — to realize your full potential and fully participate in building this nation… to add your pebbles to the bottle.
Our African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is one example of our long-standing support in building capacity and an environment conducive to business growth in Cameroon and across Africa. AWEP alumnae have created over 17,000 jobs and established 22 businesswomen associations across sub-Saharan Africa, driving positive change and economic growth. Here in Cameroon, for instance, a group of AWEP alumnae have been working to develop a new micro-financing mechanism to assist women entrepreneurs who wouldn’t otherwise have the capital or collateral to secure traditional funding. It’s an important issue we all need to keep in mind, because without those seed funds, many people’s dreams might never see the light of day.
But entrepreneurs are tenacious. Rather than being deterred by challenges and risks, they embrace them and overcome them to build a successful venture. Through our small grants programs, the U.S. Embassy has provided funding to local experts to help foster an entrepreneurial mindset among Cameroonian youth.
For example, we funded a project in Maroua that trained more than 200 youth in motorbike repair. Many of the beneficiaries of this training have since opened small repair workshops that enable them to serve their community and take care of their families.
Last year, we launched a grant project to train 100 start-up promoters throughout Cameroon. The participants acquired the business and leadership skills to better respond to market needs and to transform their business ideas into actual projects and successful start-ups. We also funded a series of symposia to empower 150 at-risk young women in Bamenda with entrepreneurial knowledge.
Dear Participants… You will surely face many hurdles along your entrepreneurial journeys. The first attempts at airplanes barely got off the ground. But those dedicated inventors who dreamed of joining the birds in the air kept testing and adjusting their designs until they came up with something that worked. Eventually, they flew. I have no doubt that you will do the same.
Africa and Cameroon are dynamic, youthful places, full of opportunity. Your success as entrepreneurs has the potential to serve as Cameroon’s engine of prosperity. I encourage you to use your talents, energy, intelligence, and creativity to address the challenges facing your communities. And if your solutions are marketable, all the better.
Add your pebbles to the bottle. Look to the sky. Dream your dreams.
I wish you all a fantastic and fruitful next couple of days that no doubt will bring you closer to making your dreams a reality.
Thank you very much.