The Lesotho National Commission for UNESCO (LNCU) has launched the second phase of the Student Training for Entrepreneurial Promotion (STEP) programme to capacitate youths who have just graduated from tertiary institutions with the requisite skills to start their own businesses.
The programme which is sponsored by the German Commission for UNESCO commences on 22 April 2016 and ends in mid-July. Graduation has been slated for 5 August.
Addressing students at Lerotholi Polytechnic on Friday, STEP Programme Assistant Tieho Rankhone urged participants to use the skills they would acquire to create sustainable businesses. The ceremony was also attended by LNCU and Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) representatives among other dignitaries.
“The aim of this programme is to empower students who will become future employers instead of jobseekers,” Mr Rankhone said.
“STEP is geared towards assisting youths to start businesses and it is action-oriented given the dedication from facilitators from Leuphana University and benefits that include the M1 000 start-up capital on offer.”
The STEP programme was initiated in 2009 by Leuphana University of Lüneberg in Germany with the first beneficiaries being students from selected universities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The programme subsequently spread to other countries including Lesotho in February 2015, starting as a pilot project involving students from Lesotho Agricultural College (LAC), National University of Lesotho (NUL’s Institute of Extra Mural Studies branch), Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT), Lerotholi Polytechnic and the Centre for Accounting Studies.
Under the programme, students are grouped in classes of 50 each and required to complete 12 modules in as many weeks. The lessons last three hours per day and during that period, each group will be given a M1 000 loan as start-up capital for a business project of their choice. The loan is to be paid at the end of the course.
Subjects to be covered include Opportunity Identification, Planning and Implementing Plans, Marketing, Strategic Management and Leadership, Finding Starting Capital, Managing Finances, Bookkeeping, Overcoming Barriers and Networking, Writing a Business Plan and Registering a Business.
Mr Rankhone said they anticipated an even higher success rate after last year’s impressive results.
“Last year, we enrolled 200 students and 167 graduated. I therefore urge the class of 2016 to take this course seriously to avoid any failures,” he said.
The interest shown in the programme by such institutions as LNDC, Mr Rankhone said, should also serve as motivation for the students to perform well.
“Last year, LNDC sponsored four of the most viable business ideas that were incubated from the programme and some of the beneficiaries of that sponsorship are now running successful businesses. We are hoping more institutions will show a similar interest,” he said.
LNCU Secretary-General Palesa Mont?i concurred, saying the programme came at an opportune time when the country was grappling with a serious lack of employment opportunities for young people.
“STEP is indeed an appropriate programme for Lesotho as it comes at a time when the country is grappling with the challenge of unemployment and most unfortunately under-employment of fresh graduates from universities and other institutions of learning,” she said.
“I believe that it will be a solution to adverse labour market conditions and limited employment opportunities.”
Ms Mont?i also expressed her satisfaction with the high level of interest youths had shown in the project.
“I have had an opportunity to go through most applicants’ motivational letters, and I noted with interest that most want to gain or increase their practical entrepreneurial skills in order to start and maintain profitable businesses. I found this very encouraging. Believe me, enrolling for STEP is a step in the right direction,” Ms Mont?i stated.
She also praised LNDC’s contribution to the project.
“Last year, LNDC proved to be a powerful partner with the investment they put in. We are grateful for their investment as well as that of the partnerships they continued to outsource for us even after the project,” said Ms Mont?i.
“We have since had companies such as Maluti Mountain Brewery come on board and we are aware that LNDC continues to lobby more corporates such as Let?eng Diamonds on our behalf. The Ministry of Education is also grateful to the corporation for its strong supportive initiatives.”
For his part, LNDC Head Investment Promotion, Mokhethi Shelile expressed optimism the corporate would continue supporting the project.
“LNDC was part of this project last year when it started and we hope to with the support as we have come to fully understand it,” Mr Shelile said.
“We are awaiting the final decision from management but, in the meantime, we invite youths with viable projects to take advantage of the numerous opportunities we are offering.”
He added: “The Partial Credit Guarantee is still accessible to entrepreneurs. We are also awaiting a decision final word about the other financing opportunities we are currently working towards implementing to benefit small businesses.
“The corporation has set aside M30 million to be used towards tackling youth unemployment and the best use of such a budget is going to be communicated to the public soon.”