Mali: “The State is behind, struggling to follow the young entrepreneurs”

From November 3 to 5, ALB Company is organizing “The meet 2017”, bringing together people from the worlds of entrepreneurship, business, technology, economy, education, arts, culture. This meeting is intended to share knowledge, know-how. On Friday, September 15, Cheikh Amadou Diagana and Ibrahim Guindo known as Akim Soul, partners in the ALB Company, received in Badalabougou.

These two young people each carried out their activities. Akim Soul, a 24-year-old dashing, created Akim Soul Agency, a public relations and events agency two years ago. Cheikh Diagana, Senegalese living in Mali since one year, created the communication agency CAT Digital. They decided to become partners within ALB Company, a communication agency working in content production. Why? Last March, Akim Soul told at the turn of an exchange meeting between young entrepreneurs: “We need to merge our energies so that our lamps do not go out before they even light up”.

At one month of the event, the two partners talk about “The meet”. Why is it important for start-ups to participate? What aspects of entrepreneurship will be emphasized? What is the status of young entrepreneurship in Mali? Interview.

Why The meet?

Akim Soul

Akim Soul: “The meet” by our personal experiences. Everything starts from our meeting. We are young entrepreneurs, and that means meeting, networking, address book, professional relations. We wanted to create this platform so that young people who want to start a business, that companies that want to support young entrepreneurs, so that great entrepreneurs can also find themselves around an event, through various activities. But, it is also and above all, in order to draw inspiration from each other.

Cheihk Diagana

Cheihk Diagana: There isn’t much to add to what has just been said. It is a question of responsibility as young entrepreneurs who met by chance and who “linked” their positive spirit and wanted to pass on everything to our peers, be they entrepreneurs, employees somewhere. Whether they are from Bamako, Dakar, Abidjan or even Segou or Sikasso. That these people can set up a platform for exchanges that finds solutions: we are tired of always looking for problems. We want to be force of proposal, to camp the debate.

You talked about “finding solutions”. Find solutions to what?

Ch.D: To find solutions to our dailies of entrepreneurs, to have competent, well-trained and dream-minded collaborators. Find solutions on the social level…

Akim Soul: … And on personal development level too. Beyond the entrepreneurial aspect, this meeting allows to meet other people who aspire to be useful to their community like a director, an executive. So it is important to come to this meeting to see coaches, people who inspire and allow to achieve certain level of efficiency.

What can this kind of event bring to the ecosystem of start-ups in Mali?

Ch. D: Hope and discovery especially. Before our meeting, Akim Soul did a lot of activities in Bamako, and I had just arrived in this country. I spent a year finding people who understand my language. A platform like this would have facilitated my contact with the right people in the communications, finance, humanitarian sector…

A. S: The difficulty was to bring together all these beautiful people who evolved “enclosed” It was necessary to go to meet all these actors in order to find the talents and put them together.

What are the requirements for start- ups to take part in this meeting?

Ch. D: The objective for us is to offer a discovery platform. Activities that will be initiated during “The meet” are free. The only condition is to say the following sentence: “Nice to meet you!” It’s free. But, to have a stand to present his/her activities, there will be a cost. Participation in other activities is open to all.

Is it important for you to organize a free event?

Ch. D: Very important, to the extent that we are an agency. We have clients to manage, do our commercial prospections. That’s what makes us live. This is the heart of our business. This activity is a responsibility.

A.S: What would be more important is that the companies and institutions that are already in place understand that it is more or less a responsibility for them to offer such an event to young people. So, we will not rely on student money, young entrepreneurs to do it, but rather try to establish partnerships with these Malian or foreign companies.

“(…) few entrepreneurs are open”.

What aspects of entrepreneurship will be emphasized during this meeting?

Ch. D: We may surprise you, but it will be “openness”. When we talk about entrepreneurship, many people talk about perseverance, dynamism, and so on. But few entrepreneurs are open. We’d have to stop looking at ourselves as enemies. We can compete in one area and work together. That is what shocked me when I arrived in Bamako: there were so many competent people, but they were working alone in their corner. Our goal is to create a platform where action people can work together.

Tell us about ALB COMPANY, which is organizing this activity.

A. S: ALB is a creative agency that has a very broad vision and wants to prove its worth in the field of publishing, media, events. The objective is to set up professionals from these different fields to create an agency that is not necessarily dedicated to communication. It is an agency that deals with the creation, production and promotion of content concerning web support, paper … The project existed for a long time. We decided to combine our efforts and our energies, our skills to set up this structure. We are partners on this project.

Ch. D: When we met, we each had our own businesses. Akim was in event management with Akim Soul Agency and I had CAT Digital. He had his vision of things. We told ourselves that this fusion was going to be complicated, and would not have defined the dream we were carrying. Because I am in digital, he is in event management. The objective for us was to have two agencies that are specific. Many are in communication and do everything at the same time. When one wants to do everything, one is not competent anywhere. Today we are partners on this agency.

You are young, you believe in entrepreneurship. What are the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs in Mali?

Ch. D: I would rather speak of challenges.

That is?

When one does not realize the dream one carries, when one does not apprehend his skills, when one lacks ideal, it is the most difficult part. On the other hand, there are a lot of challenges. The challenge of finding the right collaborators, who have the same dream and want to engage in what they do. This is the most difficult stage.

A. S: I think that when we have the right people, the issue of funding will not be a problem. Finding collaborators is really the heart of the activity.

What is being discussed is that banks do not contribute enough to youth entrepreneurship, as is the State, which instead of ensuring the police of the youth entrepreneurship environment, funds projects, distributes money …

A. S: I prefer not to talk with regard to the absence of the State, because it is not entrepreneurship alone. It is in all sectors. The State is weak at all levels. Talking about the lack of support from the State does not mean anything in my opinion. What does the state actually support?

So we must not rely on the State…

A. S: Personally, I do what I have to do. And I try to do it correctly.

Ch. D: I think the State is behind. It has a hard time keeping up with the young entrepreneurs who do not have the time. While the State is time, the long term. State policies are defined in the long term.

“When you are an entrepreneur, you must love to suffer, (…) not to eat all day…”

And the banks?

Ch. D: They lie. They will never take the risk. But when you are an entrepreneur, you must love to suffer, walk, ride behind a motorcycle, and not eat all day. It’s the price to pay. It’s that simple. Starting a business is a matter of heart, on must believe in it.

In front of the reluctance of banks and the inaction of the State, what support is needed for entrepreneurship?

Ch. D: The moral support. We do not want a check. We just want to deserve what we do. We do not want alms, we ask for support and respect for what we do. What is difficult for us is that support and the acceptance of our choice.

What do you say to those who feel that there is a much greater need for police officers who work and have ethics, of public servants who know how to do something other functioning than companies that sink one week after their creation?

A.S: These are people who have not understood anything about life. The richest personalities in the world are neither police officers let alone civil servants.

Ch. D: It’s a matter of heart, of choice. For me, life must be fluid. Everyone must live his dream in the respect of the other. Whatever the sector of activity, let’s have intellectual honesty!

Interview by Sidi Ahmed S.