Our impact, their voices

“Why not me?” Young people from Kinshasa start their own businesses

Thanks to an ILO programme, young Congolese women and men from modest backgrounds have been trained in entrepreneurship – sometimes with significant results.

Feature | 11 July 2018
Régine Kahindo Lukwangi
KINSHASA (ILO News) – Régine Kahindo Lukwangi didn’t seem to have the right profile to become a business tycoon. One of five siblings, she didn’t have the skills that would have enabled her to start a business. So first she studied to be a nurse in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), intending to pursue a classic career in a health centre.

From the outset, however, she realized that she was made for the business world.

“My parents were shopkeepers. We talked about buying and selling every day at home. So while I was studying, I couldn’t resist starting a business.”

She started very small, selling yoghurts at the university. Her concept was simple, but one that met with success among fellow students.

She remembers her friends looking on in surprise. “I told them: if others can do it, why not me?”

She soon started expanding. Instead of yoghurts, she started selling food products on a large scale in Kinshasa: pork and later beef, smoked fish, semolina, quails, quail’s eggs. She also started transforming fresh vegetables into dried products for local consumption and export.

Learning to manage and develop

But it didn’t take long before she hit a wall: her lack of business management knowledge.

That was when a friend spoke to her about the training offered by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to help young people from modest backgrounds by giving them the tools needed to create and develop a business.

I found the training very useful, in that it was especially adapted to business conditions in the DRC."

Régine Kahindo Lukwangi
“I found the training very useful, in that it was especially adapted to business conditions in the DRC. I learned to draw up a business plan, I learned how and when to expand, and I learned more about how to develop a market,” said Kahindo Lukwangi.

For her part, Aminata Maiga, Director of the ILO Office in Kinshasa, explained: “The young entrepreneurs we’ve trained tend to come from underprivileged backgrounds and were recommended to us by our local partners (religious institutions and youth organizations). They were taught using the methodology of the ILO Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) programme, the key component of which is the formulation of a business plan.”

“They were supervised by four certified instructors from the not-for-profit DRC SIYB network brought in especially from Lubumbashi. Some of them received coaching to help them start their activity; introductions to economic agents made them feel less isolated,” she added.

Tackling youth unemployment

In all, about 100 young people have received basic business training thanks to the ILO project. At least 25 of them have produced a business plan enabling them to start a business of their own.

Young people’s access to decent employment is a priority for the DRC."

Aminata Maiga, Director of the ILO Office in Kinshasa
“Young people’s access to decent employment is a priority for the DRC,” Maiga said. “The training participants were identified on the basis of their interest in entrepreneurship and their drive to succeed. The aim is to help these young people develop their potential and get their project off to a good start, notably in terms of financial management, by focusing on profitability. We’ve also introduced them to the DRC’s one-stop shop for start-ups, which allows entrepreneurs in the DRC to formalize their businesses.”

According to Maiga, the ILO Office in Kinshasa decided to set up this training for young people in order to help implement the ILO priority to provide decent employment opportunities for young people, as a means of promoting social peace and equity.

From yoghurt saleswoman to business leader

Kahindo Lukwangi has since become the CEO of Maximum Group, a social business operating in the food industry and selling menstrual hygiene products. The company employs 14 young people who are paid a minimum wage of 200 US dollars.

Kahindo Lukwangi has decided to draw on her experience and make her skills available to other young Congolese who want to start a business of their own.

“I’m setting up a permanent exhibition space for young entrepreneurs in order to promote local Congolese industry and thus enable young entrepreneurs to develop their markets, to meet consumers and investors, to improve the quality of their products using a direct consumer evaluation system, and to increase productivity,” she said.