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Senegal: Young entrepreneurs support each other by sharing experiences

Thirty-year-old Marième Ndiaye Cissé owns a restaurant in Matam, a town 600 kilometres from Dakar in an isolated part of northern Senegal. Since opening her restaurant four years ago, she has learned a lot about running a business.

Her challenge has been serving quality food to her clients. To achieve this, she hopes to banish chemical concoctions from her pot. This is difficult in Senegal, where women typically resort to artificial flavouring.

She explains, “To prepare the national food of Senegal, which is rice and fish, I rely on local, natural spices.” To season her dishes, Mrs. Cissé uses dried fish, a well-known flavour enhancer in Senegal. She also uses a mixture that she prepares herself: a combination of salt with shrimp powder, chili, green onion, peppers, black pepper, and bay leaf.

She explains: “My clients are used to a less expensive restaurant experience that is of dubious quality and they don’t want to spend more to pay for the good quality food that I offer.” But Mrs. Cissé hopes to change people’s minds.

It has been difficult for her to find certain raw materials in Matam. She adds, “I had difficulties managing these last four years. It was also difficult to find good collaborators in this area where many people do not have education. It was impossible to find financing.”

She had to rely on her own savings to start her business. She hadn’t mastered good management practices in the beginning and often operated at a loss. She recalls, “I couldn’t distinguish indispensable and productive personnel from the rest. I also couldn’t find the target clientele I really needed.”

In addition, her meager budget wasn’t enough to attract a professional chef to Matam.

Mrs. Cissé shared her personal experiences at a seminar for women entrepreneurs hosted by the Uniterra program, implemented by Canadian NGOs CECI and WUSC. She hopes her advice will help other young entrepreneurs avoid the challenges she faced.

The seminar was also an opportunity for her to learn and be inspired. She met Aurore Magougna, a Canadian entrepreneur and restaurant owner. Like Mrs. Cissé, she has been fighting the popularity of junk food. Her social enterprise specializes in educating children aged 4 to 11 about good nutrition. This idea immediately captured her Senegalese counterpart’s attention.

Mrs. Cissé says: “What most interested me from this meeting was the chance to discover another culture: to know what happens elsewhere and to be able to get the most out of it. The seminar gave me the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs. In addition, it allowed us to form interesting partnerships for the future of our businesses.”

Mrs. Cissé plans to make the most of what she learned. Inspired by her conversations with Mrs. Magougna, she will take a new approach to her business, and plans to integrate children’s meals into her menu.

Like Mrs. Cissé, Nogaye Kane is a young entrepreneur who has benefited from the support of the Uniterra program. She is a third-year student who studies food. In March 2019, she started a garden project on one hectare of land in Ngaye Mékhé, a city in northwestern Senegal, 265 kilometres from Dakar.

Her project involves planting fruits and vegetables to address the lack of local supply. Miss Kane says, “I had the idea because there are no orchards in my area. People use a lot of vegetables but they don’t produce them. Traders have to visit other parts of the country to get supplies.”

Miss Kane had an idea and saw a local need, and the Uniterra program helped her better draft a business plan and understand the local market so that she could launch her business with confidence.

Uniterra is a program implemented by CECI-WUSC, working in Senegal with local partners in the rice, groundnut, poultry, and market gardening sub-sectors to help youth and women access better economic opportunities. The objective is to reinforce the economic power of women and youth by developing their entrepreneurial spirit. The Uniterra program provided funding and technical support for the production of this story. CECI and WUSC are financially supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca. For more information you can follow Uniterra Senegal on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cecisenegal.

Photo by Frederic Courbet.