Sweetening the future for one young baklava entrepreneur
25-year-old Adam Mohammed Osman always dreamt of starting a baklava business, to produce and sell the well-loved pastry dessert – Baklava, he’d excelled at making since childhood.
Sadly, he lacked the means to fulfill his dream, and wanted to do so in challenging circumstances - his home state of South Darfur is now recovering from decades of conflict, minimal livelihood opportunities and economic instability.
Today, despite these hurdles, Adam is a successful young entrepreneur, owning one of the most popular baklava shops in South Darfur’s capital, Nyala, a city of more than half a million inhabitants. But, it was no easy road for this budding bakery entrepreneur.
As a young boy growing up in a remote village south of Nyala, Adam spent the months between school terms working in a baklava bakery to help his family make ends meet. Despite the long hours, he forged a personal connection with the craft, which continued after his entry into the University in Nyala. There, he spent evenings working in a new baklava bakery to help pay his tuition fees.
Then, in early 2018, as a 24-year-old fresh college graduate struggling to find a job that provides a decent income, Adam received a call from his older brother in Khartoum. His brother had spotted a UNDP social media post about a programme providing ‘seed money’ to youth in Darfur with entrepreneurial interests and advised him to follow up to see if he could turn his dream into a reality through this opportunity.
This was the beginning of Adam’s remarkable journey to success in South Darfur’s baklava business scene, drawing on support he received from the Youth Volunteers Supporting Peace and Recovery in Darfur (YoVoReD) project. YoVoRed, a UNDP initiative, enhances the capacities of unemployed youth to become entrepreneurs, empower their communities, and inspire them to play an active role in the recovery of Darfur.
Following his older brother’s advice, Adam applied for YoVoReD’s Start and Manage Your Own Business Start-up challenge – and received a small grant of 10,000 SDGs (approximately 222 USD). Combined with his savings, Adam used these funds to buy the equipment necessary for a baklava bakery of his own and rented a workspace.
In just a few months, his bakery was producing 25 kilos of baklava each day, supplying restaurants and cafes around the city. Investing the profits, he quickly expanded the factory and opened his own café – his business now employs dozens of people, including three youth volunteers trained under the YoVoReD project.
Nowadays, Adam is a successful young businessman, mastering his craft and with ambitions to expand his business beyond Nyala. “My success in business earned me respect among members of my family and community,” he said. “I help my family with their living expenses, and I paid for my brother’s sick wife to have an operation she badly needed.”
Two Scoops of Sweetness: Catalyzing one young Darfurian woman's career and ice-cream business
As a young volunteer with local NGOs in West Darfur’s capital city of Geneina, the year 2016 was a struggle for Insaf Ibrahim al-Doum. Despite graduating from a business administration college, the previous year, she was struggling to cover her living expenses, and lived on only 200 Sudanese pounds a month (3 USD).
Today her situation is markedly different. Now, she juggles a professional career at the Ministry of Finance with a highly successful side ice-cream business, allowing her to earn extra income of up t0 9,000 Sudanese pounds (135 USD) to support her family’s living expenses and their own new enterprise.
Insaf’s recipe for success started when she spotted an advertisement for UNDP’s YoVoReD project. Her experience with YoVoReD began with month long training sessions covering a range of topics – from conflict resolution, to business development, to gender equality, to environmental management.
After the intensive training, she was deployed by UNDP as a Youth Volunteer and Peace Ambassador to her community for nine (9) months where she imparted the knowledge and skills, she gained, by training members of her community. Today, she credits her YoVoRed experience for much of her success, noting, “It boosted my self-confidence which in turn helped me get good jobs.”
For Insaf, the training was useful in a range of areas, but one theme in particular had a profound impact. “I used to believe that concepts of gender equality were “Western” in origin and are antithetic to our culture and norms. Not anymore. The training on gender equality made me realize that the values of equality are universal and should be taught everywhere.”
The training helped Insaf land jobs with several NGOs as a ‘Monitoring and Evaluation Officer’, helping measure the effectiveness of projects, before finally joining the Sudanese Ministry of Finance’s Department of Development and Planning.
But Insaf’s story with YoVoReD did not end there. Drawing on her entrepreneurial spirit, Insaf successfully applied for the project’s Start and Manage Your Own Business contest, securing a 10,000 SDG grant (approximately 222 USD) which she used to establish a small ice cream business. Insaf now juggles her job at the ministry with her side ice cream enterprise, providing for her family and helping one of her brothers to develop his own business. She also employs six (6) youth volunteers - four female members, two of whom sell ice cream in the neighboring Masteri village, just outside El Geneina town.
“Before I joined the programme I was unemployed and barely able to cover my living expenses,” Insaf said. “Thankfully, I’m now employed with a steady income. I make a daily profit of 300 SDG from the ice cream business. I am not only able to cover my living expenses but also the living expenses of my younger brothers and sisters. I paid for my brother to start a farm in Habila (nearby locality) where he has planted ground nuts and sesame on six acres.”
UNDP’s Youth Volunteers Supporting Peace and Recovery in Darfur (YoVoReD) project was launched in 2012, and draws on previous UNDP success in microenterprise development. At its core, the project aims to address critical gaps for some of the 7.5 million people in Darfur, predominantly youth, who have had limited access to education and developmental opportunities after decades of conflict.
Success stories like Adam and Insaf’s are just two from the 579 youth volunteers (42% female) selected by UNDP across Darfur’s five states to receive comprehensive business training, mentoring and a microgrant to kickstart small businesses. The project trains youth volunteers in microenterprise development, microfinance, ‘green business’, natural resource management and peace-building.
When volunteers complete their month-long training, they are equipped and deployed to return to their home community for a nine month ‘deployment’ to share the skills and knowledge gained, with their community members. To date, over 46,000 Darfurians have been trained by YoVoReD-supported youth in business skills and environmental management. Through YoVoReD, UNDP has successfully nurtured a cohort of dedicated youth who act as community recovery and development trainees, agents of change and peace ambassadors in conflict-affected communities.
Apart from imparting training to community members, they also assist in community mobilization, support the formation of savings groups and link them to sources of credit and administration of microgrants to associations. Through microgrants, the project helped establish 448 community microenterprises, working with the communities to identify and prioritize critical projects for implementation with funding from UNDP.
One of the crucial aims of the project is to restore peace and social cohesion in the communities hosting volunteers. The Youth Volunteers therefore play additional role of agents of change, role models and peace ambassadors. They form environmental and peace clubs in schools and organize peace events including sports for peace and community dialogue forums.
YoVoReD gives employability a further boost through social enterprise promotion. The SMYOB Start-ups use the design thinking approach to solicit ideas, develop prototypes and allow applicants to pitch their business plans to a judging panel which selects finalists based on set financial, social and environmental criteria. Like the two cases above, over 240 social enterprises have so far been supported involving individuals or groups of 2-5 people receiving grants ranging from 10,00 to 100,000 Sudanese pounds. Until its fourth phase, as of December 2019, over a half (50.5%) of YoVoReD’s youth volunteers were formally employed or have established their own businesses.
YoVoReD is managed and implemented by UNDP as part of its Early Recovery Flagship- The Darfur Livelihoods and Recovery Programme (DLRP) which aims at strengthening the resilience and self-reliance of conflict-affected communities and vulnerable populations (including IDPs, Returnees, Women and the Youth) by restoring livelihood opportunities and ensuring peaceful co-existence.
In its fourth phase, the YoVoRed has been made possible thanks to generous financial support from the Republic of Korea through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the Government of Japan and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV).