In partnership with the MasterCard Foundation's Youth Forward Initiative, Solidaridad in West Africa launched an innovative programme in 2016 to help young people in Ghana's cocoa communities find employment opportunities. Known as MASO, the programme targets youth between the ages of 18 and 25, and is implemented together with Ashesi, the Ghana Cocoa Board, Opportunity International, Aflatoun and Fidelity Bank Ghana.

As Ashesi's team lead, lecturer Dr. Sena Agyepong has been responsible for driving teaching and curriculum development for the programme's entrepreneurship training module. For over a year, she has worked with different teams across different parts of Ghana, to help young people in cocoa communities launch businesses and refine their business models. Known as the MASO Business Academy, the entrepreneurship module is the third wing of an entire five-year initiative. 

In a brief ceremony on Friday, 20th October, 22 young men and women were celebrated as the first set of entrepreneurs to successfully go through the programme; the entrepreneurs put together an exhibition for invited guests, with businesses spanning agricultural produce to child education.

“The objective of the academy is to help participants identify and engage with local employment opportunities,” Dr. Agyepong explained. “By so doing, they can earn an income and subsequently, gain purchasing power to help boost economic growth in their localities. Once there’s a healthy economy within their environment, we are also able to curb rural-urban migration, and consequently work towards the development of the community and the country as a whole.”

The programme involved coaching, mentoring and incubation for the entrepreneurs and their businesses; with expertise from other successful entrepreneurs, as well as Ashesi's faculty, the process allowed participants to explore opportunity spaces, build and test business models, and receive some grant support to kick off their ventures.

“In a little over 12 months we have endured a worthwhile journey as participants, facilitators and organizers," said Kojo Boadi Mensah of Solidaridad. “While this closing ceremony marks completion of the training programme, it is just the beginning for these startups. We are excited about the opportunities opened to them, and eager to see how they will not only build themselves, but also impact their communities."

“Joining MASO exposed me to an amazing network of entrepreneurs, trainers and facilitators,” said participant Solomon Aidoo who, in the past year, was able to start a nursery school in his community. “There has been tremendous improvement in our businesses; from a point where we were close to unemployment and failure to a now promising future. Personally, I have a new understanding of what my limits are, and an awareness that I can even do more than I initially thought."