Boubacar Doumbia has adapted traditional production techniques for textiles to create a system of apprenticeship that incorporates youth into professional society. After training and working with other young apprentices, youth are better able to independently produce and make decisions. Boubacar is creating employment by facilitating youth to become entrepreneurs.
The New Idea
Boubacar has overhauled the traditional model of youth apprenticeship in Mali by putting young people in a central, entrepreneurial role from the outset. Rather than simply train students in the methods of textile production, he teaches professional, people and life skills, and encourages his apprentices to become self-sufficient, creative, and innovative. During his pilot project, Boubacar brought the traditional production model for décor and textile dying into the twenty-first century. His two-year trainings cover not only various textile styles and products, such as bogolon (traditional mud cloth), but also job skills, such as, financial management and savings practices, to enable his apprentices to adapt this profession to modern life and successfully earn an income. His programs place them in group and individual work environments to learn both self-reliance and collegiality. Knowledge of business practices and management techniques, coupled with trade skills and a sense of independence, encourages youth to become entrepreneurs and to create new jobs and industries within their communities. Boubacar’s initiative, “Ndomo”, draws on traditional Ndomo work habits of a shared collective as well as individual responsibility, but gives them a modern twist. Once young people successfully enter the business sector using the skills they have learned, they are eager to venture out on their own. Boubacar devises mechanisms to overcome premature resignation from the trainings, and creates incentives to keep young apprentices within his system for further development. Not only does this ensure that the apprentices will mature and achieve greater success, it also fosters a sense of responsibility to other youth; as they develop and become mentors. Boubacar’s system creates communities of young entrepreneurs that are both successful in business and also engaged in their communities, especially with young people. The solidarity among members of the community ensures the sustainability of their profits, and encourages others to join Ndomo. Boubacar’s model is highly sought within villages around his native Segou region and is expanding to other organizations, both within and outside the artisanal industry.
In Mali and throughout Africa, most adolescents and young adults are not integrated into the formal education system due to problems with affordability and accessibility. Compounding this, professional training schools are scattered throughout the region and are not accessible to low-income populations, especially in rural areas. Traditional apprenticeship programs, an alternative to formal training, are not adapted to meet the cultural realities of modern lifestyles; with new production methods and resources, management techniques, business practices, and prices, not taken into consideration. Without inexpensive and accessible resources to build professional skills and provide job training, career choices are limited.
Even for those able to receive professional training, career prospects remain low, especially for entrepreneurial endeavors. The job market in many countries in Africa is focused on civil service and government, where a system of graft and patronage excludes much of the population. Entrepreneurship is a viable and popular alternative, but those attempting to launch ventures of their own do not have access to sufficient start-up capital and often come from modest families and are unable to offer initial funding.
More than 50 percent of the population in Mali is under eighteen years of age. An inaccessible education and training system, high drop-out rate, weak job market, and absence of small business support means the future prospects for many are dire. This creates a burden on the government, citizen organizations, communities, and families, who must intervene and provide opportunities as best they can. In addition, social welfare benefits are almost non-existent and joblessness becomes an increasing danger for young people when they begin to have families. If unable to support their families—the cycle of poverty and joblessness will continue.
Boubacar’s pilot project fused the aesthetic with teaching production and broader business skills such as microfinance and savings strategies. Apprentices begin managing their bank accounts as soon as they become apprentices. They learn both individual and collective work, and money earned from each is available in installments based on individual savings plans. A community of young craftsmen is established, building a sense of solidarity and support that strengthens production and income generation.
The goal of the apprenticeship, which takes two years, is to support and empower the young artisan in high quality production and to provide basic information to encourage management of personal affairs as a fully independent craftsman. As a young craftsman’s abilities increase, Boubacar creates additional incentives. Increased personal savings targets and, a bigger share of the profit from collective work are tied to higher levels of responsibility. He also emphasizes choice versus control, making the decision to remain in the collective environment after the apprenticeship is over entirely up to the apprentice.
The replicability of Boubacar’s model is tied to culture and personal gains rather than the textile product. In an environment devoid of many social welfare benefits, apprentices who choose to remain within the collective have saved money to purchase houses, healthcare, and other needed goods and services. If they decide to leave, the graduated apprentices have saved money during their apprenticeship to provide sufficient start-up capital for their independent endeavors.
Boubacar’s philosophy and management methodology of social enterprise resonates with communities because it appeals to both their entrepreneurial drive and culture of shared values and responsibility. As the success of Ndomo has grown over the past several years he has sent members of the collective to interested groups—for example a group of string-makers in the Dogon region, more than a hundred kilometers from Segou, where he lives. Representatives from national crafts organizations have begun to train with him to learn his techniques, and Boubacar is spreading his idea “downstream” in the traditional textile making process by working with farmers who grow traditional plants used for cloth dyes. He also works with organizations in the metal industry to adapt Ndomo to their production methods.
His approach has been so successful that a group of women’s organizations recently petitioned a government minister with an extraordinary request—to have the minister order Boubacar to make them his top priority to replicate his approach. The minister politely turned down the request, pointing out that Boubacar was a private citizen, but expressed the hope that he would assist them along with the many other organizations with whom he worked.
When he was young, Boubacar developed an interest in traditional cloth making techniques. He became an art teacher, and his interest to develop a more effective youth apprenticeship began while working at a teacher training college. He began thinking this was only necessary for people with disabilities; working with a young deaf man in traditional cloth dying. When other able-bodied young men saw what he was doing they asked to join, and soon he had more applicants for his pilot program than he could accept.
Boubacar launched a small group in his native village of Segou, and trained them in his small workshops. Some of the group had no formal education, while others had physical and learning disabilities. This meant taking an innovative approach to apprenticing young men to prepare for work. Adopting the name Ndomo, he experimented with different ways to encourage them to become both great artists and highly entrepreneurial.
Boubacar wanted to dramatically increase the visibility of his work, so he replicated his pilot with a world famous group in Mali—the Dogon people—whose ancient cliff dwellings are important to the tourist industry. With the success of that work Boubacar is expanding Ndomo across Mali and is in contact with artisanal organizations in other parts of West Africa that are interested to adopt the principles and methods which underlie his work.