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Fatou Saine GayeFAtousaine

Gaye Njorro Hair Plus (Foundation for the empowerment of youth)

 “I have a mission: getting young people off the streets”

In 2005, after studying in the United Kingdom for 10 years and graduating with a degree in banking and finance, Fatou moved back to the Gambia for a job in banking. However, she then decided to become an entrepreneur in order to achieve work-life balance and also to follow her passion as a hair stylist, which she had pursued part time while in the United Kingdom. In 2007, Gaye Njorro Hair Plus opened, initially as a hairdressing salon. Two years later, after Fatou saw the vulnerability of young girls in the streets, she transformed it into a skills training centre for hairdressing, beauty cosmetology and massage therapy. The centre was then fully licensed and accredited by the National Training Authority of the Gambia. In that first year it started with 14 students. They all graduated and either found job opportunities or started their own businesses.

Fatou built a network with key stakeholders like the Social Development Fund (SDF), the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the National Youth Service Scheme. With their support, the centre enrolled 50 students. After the success of the second graduation, the centre attracted new partners, such as the United Nations Development Programme, which supported the opening of a new skills training centre – the Foundation for the Empowerment of Youth – at the border in the North Bank Region. The objective was to start tackling the issue of illegal youth migration by teaching them to be independent and self-reliant. Fifty more young people joined the new centre and graduated. Fatou then also engaged with the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration and accessed funding through the Ecowas Spanish Fund for Migration for youth training, in order to expand efforts to curb illegal migration. With this funding, the skills centre added new programmes such as catering, tailoring and information technology. Thanks to this expansion, overall revenue increased by 65% and Fatou is expecting a further 10% increase.

The centre also works with vulnerable youth and has sponsored four disabled young people. The centre has offered employment to two of the disabled students and to other past trainees who are powerful role models.

On the basis of these contributions, the Ministry of Youth and Sport appointed Fatou as a board member of the National Enterprise Development Initiatives (NEDI) to promote youth and enterprise development. Through further networking, a partnership with Moore University of Hair Design, based in the United States, made it possible to provide the first online hairdressing course in the Gambia. Other partners abroad have offered mentorships and grants. Since the Empretec training, Fatou always seeks new opportunities. “When people are worried about something, I take it as an opportunity and act on it to turn it into a business reality. For example, when the Government sees the problem of illegal migration, I take the opportunity of adding hard skills to my curriculum to encourage more youths to be trained and be self-reliant and stay in their community and work”.

The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 60% of the population living below the poverty line and with a high percentage of youth unemployment. Since 2009, the Foundation has trained and certified over 1,200 youths in various disciplines. Eighty percent of the trainees are gainfully employed, some have their own businesses, some have been recruited by the skills centre, others work abroad and the rest are employed by reputable institutions in the country. By age group, young people between 18 and 35 years are the largest founders of start-ups in the country.