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May 10, 2017

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Inspired by China, ambitious for Togo

EDITOR’S note:

Every five years, Shanghai stops to take stock of what it has accomplished and what more needs to be done. Starting last Monday, the 11th Congress of the CPC Shang­hai Committee convened to begin that process anew. Its report card will help to shape economic, trade, commer­cial, technology and finan­cial policies, and outline the broad visions that carry the city’s dreams for the future. The work and home lives of local Chinese and expatriates alike will be affected by these decisions. In a series starting today, we ask foreigners living in the city to share their views on Shanghai’s progress and future prospects.

AFTER earning her master’s degree in China in 2010, Essivi Amehon stayed on for doctoral study. The decision was based on more than just her academic intellect.

“I didn’t want to work for anyone, nor did I want to borrow money from the bank to start a business in my country,” said Amehon, 38, a native of Togo in West Africa. “I stayed to explore business opportunities between Africa and China.”

The former business administration student is now working on her doctoral dissertation at Donghua University.

Shanghai, she said, holds great prospects for ambitious entrepreneurs, a category in which she includes herself.

She said her first commercial business experience came while working for Togo at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, after she graduated from a university in Wuhan.

“I sold African fabrics and helped African businessmen make contact with Chinese factories to supply raw materials for their businesses back home,” Amehon said.

“Everywhere I go I always ask myself, ‘How can I make money?’ People think I am strange,” she added. “But here in Shanghai, there are a whole lot of people who are looking for answers to the same question.”

Amehon now runs her own business helping foreign students to apply for scholarships to Chinese universities and assisting business executives from Africa and China in cross-border commercial activities.

She said she wants to inspire young people from her country to think outside the box.

“In Togo, professional people with know-how often can’t find a job, and it’s almost impossible for young people to start a business because our taxes so high,” Amehon said.

Togo is a small country with 7.3 million people and according to the World Bank, it ranks among the low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The unemployment rate last year was 6.8 percent, rising to 11.7 percent among people aged 15-24. Both figures are below sub-Saharan African averages, according to the International Labor Organization. Amehon said many jobs that are available pay little.

“I would like to help young people back home get scholarships to study in other countries, to see something new, to get inspired,” she said. “I want them to see it’s possible to start a business from zero.”

Amehon said she has helped about 10 people from Togo get scholarships in China since she began her business in 2014.

“France and America have always been the most popular choices for those seeking scholarships abroad,” she said. “But more and more Togolese hope to come to China because something very interesting is happening here.”

She said she hopes Africa will someday be home to more multinational companies capable of competing on a global level.

“We young Africans should come together and stick together to make changes in our economy,” she said.

Amehon said Togo has a lot to learn from China in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship through innovations such as startup incubators that help young people through the first steps of starting a business.

She herself is now in an incubation program in the Songjiang District. It gives her a free office for six months. She has a Chinese assistant who helps with research on the Chinese market to spot business opportunities for African clients.

Having lived in Shanghai for almost seven years, Amehon said she has fallen in love with the city.

“I love the Bund and the quiet downtown streets where you can enjoy both a natural environment and a modern city at the same time,” she said. “For fun, when I feel stressed, I like to go browsing in Xintiandi, Hengshan Road and Julu Road.”

The city’s revised visa rules, introduced last December, make it easier for foreign students who want to start their own businesses.

According to the rules, students can start a business in Zhangjiang National Innovation Demonstration Zone, Shanghai Free Trade Zone, Yangpu District and Shanghai Jiao Tong University with a study permit allowing “entrepreneurship,” if they have a recommendation from their universities.


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