In The Gambia, it is said that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Considering how long that notion has been around, you would think that The Gambia’s restaurant industry’s playing field would be more leveled. However, it is dominated by men but 21-year old Isatou Jobe is trying her hands in it in Farafenni, North Bank Region.

A certified caterer, Isatou’s childhood wish - starting her own business- came to fruition. She is now an entrepreneur making an indelible mark in the trade. She operates a restaurant where she sells breakfast, lunch and dinner. She also does catering services for institutions and formal events. Even while working for restaurants and supermarkets before, Isatou nursed her dream of setting up a vibrant business to make ends meet and inspire others.

“That time, I used to do small businesses. I used to go to the local markets to sell on behalf of my mother. I sold soaps, watermelons and other small businesses.”Because of the town's growing middle class whose increased disposable income and changing lifestyle has left them with an appetite for quick food on the go, Isatou saw the gap and wasted no time to turn it into an opportunity.

She is a beneficiary of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) Mini Grant Scheme which enabled her to expand her business venture through the provision of tables, chairs, a refrigerator, and a gas cooker, amongst others. The mini-grant scheme aims to tackle the problem of access to finance identified as one of the most pressing bottlenecks faced by youth entrepreneurs to set up and grow their businesses. It brings a solution to grassroots entrepreneurs with realistic business plans like Isatou, who are in need of support to start or boost their businesses. As part of the Mini Grant Scheme, Isatou received training on entrepreneurship and book keeping.

“After attending the training, I became even more determined. What I wanted is what that training offered me.” The funding allowed her to maneuver the existing challenging circumstances, such as erratic electricity supply and inadequate furniture. “The YEP Mini Grant helped me a lot because at that time, the money I had was not enough to buy all the goods I needed. YEP, through the grant of 47,000 Dalasis (around 840 Euros), enabled me to buy quality materials which I am now using to enhance my business, like tables and chairs for my customers to sit on.”

Since becoming an entrepreneur, she has learnt to not be afraid of trying new things. Her story highlights the importance of starting modestly and first testing the market as small mistakes are less painful. Leaving a salary job to set up your own business may take time to come to terms with. Isatou, however, mustered the courage as she knew that the potential of her new venture was clear. “When I was working on a salary basis, I did save some amount of money to enable me to start my own business. Operating your own business is better than working for someone who pays your monthly salary.”

In Isatou’s story, there is dream and determination. The new paradigm she created is not only encouraging other young people to reach greater heights but more importantly, creating positive change in her family and community at large.

“I am earning more money now than when I was employed.”

She advised young people to be innovative and create income-generating ventures to empower themselves. For Isatou, going to Europe through irregular migration is not the solution for young people’s quest for a greener pasture thus justifying the timeliness and significance of YEP, geared towards addressing the economic root causes of irregular migration.

Isatou now employed two of her relatives at her restaurant, who also generate income for working, thus, realizing the vision of YEP, creating employment opportunities for young Gambians.

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