students trained every year
of Malians aged 15 to 39 are unemployed or under-employed
Mali's first hospitality training college opened in Bamako in 2015. Founded by a visionary CEO, the establishment is a route out of unemployment for the country's young people, and an active proponent of gender equality.

The Mali of Erik Orsenna's Madame Bâ seems like a distant memory. After years of economic boom, the 2012 coup dragged the country into deep political and security crisis. The northern half of the country was occupied by rebel Tuareg and jihadi groups who reigned through abuse. This led to international military intervention in which France played a major role.

A landlocked country in West Africa, Mali is home to 17.6 million people with population growth of 3.6% per year. Faced with low diversification, Mali's economy stuttered to a standstill and tourism collapsed. Yet the country's solid assets (international aid, a pro-active government and a vibrant community of driven entrepreneurs) give hope that Mali may yet see renewed growth in its future, and business tourism is already picking back up in Bamako.

For AFD's private sector subsidiary Proparco, developing the hospitality industry was crucial to encouraging investors to return. As a result, the Chiaka Sidibé (EHCS) hospitality training college was founded as part of a loan scheme to the value of €16.4 million to renovate the Salam hotel in Bamako, where the college is based. The loan comes with three years of technical assistance designed to be used to set up training programmes.

Our students are aware that they're here to learn a trade and escape unemployment.

Thomas Brissiaud, chef and college teacher
 Mali, Bamako, hospitality training college, Aminata Soumah
Some project's beginnings deserve to be featured in handbooks under the header 'Perseverance'. The founding of the Chiaka Sidibé (EHCS) hospitality training college at the Azalaï Dunia hotel in Bamako is one of them. Political instability and desperate hope that the economy would pick back up formed the background to its early days, but today, the future looks bright: "This was a project that meant a lot. It took ten years to get up and running and several false starts before finally happening," muses Aminata Soumah (photo), HR manager for the Azalaï hotel group and project coordinator. The young woman believes "this programme is entirely relevant" in French-speaking West Africa, where the hospitality sector aims to work to high-end standards.

"The school was born of a need to fill a gap," explains Mossadeck Bally, CEO of the Azalaï group. "We couldn't find young people with foundational training in hospitality, so we wanted to tackle the issue head-on, setting up a school to train young people ourselves."
Mali, Bamako, hospitality training college, military

The Belgian soldier standing at the entrance to the Chiaka Sidibé hospitality college is a potent reminder that Mali remains under threat from the jihadis. Today more than ever before, young Malians need economic opportunity and solutions that fit with their aspirations. Whether qualified or not, all too often they fall into the vice-like grip of unemployment.

Faced with a smorgasbord of unsuitable university degrees and a general apprenticeship crisis, half the country’s young people are affected by underemployment or forced unemployment.

In this context, the role played by the school's managers and the project's founders is crucial: "Our company has a social duty to reinvest in training", notes Mossadeck Bally. "We're responsible for giving these young people a chance, where they might once have been added to the pool of terrorists, tempted by the adventure of crossing the desert and the Mediterranean, with all the attached risks."

Mali, hospitality training college, Philomène Diarra

Gender equality emerged as a non-negotiable slant to the Chiaka Sidibé school, here in a country where women's independence remains a central question and challenge. For the EHCS, results have defied initial expectations, with the school now boasting a mostly female student body. This is good news for the hospitality sector in Mali, where women remain under-represented both in managerial and operational roles.

The founder of Bamako's first hospitality training college sees the establishment's success as more than just a means to an end. It's also an opportunity to expand beyond Mali's borders.


Mossadeck Bally
Mossadeck Bally© Ibrahim Diarrassouba


Two years after opening the Chiaka Sidibé school, Mossadeck Bally can congratulate himself on a fantastic job. The country's head-hunters now come to him to hire students before they've even finished training. And the time has already come to scale things up: "Because our first batch of students was so successful and we've had such good feedback from partner companies, we've decided to increase numbers for 2017, opening up new classes in 2018 and recruiting more to be able to train up 100 students every year."

A single establishment is no longer enough. The CEO of the Azalaï  Group has set his sights much further: this trader's son grew up in a family where "enterprise was second nature", and he now wants to roll the concept out in other African countries. This ambition matches a very real need, as the number of unfilled hospitality positions rises every year in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the meantime, EHCS is seeking new investors and hopes to become an independent, solid and recognised establishment in its own right. To do so, it needs to expand its offer and build new classrooms to cover all aspects of the hospitality trade. In parallel to this, it aims to have its training programme approved by the Malian state as an official certifying diploma. And turn its Bally sauce into the region's best-loved dish.