Youth development and entrepreneurship in Africa: Walking the Talk

By Terena Chetty

It is becoming increasingly evident that Africa’s future is largely dependent on the continent’s burgeoning youth population. Private and public sector alike recognize that the key to Africa’s growth is closely tied to the success of this demographic group. With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis further catalysing the existing 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), future of work and global innovation demands, it is critical that businesses, governments and social impact organisations alike “walk the talk” when it comes to supporting the development and success of young people in Africa.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development report states: “youth employment and economic empowerment are essential components of a strong foundation in any society. Having decent work is crucial for young people and their future, but it also has a domino effect on local communities, countries and the world as a whole. The present challenge lies in simultaneously creating jobs for the growing youth population and addressing related concerns such as skills mismatch, working poverty and the sub-optimal school-to-work transition situation, especially in the developing world”.

Below are some of the key areas of focus for youth development, as well as examples of corporate governance and programme initiatives that are playing their part when it comes to youth empowerment and social transformation in Africa:

Education & Skills Development:

A lack of access to education results in many young people in Africa working in the informal sector, with very poor earning potential, limited opportunities and little to non-existent job security. Worse still, a large segment of youth in developing countries cannot secure work at all, due to a lack of education and/or skills. Tertiary education or training is generally out of reach for many young people, severely impeding their chances of progress. This is especially true for vulnerable communities where taking care of the family’s basic needs far outweighs the consideration of spending (often scarce) money on education. This scenario necessitates the urgent need for free education and training programmes, including bursary sponsorships, to help youth transcend the limitations of their financial situations. Opportunities for Africans (OFA) is an online portal that hosts an extensive list of opportunities, including scholarships, fellowships, internships, jobs and competition – among other life-changing prospects – specifically aimed at showcasing global opportunities that help Africans harness and realise their potential across various fields.

In addition to traditional education and learning, the 4th Industrial Revolution and Future of Work trends mean that digital skills are becoming increasingly necessary. As stated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Innovation, creativity and constant refreshing of skills are rewarded well in a globally competitive system. Digital literacy and access to the digital world is a basic necessity for all. Without them, prospects for employment are limited to low-pay jobs or insecure sectors.” Initiatives such as the Trace Academia online learning app offers free courses aimed at tackling youth unemployment in Africa by upskilling young people who may not otherwise have access to such training. Courses range from digital marketing to practical skills courses such as basic electrical work.

Youth Leadership & Entrepreneurship: Both financial aid and mentorship are critical for supporting the entrepreneurs and job creators of tomorrow. To break the cycle of poverty and generate socio-economic growth for the continent, Africa needs a future generation of entrepreneurs able to significantly contribute to the economic and employment landscape of the continent. This requires financial support, as well as skills development when it comes to the critical leadership and transferrable skills needed to succeed. African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a world-class educational institute that offers financial assistance to high potential youth. The organisation has a unique model that is inclusive of social responsibility fundamentals – students who apply for and are accepted into the institute commit to positively contributing to the peace and prosperity of communities and the continent “in return” for the financial assistance provided, promoting a “pay-it-forward” social ecosystem.

Contests & Incentive Initiatives: Incentivised contests or competitions are also an impactful way of harnessing the potential of youth when it comes to solving Africa’s challenges and moving the continent forward. This includes both platforms directed at youth as well as initiatives that promote the youth employment environment in any way, including job creation, innovation for social development, education, mentorship and other support infrastructure. The Anzisha Prize Program, a partnership between African Leadership Academy and the Mastercard Foundation, seeks to fundamentally and significantly increase the number of very young employment-generating entrepreneurs in Africa through the awarding of financial prizes, as well as helping to draw attention to the finalists’ business ventures and the young entrepreneurs themselves. This annual prize is the largest award for very young African entrepreneurs and innovators (aged 15-22 years).

The Social Shifters Global Innovation Challenge helps the next generation of African and global leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs make a difference in the world. The Challenge is open to young people (between the ages on 18 and 30), with concepts aimed at solving social or environmental problems. In addition to financial prizes and access to the Social Enterprise World Forum, winners will also have their ideas brought to life, including transforming concepts into entrepreneurial ventures.

For young people who are committed to being part of the solution – for themselves, their families, communities and continent – it is vital to recognise that despite the challenges facing Africa, there are immense opportunities for progress and success. Additionally, this support system needs to grow exponentially in order to make a significant impact when it comes to achieving the continent’s growth goals, particularly as it is predicted that by 2050, more than half of Africa’s population will be under the age of 25 years. In the spirit of “ubuntu”, we need to come together to ensure an inclusive and progressive future for the continent and its people.

(Terena Chetty is the Content & Strategic Projects Manager at Africa Communications Media Group (ACG), a PR agency that partners with clients – both pan-African and global – to achieve business and brand goals through effective communication solutions).

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