Youth Development & 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 sectors 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 catalyzing the existing 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), future of work and global innovation demands, it is critical that businesses, governments and social impact organizations 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. 

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