We just need someone to believe in us. This was the impassioned plea of established and aspiring youth entrepreneurs who joined experts and opinion shapers from across the globe to have frank discussions on boosting youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recounting how they were forced to overcome hurdle after hurdle to create thriving businesses, they made a strong call to governments, private sectors and development organisations to create mentorship programmes and other effective mechanisms to unleash the true potential of the region’s burgeoning youth population.
“I come from a region in the world where 70 percent of our population are under 25, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed. So it is important for us to sit together to find solutions and interventions that can stem the systematic idleness of our youth,” said Commonwealth youth awardee, Sherifah Tumusiime.
The young Ugandan entrepreneur founded Zimba Women, a social enterprise that helps women get internet access. She encouraged young people to persevere despite the challenges.
“If you have a business, a career, a project that you want to start, my advice to you is to just start. After you start you can look for help, because there are networks, there is funding, and there is training. The important thing is to listen to the voice in your head and just start.”
The dialogue in Magaliesburg, South Africa, was organised by Wilton Park, an executive agency of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that provides a global forum for strategic, policy-shaping discussions on issues such as international security, prosperity and justice. It is being delivered in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the UK Department for International Development, the British Council, Restless Development and the Institute of Development Studies.
Speaking at the event, Commonwealth Secretary-General stressed that harnessing the full potential and genius of the youth and providing them with decent work opportunities is an urgent priority for the Commonwealth.
“Leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London earlier this year agreed that our member countries, together with the Commonwealth Secretariat, should develop fresh strategies and mechanisms for addressing youth employment.
“They also agreed on the need to invest in a systems approach to supporting young people through skills building, entrepreneurships and apprenticeships.”
The Secretary-General spoke about the power of recently launched Commonwealth initiatives such as the innovation hub - a digital platform, designed to showcase and promote new ideas and innovations.
“This is a treasure trove of ideas and innovations from across the 53 member states, 87 organisations and 2.4 billion of the Commonwealth – for you and by you. And you can load it onto your mobile so it is literally in the palm of your hands,” she said.
It is supplemented, she added, by other key initiatives such as the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) networks, which have already been established in South East Asia, and the Pacific and is due to be launched in Africa later this year.
Layne Robinson, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Head of Social Policy Development, highlighted a number of other targeted programmes, pioneered by the Commonwealth to boost youth employment.
This includes a Youth Credit Initiative, which formed the basis of a number of national youth entrepreneurship programmes, and networks of young entrepreneurs in East, Southern and West Africa as part of its Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs programme.
Recently, the Secretariat joined forces with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to create a Policy Guide on Youth Entrepreneurship. The guide supports policymakers in designing national entrepreneurship policies and programmes that will better serve and respond to the needs of young entrepreneurs.
The Secretary-General urged participants at the youth employment dialogue to explore how complex and related issues such as gender empowerment and climate change impact youth development.
In addition to attending the youth dialogue, the Secretary-General met Luwellyn Landers, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, who congratulated her on a successful CHOGM. They discussed collaboration on elections, trade and tackling corruption and illicit financial flows.
She also met Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi to explore Commonwealth contributions to ending domestic violence and particularly violence against women and girls, and effective and innovate healthcare across the Commonwealth, including through universal healthcare, addressing non communicable diseases and supporting a preventative approach to healthcare.
The Secretary-General will continue her engagement with stakeholders and is due to attend celebrations marking the centenary of President Nelson Mandela’s birth.