In the past two decades, the narrative of ‘Africa rising’ has become dominant in global development circles. The figures seemingly confirm this - between 2005 and 2015, the continent’s economy as a whole increased by 50 per cent in contrast with a world average of 23 per cent.
Yet according to the International Labour Organization’s World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2016 report, creating jobs remains a central challenge for the region, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Regional unemployment stands at 7.4 per cent, and the majority of workers are in formal or vulnerable forms of employment.
For young people, the situation is even more concerning. The youth unemployment rate is 11.1 per cent, largely due to the limited formal job opportunities available. As Africa’s youth population is set to more than double by 2055, it is imperative for governments to identify and promote alternative pathways to sustainable livelihoods.
Entrepreneurship is a key solution to this most critical challenge facing young people in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Abhik Sen, Head of Policy and Research in the Youth Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat, who describes entrepreneurship as “a pragmatic strategy” to address spiralling youth unemployment.
“The role of young entrepreneurs as agents of positive change and creators of jobs in their communities and countries, particularly in Africa, must be recognised. There is a need to support these entrepreneurs and to increase the opportunities open to them,” Sen noted.
Promoting and supporting youth entrepreneurship is a focus of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work to support young people. This has led to the establishment of Commonwealth networks of young entrepreneurs in Asia, Caribbean and West, East and Southern Africa.
More recently, in November 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat, in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), launched a Policy Guide on Youth Entrepreneurship. The guide highlights the development of national entrepreneurship strategies as a pivotal step in creating environments where young entrepreneurs can flourish and grow their businesses.
Since the guide’s launch, the Commonwealth Secretariat and its partners have convened a series of regional capacity-building workshops, in a bid to encourage governments to progress youth entrepreneurship in their respective countries. The first was held in Tanzania in May 2016, with the latest in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 23-25 November 2016, featuring senior officials and young entrepreneurs from 10 Commonwealth countries in West and Southern Africa.
Advancing youth entrepreneurship will continue to be a major priority for the Commonwealth, as it seeks to secure a prosperous future where young people are empowered to contribute to the sustainable development of their countries.