Empowering youths for economic development

As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria is witnessing a growing youth bulge, with those under 14 years accounting for more than 40 percent of its citizens. As part of a strategy to sustain economic growth and support higher education, a bipartisan commitment to investment in apprenticeship, internships and work-study programmes proven to equip the youth for the world of work is highly needed. A youth has been classifi ed within diff erent age categories across the board, but according to the United Nations, for statistical purposes, a youth is defi ned as a person between the ages of 15- 24, without prejudice to other member-states.

According to Sophie Karmasin of Australia’s Federal Ministry for Families and Youth, the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 Agenda depends on empowering young people. Th e International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated youth unemployment at 70 million, a number that is colosally high, and that marginalized men and women risked being either perpetrators or victims of violence. New graduates are faced with the dilemma of employers asking for years of experience as prerequisites of employment.

Most of these graduates go on to spend years in unemployed limbo, thus creating an experience gap and a loss of opportunity to acquire further skill-sets in work environment for better opportunities. With a few exceptions, this unemployed population resorts to crime. Th e few who engage in entrepreneurial exercises often come out drained by unfavourable policies and an unfriendly market system. Another challenge facing the youth is the issue of inequality. Around the world, about 500 million young people today are living on less than $2 a day. Last year was the fi rst year since the global economic crisis in which youth employment grew, thus stressing that inequality emanated from lack of access to opportunities. Th ere are also crippling challenges such as insecurity, lack of access to credit facilities, poor education and an unstable political climate, usually all combining to forestall any eff ort at self-suffi ciency or growth by youths. Th ese challenges have a direct correlation to youths becoming violent, restive and fraudulent, among other things. Th is in turn directly impacts negatively on the economy as a restive, criminal-minded youth population is a threat to a viable, stable and sustainable economy. In spite of burgeoning challenges, however, Nigerian youths are fi nding ways to survive, and even thrive in a ruthless economy, as necessity becomes the mother of invention. WeCyclers founder, Bilikiss Adebiyi, is an example of how young Nigerians are innovating ways to provide solutions to problems, while making profi t. WeCyclers is a social enterprise that off ers waste collection and recycling services to the Lagos communities, particularly informal settlements/rural areas. Young people are in recent times making strides in agriculture, entertainment and technology sectors, forging opportunities with minimal resources. Th ere are others such as Mike Essien, founder of Hotels.ng. Mark Essien, a software and mobile development expert. He epitomises how you can transform a dedicated passion for technology to a company that redefi ned the hotel booking process in Nigeria. Bankole Cardoso is the CEO, Easy Taxi Nigeria, a technology-driven enterprise that makes convenient the booking of taxis, anywhere and anytime in Nigeria. Th e list goes on with the likes of Linda Ikeji of the Linda Ikeji Groups, Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Co-Founder, She Leads Africa, Raphael Afaedor and Gbolahan Fagbure: Founders, Supermart.ng and so on. What this tells us is that there is yet a way to reap the many benefi ts of engaging youths in the creative process of developing a thriving economic model. Th e benefi ts are indeed innumerable. Th e burgeoning problems highlighted above only have to be met with fi rm solutions driven by political will. Let’s briefl y look at some possible solutions. For economies to be more inclusive for youth, it is important to create opportunities and programmes specifi cally tailored for the young demographic, that are not only theoretical but also practical, involving experienced practitioners. Quality education at all levels should be made as accessible as possible for every citizen, to maximize the platform for vertical mobility. Economies can become more inclusive by listening to youth, and by providing the necessary channels for young people to be connected and eff ectively participate in the socio-political fabric of society. Th e expansion of information and communication technologies off er opportunities to promote inclusion and expand access to knowledge and participation of youth in public life. Making it happen will foster opportunities, innovation, diversity and economic inclusion. Human capital investments and other social services provided to mothers and children in the developing world are important. Th ese policies could spell the diff erence between successful and productive young entrepreneurs. Moreso, sound policies should be based on indepth understanding of specifi c contexts. Policymakers should also pay more attention to disadvantaged or potentially vulnerable groups: female, disabled, indigenous, minority ethnic, poor urban youth. Africa’s and the world’s youth in general represent both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. Th ey are a potential human resource base for development if they are nurtured and productive, but can be a source of confl ict and social tension, if neglected. Dr. Ajulo, Principal Partner, Kayode Ajulo & Co. Castle of Law, was National Secretary of the Labour Party

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