Contributor: Ellington Arnold, Youth Advisor
Today young people are approximately three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Nowhere is this more true than in Sub-Saharan Africa where the youth bracket is approximately 200 million people and will at least double in the next 30 years. By 2050, the populations of 28 African countries are projected to more than double.
As we observe World Youth Skills Day this Saturday, we must not only acknowledge this problem, but take steps to leverage the Africa’s largest growing asset: its youth. Africa’s youthful population can be the engine for sustained accelerated economic growth and innovation if properly utilized.
But how can we achieve this?
There’s not an easy answer, but what I do know is that each day I work with the future problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow. As an Advisor on Youth Entrepreneurship at the U.S. African Development Foundation, I facilitate enterprise expansion and creation across the continent and by doing so directly address poverty alleviation by empowering those who have the most at stake.
Since 2014, USADF has invested $3 million in 150 social enterprises in over 30 countries. By pairing seed capital with technical assistance, USADF provides young entrepreneurs with the tools needed to invest in their own communities.
Take Brenda for example, an entrepreneur in Uganda who had a dream to make eye care more affordable and accessible to underprivileged children in Uganda and founded Wazi Vision. Conventional business wisdom would dictate that this is a ‘market’ she cannot enter. However, Brenda knows that addressing social challenges require more than conventional thinking. This barrier to entry forced her to think outside of the box, and to be innovative, imaginative, and unflinching in her optimism.
Her solution: to manufacture eye-glasses from recycled plastics, thus reducing the cost of eye care by over 80 percent. With many children in slums or rural areas suffering from chronic eye conditions such as myopia, Brenda also operates mobile eye clinics using an app to conducting screenings and compile data. Over the past year, she has progressed from successfully creating her prototype eye-glasses, to visiting 12 schools, screening over 2,200 children and providing 350 pairs of eye-glasses. Additionally, she employs female artisans who are trained to design and mold the plastic frames, creating jobs locally in a sector that previously didn’t exist.
A recent survey showed that Al-Shabab has recruited young men for as little as $50 a month and a mobile phone. In Somalia, where nearly 70% of youth are unemployed, we are filling the skills shortage by providing vocational training to over 5,000 Somali youth, to young women like Shadia. USADF provides funding to local Somalia NGOs to train unemployed youth and assist them to obtain employment and earn income. The local Somalia NGOs, in turn work with local businesses to set up five-month training and apprenticeship programs for the youth. Youth participating in the program reported their income jumped from $50 a month to $300 a month, translating in direct benefits for themselves and their families. The USADF program provides a far better alternative to youth who earn a higher income graduating from the USADF Somalia program.
If we want to invest in the future of Africa, we must focus on those who will be most impacted. By supporting and empowering innovative entrepreneurs like Brenda and Shadia, we allow the future of Africa to be placed in the hands of those most capable, impassioned, and motivated to create a better tomorrow.
Ellington Arnold is a Program Analyst on Nigeria and Adviser on Youth Entrepreneurship. Previously, he worked as a development consultant for a NGO in Kenya, focusing on economic diversification on a community level. Ellington served in the Peace Corps in Senegal working in preventative health. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a BA in Foreign Affairs, concentrating on Africa.