by Amanda Khoza, Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion, Liberty Group
To be young in Africa today is to carry within you hopeful and delusional optimism about your future as you survey the unemployment lines from a high-rise office that you will occupy. It is despairing to talk about the youth unemployment rates as I watch my sanguine nephews, one in final year of university and the other in matric, discuss their post-learning options. Especially when the OECD UNDP 2016 Africa Economic Outlook Report states that 9 out of 10 working youth between 15-24 years of age are poor or likely to be poor.
This report infers that these young people are underemployed or not fully resourced to optimise on the job opportunity (which could be for a myriad of reasons such as high living costs, low salaries, or taking on survival jobs out of desperation). I call this subsistence employment – made just to survive, not thrive. And this is for those that have jobs. How about those that don’t? At the recent World Economic Forum held in Durban, much was said about the imperative of youth employment and empowerment. Even so, The African Union has marked 2017 as the Year of Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth – the burning questions are what this means and what this will look like. We need to turn the optimism from potential to probable to possible – we owe it to our youth, we owe it to ourselves.
Creating economic opportunities for youth is the continent’s most urgent challenge – more so where youth unemployment and disillusionment ranks high. What will happen when the youth leave their institutions of learning and start looking for work? In our corporates that don’t have the capacity to absorb them? Realistically, recent headcount trends reflect a decline in employment opportunities by those institutions that have traditionally created jobs. It would be sheer folly were we not to harness the youth dividend to address a glaring opportunity to turn our fortunes. Moreover, this growing base can be tapped into to address our economic woes as a resource for economic growth.
We need to expand our aperture of career guidance that mostly teaches youth about job options, job seeking and securing skills; and open their minds to alternatives that positions them as innovators, entrepreneurs and employers.
Starting in the school curricula; that is how we relevantly change the narrative of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
I sense a question about how do we support the youth to turn their ideas into businesses and provide them with sufficient financial and non-financial support to sustain them? This is so valid when the formal sector requires financial statements as an entry to access to funding; as well as references and a track record as a consideration for access to markets. As we change the youth-think process, we need investors, funders and procurers to expand their existing definitions of risk and return and contribute to enabling Africa’s youth dividend for the benefit of all.
An inclusive economy requires co-creative, integrative input and investing into youth entrepreneurship for meaningful job creation.
Innovative incubation, mentorship and funding strategies that address the potential in our midst are necessary for our own preservation. Initiatives such as the Standard Bank Incubator and the Liberty Blue Skies Programme are designed to contribute in changing the trajectory of youth unemployment and entrepreneurship. These create relevant programme structures and content as well as non-traditional networks that allow for cross funding through the swapping of services as well as forming joint ventures that allow for more substantive, rather than subsistence, businesses.
If we remain stuck in our ways, we must not be shocked when the dividend doesn’t pay and its idle hand pickets our corporates to ruin. If we all adopt youth-think as a way of being conscious of the value of how the present impacts the future, we stand a good chance. Just as Victor Hugo lyrically said, “forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.”
Amanda Khoza is the Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion at Liberty Group, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a passionate advocate for economic empowerment, financial literacy, and believes in the power of entrepreneurship to make real and lasting societal change happen on the African continent. Amanda is championing a host of initiatives for women entrepreneurs in South Africa, including partnering with Lionesses of Africa on the Lioness Lean In Liberty Sessions programme for intrapreneurs at Liberty, supporting The Mix newsletter each month as an impact partner, and joining with Standard Bank as the impact partners for the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator programme series in Johannesburg.
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