by Josh Adler
Africa’s high unemployment rate is one of the leading barriers to growth and prosperity on the continent. As dire as the current situation is, it is set to worsen with growing numbers of job seekers entering a market that already lacks employment opportunities.
According to the World Bank, the youth segment accounts for 60% of total unemployment numbers in Africa. The increasing youth population poses a serious challenge as it is projected to put additional strain on already pressurised African economies. Especially when taking into consideration that with 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the largest youth population in the world.
For the most part, this is viewed as a major liability factor for the continent. However, initiatives by young African entrepreneurs are starting to paint a different, more optimistic view of what could be when it comes to the African business and employment sectors.
Young, pioneering entrepreneurs are demonstrating that the youth population need not be a burden on Africa’s economic growth. In fact, they indicate that the youth demographic could be the asset needed to transform the continent’s employment climate. Entrepreneurial activities by young people in Africa not only ensure that the individuals themselves are no longer a part of unemployment statistics and are instead actively contributing to their economies, many are having even more positive impact.
Aspiring young business-starters are not only improving their communities through innovation and providing valuable (sometimes essential) services, they are also creating employment by hiring members from their immediate communities. What is even more impressive is that trends show that young people are hiring other young people – exponentially reducing youth unemployment in their communities, countries and the continent.
One of such young entrepreneurs stepping up and being part of the solution is Benin-based Segbe Accrombessi. This young Industrial Engineering graduate noticed a fundamental flaw in the region’s tomato production process that resulted in the total destruction of the nutritional value of the food product. She identified alternate methods of processing tomatoes to avoid this undesirable outcome. Wanting to develop a sustainable long-term answer to changing the old practices, as well as incorporating her mission of female empowerment, she structured a training programme for young girls and women.
The project trains young girls on improved technology methods that preserve the food product’s nutritional benefits. The training workshops equip the local women with skills needed to work productively within the food processing industry. Segbe’s business, Kawan Africa, currently trains around 60 women every year, with goals to diversify and grow the programme to reach an increasing number of women over the upcoming years. By 2024, Segbe envisions reducing losses in the tomato sector by 80%, and having a large team of young women as the driving force behind this change.
Another example is Balbina Gulam who decided to tackle issues in her community head-on. The young Tanzanian founded Huduma Smart, a company that trains domestic workers with professional skills and provides them with operational support – substantially improving their chances of securing a job. In addition to skills development, Huduma Smart creates an ecosystem that facilitates employment and better working conditions for young women in her community. The business has an online platform that connects workers with job opportunities, as well as provides them with health insurance and staff contracts. This adds structure, professionalism and basic benefits to the typically informal domestic work industry in rural Tanzania.
Balbina is dedicated to changing the domestic work sector and change perceptions so that the jobs relating to this industry are recognised nationally and globally as viable career options that contribute to economic growth.
These are just a few examples illustrating that Africa’s youth demographic is not necessarily an obstacle to economic growth as many forecasts warn. Conversely, the growing trend towards entrepreneurship, combined with the practice of young business-starters employing other young people is an indicator that there is hope for employment transformation across the continent. Coupled with innovation and ambition, these young entrepreneurs have the potential for large-scale social and economic impact that can bring Africa tremendously closer to achieving development and economic goals.
Author: Josh Adler – Executive Director, The Anzisha Prize