Building Back Stronger for African Youth
Africa’s Resilience in the face of a Global Pandemic
This past year, and for the unknown foreseeable future, the global pandemic of Corona virus-COVID 19 has affected the world in unprecedented manners. Socio-economic systems, health, education, agriculture production, economies and democracies have been put to test.
While African economies have been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic on global trade, development financing and other national and global dynamics, the resilience of African governments and communities has helped limit the impact of the deadly virus.
A lot of uncertainty still looms in the future, it will take years for a full economic recovery for many nations, however, there is hope in the resilience of the African youth.
Africa counts a population of roughly 1,3 Bn, of which an overwhelming 70% are below the age of 35. During these uncertain times, African Youth are striving to be active agents in the fight against COVID 19. Young people are volunteering as front liners (in many cases) in essential services. In addition, they are constantly innovating to meet the emerging demands for essential products such as the large-scale production of protective masks and sanitizers, bridging market supply across cities of essential food products, and production of alternatives for previously imported goods.
During our December 2020 Steering Committee convening of the YouthConnekt Africa Hub, we had the opportunity to engage young innovators and entrepreneurs from various parts of Africa. Collectively, they shared a positive outlook amid the challenges we face with the COVID19 pandemic. As entrepreneurs, they focused their efforts on building new solutions and exploring possibilities despite the drastic changes on the market. Collectively, they asked for more support to be accorded to young entrepreneurs through technical, financial and mentorship.
As COVID 19 has set us on a reset button, this would be a great time to leverage collaboration, to share best practices across countries in enabling young people to thrive as social and economic actors we need them to be. Here we propose a few principles to go by in setting forward youth programs and policy going forward.
Rebuilding Trust through Accountability and Transparency
In the last year we have seen an increase in the trust of citizens to their governments (for many countries). This vote of confidence in governments has enabled populations to adhere to the much- needed adjustments and measures that have been put in place to curb the virus’ spread. However, given that all governments have been learning on the go about how to address this massive challenge, it is the transparency around the process, and taking the time to engage citizens to help them appreciate the necessary decisions that has helped us move forward together. Not threatened by repercussions, nor the fear of an invisible enemy, but the appreciation that we are in this together, that we should act together despite the unprecedented impact of the measures.
Thinking forward, especially about how governments and ecosystems continue to make investments in youth development, it is imperative that the principles of accountability and transparency be applied to ensure that trust is reinforced with our young people. Young people have been particularly affected by COVID 19, given the vulnerability of their employment and their dependency on older citizens sometimes employed in the informal sectors. In many instances, with unemployment hitting new heights, young people’s priorities have shifted back to being able to secure meals and the safety of a roof over the heads.
First and foremost, all youth development actors need to go back to the drawing board. Actors need to lean in to their beneficiaries, local stakeholders, and listen in to appreciate how their programs going forward can be best adjusted to meet the new demands.
Putting aside previous plans, priorities and targets, what does the current situation call for? How can we collectively reignite the spirit of innovation amongst youth – in the face of so much loss? How can we inspire this amazing force to recover its ability to drive Africa forward? How can we get young people to embrace the opportunities that the AfCTA as a continental framework has to offer? How can we support the establishment of local and national visions and strategies for recovery? Most importantly, how can we do so through better collaboration?
Secondly, in most cases, we will find ourselves with resources that allow us to only support a selected few despite the massive demand. This is where transparency comes in to play. It is imperative the youth development actors during these times act in transparency, leveraging all possible media to reach as many young people with information on the opportunities. It is also important to ensure due diligence in the selection process, and ensure selected young people receive quality support to ensure their success.
Accountability comes through in knowing that all resources for youth development ought to be considered as public resources. Decisions made should be done so openly, and there should be a process of open engagement with the various stakeholders for accountability on their use. Youth development actors should be open to feedback that can enable them to continuously improve how they implement.
Enabling Youth Participation in Rebuilding
Youth participation is a principle that most development actors agree on. The power/challenge though is in unlocking youth participation. At the YouthConnekt Africa Hub we have spent years working with government and ecosystems to unlock youth participation and promotion. Here are some key principles we believe unlocking youth participation is built on:
- Political Will to engage young people. This should be reflected from central to local government and community level. The willingness and intent to engage youth is reflected continued delivery of youth representation and right to veto on key issues.
- Capacity Building and mentorship of youth. It is imperative to ensure that young people are enabled to participate. Participation is not just about presence and voice. It is essentially about being at the same level of understanding with counterparts on the key issues at stake. On-going mentoring of young people is essential for sustainability.
- Resource allocation towards youth participation. Youth participation also requires investment. Investment in capacity building, in youth engagement programs such as forums, media shows, etc.
Rethinking Policies supporting Youth Innovation Ecosystems
Young people’s participation is measured in their social and economic engagement. Young people differentiate themselves often by thinking out of the box and challenging the status quo – asking if things can be done better and how. Youth innovation comes into play both in social and economic spheres. So how can we create space for youth innovation to enable the societal and economic changes that our present day require? We need to start off by reviewing the various policies and practices that could be inhibiting the realisation of innovation.
- Challenge your current practices for improved efficiency
The basis of innovation is the desire to improve how things are currently done. Without the acknowledgement of gaps within systems and inefficiencies, we cannot begin to invest into innovation.
- Invest in Human Capital Development
True innovation takes place when innovators are exposed to skills and resources that enable them to learn, question and create. Traditional education in science and technology fields enable and encourages innovation. Continuously, there is increased availability of specialised short-term, affordable and online training that enable the creation of workforces that can support innovation.
- Invest into Research and Development
An often overlooked, yet central piece to innovation, is Research and Development. Research and Development can be developed at affordable scale by leverage Academic communities and ensuring they are more exposed to current and relevant challenges. Additionally, research and development ought to be developed under the right standards for the proceeding knowledge to be used as required. Data should be made publicly accessible to enable innovation. Most young innovators struggle with interest in working in fields where data is either non-existent or isn’t easily accessible. Data access policies can improve this challenge significantly.
- Simplify how institutions can co-create with innovators
Open calls for proposals that enable several innovators to engage with an institution in the process of co-creation has become common practice in enabling a transparent process. To ensure youth participation, these processes should require minimal requirements. Positive discrimination principles should be applied to promote and give priorities to young people. This requires openness in the policies surrounding selection.
- Invest into Innovation and Continued Development
Bringing innovation to life requires resource allocation. Without the willingness to explore these solutions, innovations may never come to life. This investment should include creation of new jobs for the young people who are involved in the process of creation. This practice will encourage continued participation of innovators in the creation of solutions. Beyond that it slowly generates a locally created innovation ecosystem.