Young people are best placed to deliver innovation we need

Thursday August 9 2018

By Catherine Rodgers

Young people around the world have the power to solve the challenges we all face. Here in Uganda, young people are working together, collecting their own evidence, influencing those with power and contributing to society. Ahead of the International Youth Day this Sunday, we want to introduce some inspiring young leaders and the work they are doing in their communities.
Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world with 78 per cent of the population under the age of 30. With this rapidly growing youth population, Uganda faces a big opportunity. According to Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a billion young people will be entering the global jobs market over the next decade - and only 40 per cent are expected to be able to take on jobs that already exist. That means 600 million more jobs need to be created if we are to realise this ‘Peak Youth’ generation’s potential.
However, entrepreneurship for income alone is not enough; when young people can channel their energy into something they are passionate about, they are much more likely to succeed. It is not just about earning potential, but also control over their lives and personal growth too.
In Karamoja, northern Uganda, young people led their own research to find solutions to different challenges they face. Since 2012, more than 1,700 young people have designed, led, monitored and re-designed their own projects and start-ups according to the things that interest and impact them the most. One of these young people is Franco. He has been leading community groups in different income building and social areas. Some of these activities, including using their cultural traditions, such as jewellery making, as a tourism opportunity to generate income, rearing and selling goats, developing agriculture that can adapt to climate change in the region, and building literacy skills and mentoring for other young people in the community. All aspects of the project are led by young volunteers like Franco.
With this personal energy behind youth-driven solutions, the potential for breakthrough market change is strong. We need innovation - and young people are best placed to deliver that.
Roselyn has been identifying some of the barriers to youth entrepreneurialism. Alongside other young researchers, they conducted hundreds of interviews across East Africa as part of The MasterCard Foundation Youth Think-Tank Research. With agriculture being the region’s biggest industry, one of the ways to encourage young people to innovate in this sector is by increasing their access to technology and innovation.
Roselyn found that policy makers and the private sector should work together to create incubation centres and ideation hubs to help young people build, discuss, and access farm-related technologies. Young people also need additional skills in new farm gadgets and tools, access to financial services to start their businesses, and they must be involved in technology development. When their voices are listened to from the start, products and services are much more likely to flourish. Alongside youth entrepreneurialism and agriculture, we need to address the deep structural causes of mass youth unemployment.
One young woman who is fighting for structural change is Enid. She is working with the private sector to make sure there are gender-sensitive policies in the workplace - from recruitment, training, the working environment and career growth. Enid is part of the Gender Advocacy Alliance, a group of young women, who have been carrying out research in this area. Some of their successes include starting safe nursing spaces for employees in institutions, introducing three months paid maternity leave in some companies, and joining the Ministry of Gender consultations. Their aim is to change the sexual harassment employment act; so instead of being compulsory for employers with more than 25 staff, it is compulsory for all employers.
Young people like Franco, Maggie and Enid are entering the informal sector before the formal sector catches up. They are also turning to the voluntary sector as a means to develop their skills, passions and gain work-like experience to boost their employability and entrepreneurial skills. To make the most of this moment in history, we must work with young people to conduct research on the barriers they face, they must be involved in the planning and delivery of services that interest and affect them, they must be connected to skills building opportunities, and their voices must be heard in decisions that matter to them most.

Ms Rodgers is the hub director for Restless Development Uganda.

We all have a part to play in making this happen. Young people have the power to build strong communities that work together so society can flourish… we just have to let them have the space.

Catherine Rodgers is the Hub Director for Restless Development Uganda.
Franco Alima (Restless Development community volunteer), Roselyn Mugo (student of law at the University of Nairobi), Maggie Florence (Restless Development volunteer)