Local Young People Solving Global Challenges

By Michela Fennech, Associate, Ashoka’s Globalizer Programme

Local Young People Solving Global Challenges

“No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore, you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.” – Thomas Friedman, LinkedIn Founder

The world today is shaped by complexity, uncertainty and hyper-paced change. A rapidly increasing and connected global population is straining the environment, creating enormous cultural pressures, and changing the economic landscape. In this challenging environment, “the capacity for new thinking or turning old ideas into new applications has never been more important” according to Ken Robinson.

It is proving truer than ever that the same entrepreneurial creativity, drive and initiative needed to start a business are also required to find and keep the right job. The fact that youth unemployment is growing in uncomfortable proportions, would suggest that young people are not being supported to develop these skills. Instead, the gap between what our societies and economies demand and what schools provide seems to keep widening.

738,000 youth in the UK are unable to find jobs, making youth unemployment the worst it has been in the past 20 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 600 million people are under 25, around 20 per cent of whom do not have access to quality and reliable economic opportunities.

Nigeria is third on the world poverty Index. Out of a population of 178 million, 80 per cent of youth are unempl…. Many remain idle and frustrated with little hope of securing work, forced to resort to illegitimate activities to ensure an income, which then further aggravates the social and economic challenges within Nigeria.

From London to Abuja, youth unemployment is seen by many as an increasingly ‘global pandemic’, however it still needs to be understood within its country-specific socio-economic context. When considering that by 2040, 50 per cent of the world’s youth will be African. The way African communities address this challenge can shape the future in unprecedented ways.

Ashoka Fellow Esther Eshiet believes that “young people can contribute to Africa’s development through entrepreneurship”. In order to overcome social and economic inequalities, African youth need to learn to be creative problem-solvers that can find innovative ways of bringing value to the labour market, while creating a demand for their skills.

While investing in education is essential, it is no longer enough to simply teach through delivering content to young people. The traditional focus on rote learning, academic achievement and specialisation in one field is not ‘fit for purpose’. Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, identifies that education institutions need to cultivate within young people, “a kind of compass and the navigation skills” to help them determine what skills and direction they need, not to learn for, but to create their own jobs and careers.

Through her organisation, the Afterschool Centre for Career Development (ACCD), Esther looks to expand the focus of young Nigerians beyond academic credentials. She inspires and engages them in solving their own unemployment challenges, and supports them in finding opportunities to do so. She works to foster self-awareness and career consciousness by counselling, training and providing growth opportunities for young people to prepare them for the world of work as they tackle this transitional phase of their lives.

Through ACCD’s PathFinder programme, Esther works with secondary school children to develop confidence, self-awareness and core skills like creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurship. This strengthens their capabilities to make informed decisions to shape their education and life choices, keeping them engaged in their education.

Many young Nigerians spend two to four years at home between school and university as a result of limited space, and a long, difficult (and often corrupt) admissions process. As education is exclusively paid for in Nigeria, many families also need time to save up to afford it. ACCD has developed a transitional intervention programme (The Pre-Tertiary Programme) to support school leavers with the tools and services they need to acquire entrepreneurial skills and experiences during this time that will support them in becoming active participants in their society and economy.

Once in university, ACCD exposes undergraduates to apprenticeships, voluntary placements, and other prospects that continue to build the entrepreneurial experiences and skills needed for young people to activate or create their career path. Their Afterschool Hub then crowd-sources these opportunities and extends ACCD’s reach across Africa.

Children today are growing up to face an accelerating stream of new situations, novel challenges and fleeting opportunities. They need to develop the skills of a changemaker in order to navigate our new world, to fit and to thrive. Esther is building a movement to inspire and support young people to take charge of their job creation – through entrenching a new norm that prepares young people for changes in their lives. Esther and her team are working to nurture a society that can shape and create their own positive change.

*Esther Eshiet was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2013.

Editor’s Note:

This article first appeared on Virgin.com and is reproduced with permission.

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