Tackling the Youth Employment Crisis in Southern Africa

By Dorien Beurskens, Founder, Young Africa and an Ashoka Fellow

Tackling the Youth Employment Crisis in Southern Africa

News headlines are filled with stories of a growing youth bulge and impending youth unemployment crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the bad news. Many social entrepreneurs are at work even now creating solutions to these types of challenges—a sort of counterbalance that shapes fortune out of misfortune. Young Africa (YA) founder, Ashoka Fellow Dorien Beurskens and her partner Raj A. Josephare part of a wave of social entrepreneurs who are identifying root causes and developing innovative solutions.

Here are key Young Africa insights for addressing the youth employment challenge in Africa that can be applied to the efforts of any social entrepreneur:

  1. Organize local assets and place community leaders at the center of the solution.

    YA’s model identifies and strengthens local assets, placing members of the community at the center of sustainable long-term solutions as stakeholders, patrons, and owners. Today, there are four YA Centers in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where entrepreneurs rent space in dedicated facilities that help them transform into professional business establishments. Simultaneously, these entrepreneurs offer local youth “skills of hand” apprenticeships—affordable vocational training in trades such as carpentry, welding, sewing, catering, and more. Seventy percent of YA’s six-month curriculum is practical, bringing on-the-job training to the students and utilizing entrepreneurs as teachers and mentors.

    The youth gain marketable skills, work experience and positive role models. The entrepreneurs gain access to a pool of potential employees and a powerful network. “Young Africa in Mozambique is graduating 1,000 students every six months. Eighty-three percent of the graduates secure economic opportunities and start earning an income within three months after their graduation. In four years, 26,000 youth have received vocational and management training,” says Beurskens.

  2. Empower youth through “skills of heart and mind” to enable them to stand strong on their own feet.

    “It is the whole package that allows the young person to stand stronger in his/her own shoes. we run a life skills training program which is mainstreamed into the curriculum” notes Beurskens as she describes the training which helps nurture the skills of young changemakers.

    “Every day we open with a five minute ‘pep talk,’ which emphasizes the need for youth to take responsibility for the change they want to see in society and the change they want to achieve in their lives. Young people are naturally incredibly dynamic and willing to change. They want to improve their society.”

    YA helps youth nurture their capabilities through action and involvement in the student government and an annual art festival that the youth organize; they take charge, tackle challenges, problem-solve, and work in teams.

  3. Focus on creating a scalable model and be ready to share it across all sectors.

    The power of a social entrepreneur’s work is in the ability of the solution—the ideas and insights—to spread. Success, therefore, means a system or pattern change in which the public, citizen, and/or private sectors take the value from the creative and entrepreneurial approach and help restructure the system to incorporate the solutions. Like many systemic problems, the youth employment challenge in sub-Saharan Africa has a multi-sector and country/community-specific nature. Young Africa spreads their model by setting a trend, while adapting it for country/community differences.

  4. Anticipate the employment trends of the future and adapt accordingly.

    Youth unemployment is a consequence of both the lack of job opportunities and insufficient or poor training for the opportunities available and those yet to come. Young Africa addresses the latter issue by developing a future-focused curriculum.

    “The trends are different for each country. [In Mozambique] we see a trend toward employers asking for higher levels of skill. So we are modifying courses to be ahead of the trend. [In addition], we are setting up a new agricultural skills training center and a center in Namibia to experiment with training in green (solar and wind) technologies,” says Beurskens.

Young Africa’s approach is making a sustainable impact on the youth unemployment crisis in Southern Africa. By understanding the unique assets and needs of the community, YA helps youth improve their livelihoods.

In closing, we asked Beurskens which stories of youth have resonated with her most. She told us, “For me, the most amazing stories are those of the girls living and studying in the YA hostel. We have girls who came to our program who are very young and very scared. After two years, they are strong enough to have a job, rent a room, to even start working, and settle into life. Now they can look after themselves and contribute positively to their communities. You can see how much they can leap forward in terms of self-confidence—it is an amazing transformation.”

Editor’s Note:

Dorien Beurskens, is the founder of Young Africa (YA) and an Ashoka Fellow who was elected as part of the “Future Forward” partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. This blog is part of Ashoka’s #AfricaYouthFwd innovative solutions conversation.

The Future Forward partnership aims to identify and support the mostinnovative social entrepreneurs who address youth employment challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. Through this collaboration, Ashoka and The MasterCard Foundation aim to identify and convene innovators, thought leaders, and youth to inform the conversation about solutions that can move #AfricaYouthFwd.

Join the next Future Forward webinar event entitled “How can job creation be improved for young people?” The youth inspired event will encompass a livestream panel discussion and a live twitter chat. Use hashtags #AfricaYouthFwd and #SocEntChat to take part via Twitter on Thursday, December 5th at 9:30 a.m. ET prior to the panel discussion at 10am ET.

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