Collaboration for innovation to tackle youth unemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa

Anita Tiessen
Anita Tiessen Chief Executive Officer Youth Business International

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending Wilton Park’s event ‘Turbocharging youth employment in Africa: a new approach’ together with entrepreneurs and representatives from key sector organisations.

Discussions focused on a variety of topics, including digital economies, inclusivity within market systems, technology and innovation to scale impact, agriculture, building institutional capacity and the importance of mentorship — all relevant themes not only for YBI but also for everyone else involved in tackling the complex issue of global youth unemployment.

Here are my key takeaways from the discussions:

Change comes from knowledge exchange  

Since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), significant progress has been made towards generating a knowledge base that can help practicioners and not-for-profit organisations tackling youth unemployment. However, there are still important gaps in building this evidence base such as scaling models, long term impact, youth sub-groups, intensity of interventions etc. Now, more than ever, it is important to work together and build on the existing knowledge by generating new learning that can help shape more impactful programme design and delivery in order to better help youth more effectively.  

Technology and innovation are key to scaling global impact

Technology and digital transformation remains a commitment for many youth-based organisations, through investing in platforms for business solutions and creating digital marketplaces. Although it cannot be the solution to all problems, leveraging technology is a significant tool for ‘turbocharging’ employment solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mentoring is vital in driving entrepreneurial success

Mentoring was a prominent topic during this year’s event. There was widespread recognition of its value and impact. Whether virtually or through one-to-one, bespoke support, mentoring offers young people the opportunity to access skills and resources, develop their leadership abilities and foster professional connections.

At YBI, we believe that mentoring is a fundamental component of the support given to young entrepreneurs. Our research with the Middlesex University Business School and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR), through over 1,600 interviews, found that 74% of young entrepreneurs were more confident in running their business and 72% felt they had stronger decision-making skills through the support of their mentors.

Now is the time to write a new narrative and take action

Another fruitful debate throughout the event was related to the importance of changing the narrative when talking about young people in Africa. There is a need to tell the real stories and show the people behind the statistics rather than continuing a detrimental narrative of poverty. Similarly, we need to leverage young people’s voices and allow them to engage with solutions and policy, empowering them and harnessing their energy for future impact. One attendee described the need to change the narrative around youth unemployment from ‘problem’ to ‘opportunity’. This confirmed some of the discussions I have been having recently with our YBI members in Africa — young African people do not lack entrepreneurial spirit and they will take informed risks to achieve their goals.

Looking forward

With 1.8 billion young people in the world, youth employment is imperative to solving a myriad of societal issues and developing communities, not just from an economic perspective but also for social cohesion. Tackling this challenge requires new ideas, new partnerships and action on a grand scale. For too long, ambitious policy commitments at a global level have failed to translate into effective, evidence-based response on the ground. 

I was encouraged to see participants displaying overwhelming support for embracing more youth-led approaches and involving more young people in the decision-making process right from the start. More so, investments across the youth employment space are increasingly adopting a 'systems approach', in line with the evolving understanding of the complexeties of achieving impact while acting in proportion to the scale of the challenge. 

For this reason, it is imperative for everyone to work together to test and develop a portfolio of strategies to address these complexities on the ground.  



Do you want to explore these themes further? Join us at our Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (GYES), taking place from 10-14 June 2019 in Cartagena, Colombia. GYES 2019 will bring together YBI members, leading experts, influencers and decision makers in the youth entrepreneurship sector to explore new approaches to the ever-changing needs, challenges and aspirations of young entrepreneurs globally.

Visit the GYES website to learn more.

Other Resources

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Supporting Young Entrepreneurs: What works?


Transforming economies by supporting high-potential young entrepreneurs in Africa


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IKEA Foundation

IKEA Foundation

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