Q: What inspired you to get involved with youth?
What inspired me was my own personal experience as a youth trying to find meaning in a very tough environment. It is the reason why I decided to find a mentor to help me organize my life and achieve my goals. I was mentored for two years by Mr. Erastus Mwencha, who was then Secretary General for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and currently the Vice Chairman of the African Union Commission. He taught me what it means to serve others in such a way that you become relevant to your community.
Before I started JA in Zambia, I served as Executive Secretary for the Management Assistance Program for Youth Empowerment (MAPYE), a youth program housed at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretariat based in Lusaka, Zambia.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to address youth unemployment?
I believe that youth are a great potential and if their minds and efforts are directed towards productive activities they can make a huge impact to most African economies. That said, we must all be aware that agriculture holds the greatest opportunity for youth to create wealth and jobs for themselves and others. Out of agriculture would come agro processing, growing industries and various value chains that can see more and more young people empowered. Secondly, technology has been under-utilized to make youth own their economic lives through services that can change other people’s lives. Currently, everyone is talking about the Youth Bulge which is both an opportunity and threat. I see more opportunity when everyone is focused on making youth as the central part of economic and social development.
Q: What changing trends in youth behavior and outlook are you most excited about?
Most youth have realized that times have changed and that formal employment is no longer available as it used to be in the past. Entrepreneurship is becoming a key feature in their lives and this is how it should be.
Q: Can you share a story about a young person you’ve met in your work with JA who inspired you?
In 2003, I met Wise Banda, a young man who participated in the JA Company program. At the time young Wise was only in grade ten. After experiencing the JA Company, he made a commitment to make entrepreneurship his life. After leaving high school, he set up a business centre which helped him raise his school fees for the University of Zambia. At the University, he set up another business with colleagues which provided small loans to students in between periods before they are paid their meal allowances. After graduating he sent up a business called Prime Link, an adverting business which he is still be growing. Most recently, after facing challenges with the business he joined a local bank Zambia National Commercial Bank PLC to gain experience and raise funds. He resigned and went to the UK at Reading University to pursue his master’s degree in economics. He returned in November, 2016 with new ideas on growing his adverting business.
Q: What drives you every day to work on behalf of Africa’s youth?
I am driven by the belief that Africa’s youth have more opportunities for self-employment because we have not yet reached the level of industrialization as the western economies. There is still huge potential in almost every sector of our economies that can take up large numbers of youth for their empowerment.
Q: What’s the biggest problem facing youth today that previous generations didn’t have to deal with?
Youth today are faced with the problem of identity; as a result, they have lost direction for what they can achieve for themselves and their communities. Their concept of success is beyond what they can see within their communities. They embrace an education concept “from the unknown to the known” when it should be the other way round. As a result of this mindset, anything local is inferior in their minds.
Q: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved when it comes to youth unemployment?
Training and exposure are key for the success of youth in their lives. To add to this, there must be recognition of the structural differentiation of youth in the enterprise sector. Younger youth need more education and training, as we go upwards, its more about building support structures and access to finance that become very necessary for enterprise growth. There are a few places where this is provided in that order. Mostly, efforts of training become frustrated by lack of support in later years and as a result, entrepreneurial skills go to waste.
Q: What is one thing every young person can do to begin to secure their economic future?
The first journey to economic security is to develop an attitude for self-reliance. Until, one realizes that it takes the same skill and sometimes effort to become self-reliant as it does with those working for other people. Secondly, great financial discipline is very key to the individual to get the right attitude in place for success in securing one’s economic future. Beyond this is an appetite for real business knowledge that can help in building a successful business. In addition, there must be a combination of Knowledge, skill and attitude for anyone to be successful in life.
Q: What’s one issue that policy-makers need to be attentive to in designing policy for youth?
Policy makers need to recognize youth in designing policies. For instance, one of the challenges is that much effort needs to be put in when addressing the cost of doing business for youth led businesses. Cost of registering a business, the complexity of processes affect the startup costs for businesses and mostly affects youth. In most countries, company registration forms are administered by different agencies hence affecting time and costs for set up. As a result of this, it is important for African governments and policy makers to start designing youth friendly policies to promote young entrepreneurs.
Q: If the SDGs work for youth, what would they accomplish?
I think a lot can be accomplished; I am excited that now entrepreneurship is part of the SDGs targets 4.4 and 8.3 which will help a lot in this effort. With this recognition would come more resources from UN agencies and other international institutions to ensure more interventions are implemented to empower youth economically and help to improve their livelihoods.
Teddy is the ED of JA Zambia, where he has served for over 14 years. He specializes in project formulation and design, project proposal formulation and budgeting process and has experience in monitoring and evaluation skills for various types of projects.
He has an MBA in International Business from the University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School and is a graduate of the University of Zambia, NIPA and ABE, UK.