One of the challenges I face when I talk to people outside of our mission space about the subject of youth in Africa is that there is not always a clear understanding of who Africa’s youth are. The media and other sources frame our assumptions about all youth, and for African youth especially, the references are not often positive. The suggestion that Africa’s youth are a ‘ticking time bomb’ has been used often, unfortunately.
One of the things we must do in order to make faster progress in turning the tide of challenges our young people face is gain a deeper understanding of who they are and what opportunities they present. Who are Africa’s youth? Let me share some facts here:
- They are a vast demographic: In 2010, 63% of Africa’s population was below age 25 (Youth Policy). With 200 million people between ages 15 and 24, Africa now has the youngest population in the world today and this figure will double by 2045, making Africa home to the world’s largest workforce. In this light, the need to address their readiness for the world of work is not just an African priority, it is a global priority.
- They are diverse: Development dialog often lumps youth in one homogenous category, whereas they are a diverse demographic with challenges and opportunities that cut across gender lines, socio-economic lines and others. The challenges of rural youth differ significantly from those of urban youth, even though there are some overlaps. The challenges of young girls vary from those of young boys. And across age cohorts, young people encounter opportunities and challenges that shift often. Girls in Africa, for example, are still lagging behind in terms of access to education and school enrollment, whereas the World Bank reports that the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in Africa than in any other region of the world. Understanding those sub-demographics is critical to identifying solutions and bridging the gap of access to opportunity.
- They are entrepreneurial: Young people in Africa are more optimistic about their ability to become entrepreneurs than their peers in any other region. Sixty per cent of 18- to 34-year-old Africans who participated in a joint study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and Youth Business International said they were optimistic about the availability of good business opportunities. They also believed they had the skills and knowledge to start a business. As the report points out, these figures are for potential entrepreneurs, whose interest in starting a business has yet to be translated into action. Nevertheless, the value of the entrepreneurial optimism among the youth in Africa should not be underestimated. GEM says it has found that people who are confident they have the skills to start a business are four to six times more likely to do so. There’s no doubt that – given the right tools – young people have the skill and ingenuity to solve the continent’s biggest challenges.
- They too are digital natives: Digital natives are young people who were born into the digital age and are growing up using information and communication technologies in their daily lives. In Africa, the fraction of youth said to be digital native is about 9.2%. In 2000 Africa had fewer than 20 million fixed-line phones. By 2012, Africa had more than 500 million mobile phone subscriptions, more than in the US or EU, making Africa the fastest growing region in the world. Paying attention to digital natives is important not only because of the possibilities ICTs open up for young people but also because they play a role in shaping and driving the information society. Africa’s burgeoning population of digital natives should be empowered as entrepreneurs and innovators for societal transformation.
This year, an area of increased investment for us at JA Africa will be technology, especially digital literacy, computer literacy and education, but we will continue to invest in our core areas of entrepreneurship education, financial literacy and work readiness. We believe that addressing the complex challenges faced by the vast numbers of ambitious, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and future looking youth of Africa will require that we scale our efforts and multiply our results.
At JA Africa we believe that no young person should fall through the gap as they look to enter the world of work. Please make a donation to support our work.
CEO, JA Africa