Re-engaging political leadership and development partnersto invest in programs and policies that harness young people’s potential in political and social economic development.
By Patrick Mwesigye
There are 883 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa today. One out of every three is between the ages of 10 and 24— that is 280 million young people (UNDP, World Population Prospects: 2010/2011, UNFPA state of the World Population Report 2009/2010). Today, our young people are better educated, have access to more means of information and communication than ever before, and continue to show an interest in entrepreneurship and business development, a critical pillar for future economic growth.
A large adolescent and youth population is of major significance to the social economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the region has the fastest growing population of young people in the world. And while this scenario may seem challenging, it is in fact an opportunity (UNDP, World Population Prospects: 2010/201, World Bank 2007).
Evidence from the East Asian experience has taught us that when large numbers of young people grow up and enter the workforce, a special window of opportunity opens up for faster economic growth and development, called the demographic dividend. The demographic dividend is estimated to have contributed to as much as one-third of all economic growth in East Asia (Peter Xenos and Midea Kabamalan, 2002). Learning from the East Asian experience, Africa needs to invest in policies and programs that harness the potential of young people and ensure they are healthy, educated, and can find a job.
There are several areas of investment that governments and other stakeholders can undertake to harness the potential of young people. And in this article, I will share five critical areas.
Effective participation in leadership and decision making
Governments and other stakeholders in development have to provide and create opportunities for young people to effectively and meaningfully participate in leadership and decision making processes at different levels within their communities.
Allowing young people to participate in leadership and decision making is key as this gives them a platform to confidently air out their views, learn and master the art of public speaking, understand decision making frameworks, and to be informed of the systems employed in the implementation of programs. This participation also prepares young people for future leadership and responsibility by learning and attaining leadership, management, mobilization, and organizational skills.
Skills training, capacity building and the social economic empowerment of young people
Boosting the skill and capacity of young people and socially and economically empowering them should be a stated priority of parents, the government, and other stakeholders in development (i.e. civil society, development partners, media, cultural and faith based institutions). Young people need to be guided in identifying and nurturing their gifts. They need to be trained and equipped with practical skills and relevant knowledge on the existing economic environment in their country and mentored on areas of economic investment and basic business management.
Seed grants and startup capital (youth funds) are essential for many young people in Sub-Saharan Africa today. Today many young people are more than willing to venture into business than ever before. However most of them lack startup capital to set off.
Empowering young people socially and economically is a major step that African States can take to solve the rising unemployment problem. Governments need to interest young people in sectors like agriculture, fisheries, IT, tourism, trade and commerce, industry (small and large), media and arts, civil society, etc., so that young people can create jobs and eradicate poverty. Young people should be nurtured in areas that interest them to undertake ventures in various sectors, and to do so they need to be equipped with practical skills, knowledge and startup capital.
Young people today require education. They need quality and practical education that trains them to be creative and innovative and help them create or find jobs. This category of education will give them the opportunity to compete, nationally, regionally, and internationally.
It is therefore high time that key players in the education sector focus on quality education as opposed to quantity.
Sexual and reproductive health
Another critical area of investment is young people’s sexual and reproductive health. Research shows that investments in reproductive health protect the well-being of young people, maximize their potential to lead healthy, productive lives and improve social and economic development (Karin Ringheim and James Gribble, 2010).
Investments in sexual and reproductive health are important for young people because they are experiencing a time of transition. With the right investments, nations can ensure that young people make a successful journey through this critical period. The right investments will
- keep young people, especially girls and young women, in school;
- help young people start a productive working life;
- prepare young people for their responsibilities as citizens;
- foster healthy relationships between men and women; and
- encourage young people to delay childbearing and to also make decisions together about the timing and spacing of pregnancies and number of children they have (Guttmacher Institute, 2010 and UNESCO 2009).
Patrick Mwesigye and Yassine Fall on the last day of the YOWLI 2012
Young people, play your part.
Young people, this is our time to show our potential. We need to create and search for existing opportunities in our communities to show our leaders and other stakeholders that we have the capacity to innovate, that we are enthusiastic, filled with energy and creativity, and that we are ready to spark change in our communities and contribute to the social, economic, and political wellbeing of our communities (Global Youth Forum 2012, Bali Indonesia).
We need to make use of all opportunities around us to prove our point and make our voices heard like never before. There are many existing opportunities for dialogue and collaboration. For example, through the poverty eradication government programs in our countries (agricultural modernization, community driven development programs, Small Medium Enterprise programs, Saving and Credit Scheme, etc.), information and technology programs, the media (social, print, and electronic), universal primary and secondary education programs, civil society for advocacy and activism, and courts of law for challenging illegal acts and systems.
Young people, there is a lot we can do as we continue to push our governments and other stakeholders to invest in policies and programs hat harness our potential.
Patrick Mwesigye is a YOWLI 2012 graduate from Kampala, Uganda, where he is a youth health activist. He is the founder of Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum, a youth led CSO operating in Uganda whose mandate is to advocate for and promote meaningful and effective youth participation in health programming at the local, national, and international levels. He is also a youth councilor in the Kampala Capital City Authority Council.
Patrick is passionate about addressing the health agenda of young people, and works to challenge leaders and policy makers and help create solutions for how they can best engage young people in leadership and decision making at early stage. He also makes sure to challenge and encourage young people to wake up from their comfort zone, utilize the available opportunities around them to make their voices clearly heard.
UNDP, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision of the UN Population Division, accessed at http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/index.htm.
Peter Xenos and Midea Kabamalan, “A Comparative History of Age-Structure and Social Transitions Among Asian Youth,” East-West Center Working Papers, Population, Series no. 110 (Honolulu: East-West Center, 2002), accessed at http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/han-dle/10125/3619/POPwp110.pdf?sequence=1, on Feb. 25, 2012.
Karin Ringheim and James Gribble, Improving the Reproductive Health of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Youth: A Route to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2010).
Emmanuel Y. Jimenez et al., World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2007).
Nanette Ecker and Douglas Kirby, International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An Evidence-Informed Approach for Schools, Teachers, and Health Educators (Paris: UNESCO, 2009), accessed at www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/groups/youth/public/International_Guidance_Sexualit y_ Education_Vol_I.pdf.
Guttmacher Institute, Facts on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescent Women in the Developing World (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2010), accessed at www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Adolescents-SRH.pdf, on Feb. 1, 2012.
UNFPA, State of the World Population 2003: Making 1 Billion Count: Investing in Adolescents’ Health and Rights (New York: UNFPA, 2003), accessed at www.unfpa.org/swp/2003/pdf/english/swp2003_eng.pdf, on March 23, 2012.
Demographic and Health Surveys between 2002 and 2010 for Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.
Kofi Awusabo-Asare et al., Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Ghana: Results From the 2004 National Survey of Adolescents, Occasional Report no. 22 (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2006).
Pathfinder International, A Smart Investment: Integrating Sexual and Reproductive Health Into Multisectoral Youth Programs, (Watertown, MA: Pathfinder International, 2011).
Global Youth Forum “The Road to Bali: Engaging Young People in Meaningful Ways,” November 14‒15, 2012. Bali Indonesia.