Youth Day: Celebrating The Young Zambian Innovators

When young people have a safe space to share their ideas, things can actually happen.

To commemorate the National Youth Day which falls today, 12th March, the Zambian Ministry of Youth & Sports held a 2-day Youth Exhibition from 9th to 10th March, in which young entrepreneurs, and social innovators, were given a space to showcase their work.
I have to say, when I first heard of it I thought “ugh…no…it’s the upper middle-class social entrepreneurs again”. But when I got there, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Different people from diverse walks of life in brightly decorated booths, talking passionately about their craft, and having an opportunity to present their ideas to the Vice President, and potential investors. This was what we’ve been waiting for Zambia; A mix of non-profits, government bodies, and youth led businesses in a common space, exchanging ideas and actually having a conversation about issues that matter.
From Street Culture, to Bongo Hive, from the Diva Center to Copper Rose, it was an interesting mix of initiatives. I had the opportunity to speak to a few young business owners and innovators, and they were able to share their ideas.

“It’s about encouraging young people to think outside the box”- Gift Banda

Frederick Silumesi, Joseph Maimba, Joseph Kaputula, and Gift Banda are part of Innovative Zambian Youths Organisation

My first stop was at a booth which had an interesting looking bucket, and a live chicken! Soon enough, the blue clad men introduced themselves as the Innovative Zambian Youths, and what they had to show was a chicken de-feathering machine which runs at 1 Horse Power.

This group of students from the Information Technology University of Zambia, and Evelyn Hone College got together to form an initiative which combines creativity and problem solving.

The idea came to them from a shared memory of their mothers spending hours defeathering chickens. The task tedious and sometimes painful due to the hot water involved, encouraged these young inventors to come up with a prototype which uses rubber fingers inside a bucket to do the job. The machine, according to Gift Banda, can defeather a whole chicken in “three seconds”.

An inside look to the defeathering machine

“Our organisation… it’s about encouraging young people to think outside the box and be innovative. These days, unemployment is too high in this country, and it is time that youths stopped sitting on their hands and did something to solve their own problems,” said Gift Banda, a founding member of the organisation.

“It’s a way of self expression”- Niza Nawa

Cynthia giving a manicure

My next stop was at an colourfully decorated booth manned by two boys and two girls in school uniforms. At the entrance one of the girls giving a six-foot tall man a manicure. On the tables an array of makeup and soaps, and two large mirrors hung on the wall. These kids knew how to make use of their 3x3 booth!

Eleventh grader Niza Nawa explained that their group was made up of students from David Kaunda Secondary School, and Kabulonga Girls Secondary School. They met through their common interest in cosmetology, and so they knew it would be the thing that would take them to the Youth Exhibition.

“There’s just so much you can do with cosmetics; it’s a way of self expression, it’s a creative outlet, and it can be a means of income generation. You don’t have to have a shop to be a makeup artist, just have your tools in a bag and offer your services. Many times, school-goers are idle, especially during the school holidays, and this leads many to turn to drugs, and alcohol. But, if they can find a way out which is creative, and can possibly make them money, then these incidences can be reduced.” Niza Nawa said.

“The problem is not finances, it’s about mindset.”- Stanley Mutale

Samples of the produce from the YEFI group

When someone has a vegetable garden, topped off with 2 fishtanks, in their booth, you are going to stop and ask them what’s up, and that’s how it was with the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative group.

The organisation aims to change the mindsets that young Zambians have towards agriculture. Founding member and director Stanley Mutale said, “When someone says they want to be a farmer, we laugh at them because we think as though farming should only be for subsistence. But that should not be the case, why should you spend thousands on food in supermarkets which you can grow for yourself? We want young people to see the value in farming, and how it can make them money.

“I studied Economics at the university, and many nights my roommates and I would discuss the country’s economy, how it’s difficult to get employment, and soon we started to think about outlets which we could have as alternatives. This initiative started in a dorm room with three students, and here we are. The problem is not finances, it’s about mindset- if young people can see that they can find employment in something like farming, then they will not waste their time in long lines applying for the same job as five hundred other people. And agriculture is not only about holding a hoe; you can handle the finances, you can get into value addition, and you can even get into networking with farmers and markets. There is so much opportunity, and this is what we are trying to get many youths into.”

The organisation is currently incubated at the Global Platform- a youth training hub- and they say they have provided employment to over 100 youths across the country to date.

“I did not want to go the common route of seeking employment.”- Sera Munjunga

Sera’s African jewelry collection

My last stop was at a stand which had African inspired jewelry made of beads and chitenge material. The owner, Sera Munjunga, began her career as a designer in 2010, and has not looked back since then. All her pieces are made by hand, and she prides herself in making custom designs for her clients.
“I did not want to go the common route of seeking employment,” Sera said, “and so I decided to start making jewelry. At first it wasn’t easy, but these days, with many Zambians returning to their African roots, I get frequent customers. I think young people need to think outside the box, and use their creative talents as a means to make money and find employment for themselves.”

The exhibition was the first of its kind, under a youth-focused theme, and I hope we do have more initiatives like this. A safe space for expression, a free platform for presentation, and a forum in which young people had open dialogue with their representatives. I’ll say, well done Zambia, and Happy Youth Day.