Why is youth empowerment so important in Africa? | Isabel dos Santos
I really believe in the value of literacy campaigns. Helping a new generation of African children to read and write is fundamentally important to the future of our continent. But we also need to set our sights higher. And to do this, we need to understand the role we can all play in youth empowerment.
We need people, young people, with the right set of skills. We need people who can get a job once they leave school and that job has to be relevant. So, the partnership between schools or universities and employment, businesses, has to be there from the onset.
When I spoke recently at the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg, Russia, youth empowerment was a major talking point for me. At the event, I spoke passionately in response to a comment about the need for more literacy programmes across Africa.
For the next generation to be truly empowered, they need to have all the skills they require to grow their career. Why? Because that is what true empowerment is.
I believe there are at least a couple of ways that we should approach empowering young people.
· Giving young people the practical tools they need to take control of their own destinies. This means training in everything from communication skills to finance and business planning — from school age.
· We need to create an environment in which those young people are free to thrive if they are given the chance. These opportunities cover everything from higher education scholarships for disadvantaged students through to leadership training for young employees.
Providing the tools for youth empowerment
I regularly speak about the work I do to increase levels of youth empowerment across Africa. In organisations like Candando, for example, youth empowerment is a fundamental part of how we do business.
We have an extensive training programme — the Candando School of Retail — that delivers measurable benefits. We give our young employees the leadership and interpersonal skills (and the confidence) they need to progress in the company. For many of them, this is their first experience of work. And yet around 60 have already been promoted into leadership roles.
But to see these economic benefits at a national or continental scale, we also need even greater investment. The number one driver for economic growth in Africa has to be investment in skills. I believe that when we create educational frameworks and programmes that prepare young people for work, our whole economy benefits.
At the most fundamental level, we need more investment in Africa’s schools — not least in terms of creating safe, stable places for children to learn. But to truly empower the next generation, we also need to raise expectations and aspirations among young people too.
A joint approach to youth empowerment
So how can we all increase levels of youth empowerment in Africa?
As business leaders, we can invest in our own companies. We can provide training and development mechanisms that spot talent early on, and then give our young people the skills they need to progress. Most importantly, we can create inspiring role models by promoting leaders internally, rather than hiring talent in.
But the road to greater youth empowerment needs to begin earlier too. Families need to do everything they can to push back against stereotypes that restrict young people’s ambitions. Schools must provide equal opportunities to learn, regardless of gender or background.
And education professionals must work together with both business and government to ensure that young people have all of the skills and training they need to thrive in the world of work.
Youth empowerment represents a huge economic opportunity. But it is up to all of us to create an environment in Africa that helps our young people to thrive.