The digital economy has taken over our world. Upstarts like Uber, Airbnb, Kickstarter and Square are proving that we live in a world where technology pioneers and the monetisation of disruptive technologies win consumers over with innovative thinking.

This raises the question of how such market solutions can be used to tackle some of society’s most pressing issues – specifically, the  60% of young people in developing regions who are either unemployed, not studying, or engaged in irregular employment, according to ILO. Africa is a prominent example of this, with its exploding youth population.

Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, suggests that the number of young people between the ages 15 and 24 in Africa will double from 200 million to 400 million by 2045. It is estimated that 200 million youth will enter the formal sector, which is a great opportunity given that new ways of employment are created by private sectors as a priority. Sadly, based on current projections, only 3-5 million jobs will be created for the 10-12 million youth eligible to enter the formal economy annually, leaving approximately half of these youth with little prospect for employment. I suggest that technology can be used to turn the tide on the continued economic marginalization of the youth.

The digital economy promises a wealth of decision ready data at the fingertips of companies, governments and even international civil society organisations. What about the social entrepreneurs and small, but impactful, civil society organisations where limited tools are available?

In today’s economy, civil society organisations are left to relieve the pain felt by marginalized youth, women and children, while government points to the private sector to create the necessary jobs and the private sector in turn points to the government to create and implement the necessary policies to allow it to create jobs. But no one has asked which jobs must be created, for who, how and why – especially when it comes to tackling these inequalities.

Perhaps digital tools are able to provide insights and an understanding of the future of youth empowerment and employment. First, data collection (personal, market and other sources of big data) must be improved, and so must the analysis of that data. Finally, decision making must then be based on the employability, in terms of soft skill attributes, of the person. As digital tools become more efficient in solving daily productivity problems and become more adaptive to learned situations, we’ll progress to a stage where digital tools can be deployed to solve some of society’s greatest challenges, including unemployment and/or employability.

Youth unemployment and empowerment can be understood by gaining insight into the employability of individuals at scale – as youth empowerment initiatives can be quantified and best practises learnt and shared. Larger social media networks have been doing this for advertising since their inception, leading to extremely successful business models. Can the same practices not be applied to civil society organisations, by designing digital tools which effectively address their unique requirements?

What is being done

Private sector: Google and Richard Branson are trying new employment models where they employ 2 people part time instead of 1 person full time (more about that can be read here). This allows the employee time to pursue other passions and personal interests, while the employer is able to reduce their staff overheads.

Coca Cola is pioneering a bold strategy to work out how to add value to their extensive business and supply chain network, through a programme called 5by20. 5by20 is The Coca-Cola Company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020. The programme is aimed at the small businesses the company works with in over 200 countries around the world. From fruit farmers to artisans, this initiative aims to help women overcome the barriers they face to business success. 5by20 and The Coca-Cola Company are proud to be giving millions of women opportunities to build their businesses, support their families and build their communities, while inspiring more to do the same.

Civil society: An increasing number of foundations and funds are turning their focus to youth networks that address their own problems in their own communities, tasking them to come up with solutions which they can support.

Another overlooked solution is placing youth with local civil society organisations, many of which seek support by means of volunteerism. This is arguably one of the most impactful ways to build social cohesiveness. To this effect, it has been proven in the US and in the UK that ‘volunteerism’ is able to increase a young person’s employability by up to 40%.

How the Global Shapers are using technology to solve this

After becoming a winner of the Global Shapers Community ‘Coca Cola Shaping a Better Future Challenge’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2014, the Cape Town Hub of the Global Shapers Community was able to successfully launch The Social Collective, a Global Shaper Hub project turned for-profit technology start-up. This comes off the back of work the Hub was doing with some South African government agencies in providing a technology to increase and track the employability of young people, specifically through volunteering.

The Social Collective is now developing a digital Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) tool which makes M&E more meaningful – to organisations and individuals – by providing specialist software and consulting services. Monitoring and Evaluation (reporting) is required by donors of civil society organisations, however few digital tools exist to increase productivity or programme management (from data collection to analysis), or for beneficiaries to track their personal development and employability gained through structured development programmes. The Social Collective responds to this need.

Many of the beneficiaries of civil society organisations are digitally engaged and are able to check in with their friends on a daily basis via social media. However, civil society organisations still have issues tracking and getting feedback from the same individuals (from programme managers to beneficiaries).

As a digital tool which is available on mobile phone and even via SMS, The Social Collective gives civil society organisations access to their data so that they can gain insight into the livelihood and personal, professional and independent development of individuals supported by their programmes, which gives rigour to intuition. Beneficiaries, on the other hand, can easily track the skills that they have acquired and the hours spent acquiring each skill. Then policymakers and the private sector can begin to answer the question: which jobs must be created, for who, how and why.

This article is published in collaboration with Global Shapers. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Duncan Luke is founder of the Social Collective and a Global Shaper from the Cape Town Hub.

Image: Young visitors look at the bourse at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo March 3, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato.