Jobs and the Future of Work

3 ways to tackle youth unemployment

Youth entrepreneurship is high on the policy agenda, and rightly so.

Youth entrepreneurship is high on the policy agenda, and rightly so. Image: REUTERS/Stringer

Andrew Devenport
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Susan Ogwengo lives in Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. Two years ago she started up a children’s day care centre which has grown into a successful business, employing others and enabling parents to go to work safe in the knowledge that their children were well looked after.

But she didn’t do it on her own.

Kenya Youth Business Trust (KYBT), a member of Youth Business International (YBI), provided her with training to help her develop her business idea and so that she could learn more about business basics. KYBT then provided her with a small loan to get her business going. Since then, she has been able to create connections with other local entrepreneurs to help her learn and continue to grow. And importantly, she has received support from a mentor, Esther, who has helped to guide Susan.

It is possible that Susan could have set up a business just working on her own, and she might have been able to get her business to be profitable. However the range of support that Susan accessed gave her a much better chance of being successful. By working with multiple partners, she achieved so much more.

I would argue that the same is true of the sector which aims to support young entrepreneurs.

Over the last five years we have seen an explosion of interest in supporting entrepreneurs. From training programmes to business plan competitions and incubator programmes, there are countless initiatives aimed at supporting young people to turn their dreams into reality. Youth entrepreneurship is high on the policy agenda, and rightly so.

This is great news. But the challenge is enormous.

Global growth over the next 20 years will be driven by young people, but there are major challenges behind finding employment for this next generation. By 2019, the world’s economy will need to createnearly 280 million new jobs, just to make up for those lost during the last recession and to give our world’s young people work. This is a crisis – a slow-moving one for sure, but a crisis nonetheless.

Most frustratingly, the explosion in the number of different entrepreneurship support programmes are not playing their part in meeting this crisis, because they are competing for funding and young people, whilst failing to share experience and good practice.

This has got to change if significant numbers of young people are to be supported effectively.

We’ve got no option but to work together. If we all work hard on our own, of course, we all feel that we’re doing our bit – but we’re going to miss out on the opportunity to make really significant change. And this worries me, as it does many others in the sector. The question is, what do we do about it?

This is where the Solutions 4 Youth Employment (S4YE) coalition comes in.  It’s a groundbreaking coalition which aims to provide catalytic support to employment and productive work for 150 million youth by 2030. The S4YE strategy is released today, marking International Youth Day.

Collaborative action is so important, because unless we work together to increase the scale of what we’re doing, we will fail.

As the S4YE strategy recognizes, there is no one solution for unemployment, and for effective and scaleable solutions, we all have to work together. This means partnership. In fact, the World Bank Group, understanding that investing in youth employment is essential to ending extreme poverty and boosting prosperity, is one of the founding members.

But partnering is a fashionable word these days. While it is absolutely correct that one of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”, partnership can be a rather nebulous term. What does it actually mean here?

From our experience, partnership can work on three levels.

Firstly, NGOs provide better services to young people by collaborating together. For example in Peru,Colectivo Integral de Desarrollo, a member of YBI, partners with universities and colleges to train young people in entrepreneurship skills.

Second, we can increase the amount of resources available for unemployed or under-employed youth through cross-sector partnerships. These partnershipsinclude separate relationships that Plan International and Youth Business International have developed with Accenture, can be an effective way of bringing major investment and expertise to the table.

The third level is sharing good practices and results more widely, to help the sector to continuously improve. This sounds straightforward, but it isn’t – because, many organisations that support entrepreneurs feel they are competitors. This can be a source of unease especially around disclosing public assessments of programs, and often real learning is diluted by promotional activity.

We’ve got to change this culture, and I believe that coalitions such as S4YE can be a valuable way in which to do it.

If the link, learn and leverage mantra of the Solutions 4 Youth Employment coalition is to work, we must embrace partnerships in an open, transparent way, to genuinely make a difference to the next generation of young people.

As entrepreneurs like Susan Ogwengo already know, we work best when we work together.

This post first appeared on The World Bank Jobs and Development Blog.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Andrew Devenport writes for the World Bank.

Image: An instructor (L) teaches trainees at a maritime transport training centre, which offers classes as part of a government-sponsored programme to train unemployed people in industrial professions, in Alexandria. REUTERS/Stringer 


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