How data could help Tanzania's young informal workers

A young man at a market in Arusha, Tanzania. Many young people in Tanzania and elsewhere seek work in the informal sector. Photo by: Alessandro Capurso / CC BY-NC-ND

Tanzania is facing a youth unemployment crisis. The World Bank has reported that around 900,000 young people enter the country’s job market annually, but only 50,000 to 60,000 formal sector jobs are created each year. With more than 66 percent of the population under 25, this job shortage will keep rising.

On the flipside, young people are adapting to their situation and increasingly seeking work and opportunities to make money in the informal sector. A study of young people across seven regions of the country found that 75 percent of participants earned their main income through the informal sector, with most earning around the poverty line.

What are the government and private sector doing in Tanzania to ensure young people can provide more for themselves and their households? How can they achieve a dividend for growth and development through the country’s young and energetic population?

Although Tanzania’s national poverty reduction strategy emphasizes employment for women and young people, as yet there are no specific policies to directly support and protect young informal workers. Instead, Tanzania’s economic development and job creation efforts focus mostly on promoting large-scale infrastructure projects and strengthening the formal private sector. In addition, while services to develop small and medium-sized enterprises are on the rise in Tanzania, most young Tanzanians sit well below the qualifying standards to access the microcredit and loans they provide.

So what’s data got to do with all of this? As we focus on growth and development, how can open data help us to ensure young people are not being left behind? A key government instrument on the labor market is the Employment & Earnings Survey. However, it focuses heavily on the formal sector and currently does not include analysis of the youth informal sector, nor wage earners in seasonal smallholder agriculture. Of 9,431 businesses it consulted in 2012, less than 1 percent of its sample came from the 15-24 age group, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Over the last year, Restless Development has been working with grass-roots networks of young people — dubbed Kijana Wajibika (“Youth, Lets be Responsible!”) across 14 regions of the country to ensure their voices are heard in the constitutional review process, and to create spaces for dialogue between young people and their leaders. A major theme coming out in the project’s participatory learning is that young people’s major concern for the future is their livelihoods, and their government’s accountability to provide a better environment to help this grow. The government has a key role in regulating access to land, business development services and similar.

I was talking to a young entrepreneur in our network a few weeks ago, and he shared some of the challenges with me: “To register my business in Mbeya, I need to travel to Dar to get the paperwork done. The registration costs are really high. After that, I’m faced with government audits for a business ten times my size. For those few of us who understand the rules, we just don’t bother to imagine growing and prefer to stay small.”

We at the youth-led development agency Restless Development want Tanzania’s national and local policies and actions on economic development to consider the informal economy and meet young people’s needs. In participatory research, young people in Tanzania have identified the trend of their increased movement into the informal economy as one of their greatest development challenges. That’s why we have chosen to focus on Tanzania in the first phase of Big Idea, a new program to support youth-led, data-intensive accountability. The program is listed as one of the voluntary initiatives of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, driving ongoing efforts to meet the Busan commitments on effective development cooperation and move into new areas such as open data for development, enhanced accountability and youth as partners for development.

In developing Big Idea, we analyzed why many well-intentioned projects hoping to unlock accountability through better data fall short of expectations. We believe this is partly because too little attention has been paid to ensuring that citizens and their organizations have the capacity and confidence to work with data and turn it into evidence for advocacy. We also believe that accountability is fundamentally about growing the relationships between citizens and governments, and expanding not only the space for participation, but growing the capacities and comfort levels of all parties involved to work together.

To get to that point, our district-level informal youth-led groups aim to work with national partners to reach around 2,000 young people. With training and mentoring, they will develop key questions of inquiry, pull together official data on young informal workers in Tanzania, and gather new data through community consultations. By bringing the two evidence bases together, they will build a clearer picture of the conditions for and priorities of young informal workers in Tanzania. Participants will then carry these messages into policy dialogues that will deepen their relationship with decision-makers, focusing on areas where consensus can be expanded. From our experience in Tanzanian communities since 1998, we expect to see many young people creating their own community solutions to the challenges they find in collaboration with their community leaders and local governments.

The Big Idea program is at an early stage, and we know that Tanzania is not alone in facing problems of youth unemployment and a growing informal sector. The World Bank’s 2014 report, “Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa,” states that “informal is normal” and a new study by the International Labor Organization on labor market transitions of young women and men in Tanzania found youth informal employment in Tanzania to be at 78 percent.

Outside Tanzania, we are also testing our Big Idea program with youth-led, data-intensive accountability projects in Ghana and Nepal. We are also looking ahead to the sustainable development goals to be decided upon late 2015, advocating that they should include a distinct goal on governance, which should support young people’s participation in governance at a national and global level.

In Tanzania, Ghana and Nepal, we hope to develop and test a model that could have potentially wider replication in many other contexts where youth exclusion and youth poverty are barriers to development. We’ll be documenting and sharing our learning, and hoping to inspire others. Please follow our progress on the Big Idea webpage as we go along, and get in touch if you want to know more about our work in Tanzania.

This article is shared in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. Read more expert comment at http://devcooperation.org.

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.

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About the author

  • Untitled

    Dilhani Wijeyesekera

    Dilhani is the global director of Restless Development after she served as country director for Tanzania. She previously served as CARE Norway, International Council for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, VSO and Amnesty International.