Learning from social enterprises: How to solve youth unemployment in Africa

By Ashoka 30 June 2015

Across the continent, unemployment rates are staggering, but social enterprises are teaming up to catalyze change. Photo by: Ashoka

The issues that are the most pressing today will shape the legacies of the most powerful African political and business leaders of our time.

For the continent, the youth population boom and issues of employment are at the top of the list of priorities. Leaders at national, continental and global levels discuss these topics in the halls of the United Nations, the African Union and within talent-strapped businesses operating in the region. When it comes to the political and economic agendas of a continent dubbed “the most youthful” and projected to become the home of half of the world’s youth population by 2040, the “youth bulge” and the unemployment statistics inform the entire dialogue. Clearly, there is need for urgency, action and collaboration to create sustainable impact on a large scale.

Nonetheless, many of these conversations among leaders continue to emphasize the magnitude of the problem or present similar sets of solutions: national tax incentives, “create-a-job-for-each-young-person” schemes, and skills training to increase employability. They overlook opportunities for experimentation to catalyze innovation, which turn issues upside down and question key assumptions: How should we define (redefine) what a “job” is in 21st century Africa? How is the system of education or employment limiting the learning and working mindsets of youth?”

Ashoka teamed up with the MasterCard Foundation for “Future Forward: Innovations for Youth Employment in Africa” to highlight exactly the kind of innovators that can share methods to catalyze change in the “stuck” systems of learning and work, which lead to youth unemployment.

The Future Forward initiative convened the #AfricaYouthFwd online and offline dialogue to highlight new insights from social entrepreneurs. We explored ways in which young people learn and find opportunities; we clarified how different participants and sectors can play a role in creating solutions toward youth employment and highlighted lessons about how young African change-makers are contributing. We were able to show that it is no longer necessary to stick to interventions that address symptoms of the issue when it is possible to address root cause issues  in such a way that systemic solutions will have lasting impact.

While there are many insights that can be applied immediately from these innovations, leaders in the halls of the African Union and the United Nations should explore ways they can support these innovative solutions to help them scale impact to change the lives of the millions who are represented in the staggering unemployment statistics from the continent.

Below are approaches applied by leading social entrepreneurs in Africa to scale impact for youth employment solutions so that the solutions can have an impact on the lives of millions. Each solution and scaling approach social entrepreneurs have taken is listed under an innovation design principle, which guides the new idea for the youth employment solution. The innovation design principles for each solution were initially identified through extensive on-the-ground research done by Ashoka at the beginning of the Future Forward initiative and then continually refined as we elected 25 of Africa’s leading social entrepreneurs addressing youth employment.

Put trust in youth and put them in charge.
Scale impact through an “open source” approach.

IkamvaYouth in South Africa facilitates peer-to-peer learning groups with volunteer tutors. Young people take up key leadership positions as tutors and mentors guiding other young people through their learning journeys. The model is focused on creating an organizational culture that is driven by positive values.

All students who are a part of Ikamva see significant increases in their academic results, improving their chances of pursuing higher education and securing employment opportunities. Shortly after graduation, the median income of IkamvaYouth alumni is already 9,000 South African rand ($732) compared with the 3,000 rand earned by fellow black South Africans.

IkamvaYouth extends its impact by taking an “open source approach.” The operations, training manuals, monitoring, tracking and reporting processes are freely available on the website, so that other organizations can replicate the model. In addition, IkamvaYouth actively enables hands-on empowerment of organizations working to apply these methods.

IkamvaYouth branches serve as models of excellence where national and branch staff members provide training and support to organizations that conduct after-school programing. So far, eight organizations have already adopted the IkamvaYouth model’s minimum standards. Many more have learned from IkamvaYouth and applied core elements of the model to increase the effectiveness of their own after-school offerings.

Strengthen job-matching services.
Scale impact through policy change.

The After-School Graduate Development Center offers soft skills training and career counseling services to make Nigerian graduates employable, and to empower them to navigate the labor market.

AGDC aims to scale its model and reach all Nigerian graduates by informing policy changes and piggybacking on universities. In cooperation with a university, AGDC will first pilot a career center that is run by the university, and then use the impact data and support from local stakeholders to push for a policy change that would require all Nigerian universities to provide career services.

Redefine “work.”
Scale impact by rebranding farming using new technologies to spread the word about agriculture as a “cool” tech-enabled career choice.

Many young Kenyans with university degrees have a difficult time finding employment. But very few young people are considering agriculture as a possible career choice.

Mkulima Young rebrands farming to make it an exciting career possibility for thousands of young people. Through the website, social media platforms, and by using the Internet and radio, it has reached a base of over 47,000 followers. Mkulima Young focuses on regularly generating new ideas and inspiring young people to pursue economic opportunities in agribusiness through resources, information and a network of other young farmers. Mkulima Young also connects young farmers to serve as mentors and role models for each other. The platforms, website, social media channels and the “soko” online marketplace focus on sharing content, which answer questions and help young people access the market. Specifically, the online marketplace serves to create connections to opportunities: selling produce, securing employment, building agribusinesses and collaborating with other young people.

Daniel Kamani, now a young farmer, could not find a job with his engineering degree but has since opened a successful fish farm after hearing about the possibilities of agriculture on an Mkulima Young radio show. By serving as a platform and connecting young people to one another virtually, Mkulima Young maintains a small organizational base, but has created a system that allows for wide-scale impact, not limited by geography.

Check back next week to see more lessons from these social entrepreneurs in the second of this two-part series.

To learn more about game-changing innovations for youth employment, sign up for the Future Forward newsletter or join the #AfricaYouthFwd conversation on Twitter.

About the author

Blacktree
Ashoka

Ashoka is leading the way to an "Everyone a Changemaker" World. As the world's largest network of change-makers and social innovators with more than 3,000 social entrepreneurs in 70 countries, Ashoka aims to bring about large-scale social change. Ashoka supports innovators get started, grow their ideas, collaborate, reshape whole systems and influence societal transformation. Founded in 1980 with the belief that the most powerful force in the world is a big idea in the hands of an entrepreneur, Ashoka applies insights from the world's leading social entrepreneurs to set in motion profound societal transformation. Current insights indicate that our rapidly changing world calls for an "Everyone a Changemaker" world, one where every person practices the critical skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership and change-making to command change across silos and be a contributor.


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