According to the United Nations, people who fall within the 15-24 years age bracket are categorized as the youth. Nearly half of all people in the world today are under the age of 25. This means that the youth make up over one-sixth of the world’s population, but are seldom recognized. The age bracket, however, can be argued. Granted, but the role of the youth in economic development cannot be underscored.

Tuesday, the 25th of August, 2020. We as the Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central (RCNC) had taken time to reflect on the prominent role the youth can play in any economic trajectory. I didn’t know what to think about this particular meeting, it seemed somehow intense. If your brain works spontaneously like mine, things such as the economy and economics have math written all over them. God knows I was never good at math so, I would rather not indulge. Having said that, allow me to acknowledge that I love Rotaract meetings. It’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and have a good laugh.

For this particular meeting, RCNC had travelled about 2200 miles to the busy city of Lagos in Nigeria, to tap into the insights of a renowned speaker through the virtual club meeting. You remember how you ignored a particular subject because the teacher was boring? I ‘googled’ the “teacher” and for sure, the school of life sure has its perks.

Uwem Uwemakpan
Director of Funds Operation, Ingressive Capital, Nigeria

Uwem Uwemakpan has a beautifully woven biography; a startup coach and investor in early-stage startups. He helps entrepreneurs gain the clarity they need to turn their ideas/passions into profitable businesses. He is also the director of Fund Operations at Ingressive Capital in Lagos; a venture capital firm focused on funding the next generation of African Innovators across Sub-Saharan Africa. That alone, ladies and gentlemen, was the motivation I needed to join what I thought would be a very technical meeting. Who am I kidding though! The fact that the guest speaker was a Nigerian was more reason to make time and log into the meeting. After all, who doesn’t love a Nigerian accent and the energy they bring onboard!

So, what role do you play as a youth in the economic development of your country?

Well, if you have a concrete answer for that – well done for being an exemplary citizen. But, if you thought twice, or thrice for that matter – no need to worry. Keep scrolling…

East Asian countries which have reported rapid economic progress over the last couple of years attribute the said “miracle” to the youth, among other factors. Uwem highlighted five ways in which the youth of a country help in its economic development.

Labour force: As soon as you reach the legal age of work, you start contributing as a member of the labour force, no matter what sector; the more the youth, the higher the working population.

Consumers: After working, you get paid and spend a lot of your income procuring goods and services. I’m not alluding that you bid farewell to your Kales’ supplier (read mama mboga) but surprisingly and subconsciously, you play an important role in keeping the butcher at his job.

Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): We cannot all work for others and as such, some of us will start their own businesses. This helps the country in producing goods and services needed, creating employment opportunities for others and paying taxes to the state.

Change Agents in Institutions: These are people who join the government and ensure that state institutions are run efficiently and effectively. Closer home, we have these people to thank, for most government departments offering their services online.

Advocates in Civil Societies: These are youths who launch awareness and advocacy campaigns for the eradication of social evils (like brands wanting to pay creative with exposure). Mostly, they do this individually or by through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This indirectly acts as a catalyst to the process of economic development since there is a correlation between transparency and economic development.

Uwem, however, stated that he was not blind to the fact that even as the youth play this important role in economic development, they stumble upon various hurdles. Some of the major challenges that were discussed, sadly, have a lot to do with the system. Education, for example, is a major challenge, especially when it comes to technical skills like carpentry and plumbing. As much as we would like to snub gender inequality as another challenge, the scales – especially for the youth, are not exactly balanced in terms of employment. Unemployment is also a gnawing issue. We all know a deserving person, who, at times, has pursued postgraduate education but somehow they are unemployed. Another challenge that we as the youth are yet to wrap our heads around is the access to credit services, especially for SMEs. This has probably happened to the best, if not all – having an idea but not the financial muscle to pull it off, so you think of getting credit to launch it. It’s dampens the heart realizing how hard and expensive accessing credit services can be.

Unstable political climate and policies further compound the challenges facing the youth today. Most of us shun a blind eye to such topics but the sad news is that these policies could either mold or shutter any business environment and in return, this greatly affects the quality of life you lead.

After reflecting on all these problems, you might be wondering what can be done to salvage the situation.

Spurring and enhancing capacity building would be a way for the youth to leverage their potential in economic development. Under this, the youth would work towards improving training and education, access to financial services and enhancing social. Strong institutions do not exist without youth inclusion. As such, institutions need to continuously adapt to the changing times and commit to advancing the ever-growing youth population. Lastly, the government should renew its commitment in drafting and implementing favorable policies that present the youth with an enabling environment conducive for business.

As the youth, we can also play our part by creating youth networks with like-minded individuals who will support our businesses, recommend you for vacancies or better yet, loan you a thousand dollars as seed capital for your startup.

Join us for the next insightful meeting on Tuesday the 8th of September, 2020.

Article by: Susan K. Maina (Rtr) || Vice Secretary || Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central

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