Africa is undergoing a demographic sea change and has the youngest population of any continent in the world with 226 million people aged between 15 and 24. Although the willingness to innovate and succeed is abundant, a fundamental lack of education, employment and financial opportunities has led to Africa having the largest youth unemployment rate at 60%. With East Africa’s youth demographics alone projected to increase to 75% of the population by 2030, it is vital to equip the young people of today with the skills and opportunities to lead East Africa into tomorrow.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), amongst other partners, convened the first YouthConneckt Africa Summit Hosted by H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, in Kigali, Rwanda from the 19th-21st July, 2017. YouthConnekt 2017 brought together 2,500 delegates comprised of leaders, young entrepreneurs, the private sector and media to look at the challenges facing young Africans and develop solutions. The objectives of YouthConnekt Africa addressed by the Summit included generating 10 million jobs by 2020, creating 25 million training opportunities, identifying and nurturing one million young leaders, working towards gender parity and developing a hub to connect incubators across the continent. As such, YouthConnekt Africa Summit 2017 sought to initiate policy, establish programmes and develop sustainable partnerships.
IIDEA was invited to actively participate and partner at the Summit. Eight of IIDEA’s Partners engaged with youth employment, entrepreneurship and empowerment projects attended. The IIDEA Partners that participated were Danceteam Africa, CreativeDNA, Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD), National Council of Folklorists of Uganda (NACOFU), Culture and Development East Africa (CDEA), the Campfire Logs Guild, Bayimba and Sauti Africa. Through the Summit, IIDEA and its partners were able to showcase innovations and achievements. IIDEA’s Innovation Hub in particular drew lots of attention at the Summit. Here, IIDEA’s Partners exhibited their work in a wide range of sectors to delegates from across Africa. As a result, IIDEA is now an official partner of the YouthConnekt Hub.
The plenary discussions of the Summit provided valuable insights into what the future holds for young people. Issues such as employment, economic development, ICT innovation and gender equality were hot topics during the 10 panel discussions. Jack Ma, Alibaba CEO and special advisor to UNCTAD, called on young visionaries to take the lead in development by innovating solutions for the challenges facing Africa, particularly in the field of ICT. President Kagame also spoke about the need for the free movement of people, goods and services to drive the regional economy and create opportunities for young people to flourish.
Overall, the YouthConnekt Africa Summit 2017 highlighted a number of issues and solutions. Firstly, intergovernmental cooperation and integration is a pivotal for generating opportunities for young people to thrive. In addition, governments must create a conducive environment for the private sector to grow and prosper. Moreover, it is essential to ensure that young entrepreneurs and professionals gain access to technical and financial support to translate their ideas into reality. But most importantly, young people need to take the future into their own hands. After all, the future is theirs.