Post by Melissa Etoke On 21 November 2013 In Blog 5170 comments

Social entrepreneurship to empower the youth


                                                             “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  
                                                                                                                     – Mahatma Gandhi

Young Africans must be aware of the role they have to play in defining their continent’s dynamics. If shifting towards a needs-based education(1) builds the skills needed, turning them into change agents relies on their ability to step up to the challenges Africa faces, start local initiatives and become accountable. Hence the need for social entrepreneurship as it transforms youngsters into leaders, projects managers and business owners.

Therefore not only is social entrepreneurship necessary to solve Africa’s youth high unemployment but it can also have a significant impact on local communities. Hence the call to public authorities to build an appropriate framework that will help spread social entrepreneurship among youngsters.

Turning young Africans into change agents

Africa’s youth high unemployment rate is a serious issue to tackle. Today, two thirds of Africans are below the age of 35 and in 2020, 3 Africans out of 4 will still be in their twenties(2). This youth, better educated but yet less employed than its parents, is a double-edged sword for Africa: a potential for growth if enough jobs are created to match the demand or a ticking bomb that could eventually lead to social upheavals.

While Africa’s working-age population will exceed China’s(3) around 2035, jobs are still to be created to cope with population growth needs, resulting in an increasing number of young Africans being unemployed. Fixing this forced “idleness” requires young Africans to take the lead and start their own initiatives. Why? So they can actively contribute to shaping the environment they wish to live in and positively impact their community.

This is where social entrepreneurship comes in. It turns young Africans from passive mode to active contributors to the change needed in their communities. Instead of being part of the problem they become a key driver of the solution. Social entrepreneurship promotes collaboration and networking among community members. It applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being. Social entrepreneurship supports traditional values and favors a humanist approach to business. It can take different forms such as co-operatives, social businesses or charity organizations and clearly stands as a viable option in the mix of solutions offered to address youth unemployment.

Social entrepreneurship can have a significant impact

Far from being anecdotal, social entrepreneurship initiatives can be true game-changers. Here are two cases in point.

Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents Program (ELA) – UGANDA(4)

ELA boosts social empowerment by training poor women in critical fields (health, financial literacy, livelihood training…). It’s a peer-to-peer teaching system where more-skilled women teach less-skilled ones under the guidance of peer mentors trained by the NGO BRAC. Training is held in a “safe space” where they can socialize, away from the pressure of the daily life in a male-dominated poverty-stricken society. This peer-to-peer system makes it scalable by turning former students into teachers and yields exceptional results (since its launch 2008) in entrepreneurial activities (+35%), personal consumption expenditure (+33%), teen pregnancy rates (-28.6%), self-reported condom usage (+12.6%), unwilling sex (-83%).

Diepsloot Youth Projects (DYP) – SOUTH AFRICA(5)

“Helping youth help themselves”, DYP is a Youth Development Organization that aims at uplifting the youth by providing them with skills to help them identify and exploit opportunities available in their environment. The organization achieves this goal by providing information, skills and enterprise development training. DYP has developed care programs, leadership camps and youth outreach/volunteering initiatives. Through carpentry training, short skills development workshops and computer training, DYP also promotes skills developments and income generating programs.

So social entrepreneurship can definitely change the face of a community. By both convincing locals of their role in being part of the solution and training them, it unleashes resources for the improvement of the community’s living standards. Youth-led social entrepreneurship projects establish Africa’s youth as a full-fledge change agent. Not only do young Africans “work themselves out of unemployment”, but they are also urged to play a role in fostering change in their community, with their peers. They develop an unwavering motivation that fuels their projects.

On top of providing tangible solutions to local challenges, social entrepreneurship also contributes to developing skills critical to other sectors. Indeed building a successful social entrepreneurship project goes through steps similar to business projects: identifying opportunities, maximizing the value for the community, executing the operational application. Along the way, the social entrepreneur develops a set of required skills such as: leadership/supervision, communication, financial management, record keeping, monitoring and marketing.

The question is therefore how to build a viable environment for such initiatives.

Building a viable environment for social entrepreneurship

Now the critical question: how to foster social entrepreneurship? Like companies who need a friendly business climate to thrive, specific actions from public authorities are necessary to let social entrepreneurship reach its full potential. It should be done both directly (via government institutions) and indirectly (via the support of third-party such as NGOs).

First, Governments should act directly by designing a “social entrepreneurship strategy for youth” that could be implemented by actions such as: local campaigns to sensitize youngsters, contests to foster emulation and reward creative thinking. Management of such initiatives would be delegated to local authorities such as city councils for example. The idea here is stimulate social entrepreneurship initiatives by directly improving the ecosystem.

Governments could also act indirectly by supporting non-governmental structures whose activity help young social entrepreneurs start, develop and secure their project. Indeed, public authorities should finance capacity building and skills development programs NGOs and associations could freely deliver to youngsters. Impact assessment could also be carried out by NGOs to ensure transparency and objectivity: number of program beneficiaries, number of business launched, community outcomes, income generated.

To conclude, social entrepreneurship offers untapped solutions for youth employment. It is up to the stakeholders, both authorities and young Africans, to leverage and grow its potential. “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” -Winston Churchill.


(3)  Mo Ibrahim Foundation, « African Youth : fulfilling the potential », November 2012,    

Read 202992 times Last modified on Sunday, 24 November 2013 19:29


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