The Mano River Union (MRU) countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hampered by decades of political conflicts, thus denying an entire generation of young men and women access to education and occupational training. Studies made by the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) show that without access to decent jobs and means to fulfill their aspirations, youth risk fuelling conflict, especially within border communities. In this context, finding solutions to youth employment, which amounts to around 70% for the MRU countries, is very important taking into account that 71% of the population is under 30 years of age.
To support the urgent call from governments and national and international players to address the challenge of youth unemployment, UNIDO, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Youth Employment Network (YEN) Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), initiated a joint youth employment programme in all four MRU countries. The programme focuses on entrepreneurship development, access to funding for start-ups and the expansion of youth-led businesses as well as on measures to improve employment opportunities in formal enterprises. In order to create synergies, the programme builds on ongoing initiatives and closely cooperates with the MRU Governments, the MRU Secretariat, international organizations and NGOs.
So far, the capacities of national and sub-regional institutions and authorities in charge of the entrepreneurship training and other services were supported and strengthened to ensure post- programme sustainability. After an extensive analysis of local business environments in cooperation with multinational enterprises, young people were trained in various productive sectors such as car mechanics, brick making, blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry and soap making. Three grant schemes were established providing young entrepreneurs with access to funding for starting up their businesses. During a study tour to Benin the beneficiaries received training in rural entrepreneurship and environmentally sustainable technologies. To promote dialogue, improve information-sharing and peer-to-peer support among youth in the MRU countries, an open source web-based communication platform was launched.
Youth, when provided with the necessary training and access to financial and other services have the potential to be agents of change by actively contributing to overall social and economic development. The youth employment programme enables young people to interact with each other and implement their business ideas. The entry of skilled young people into the productive sector enables the economy to sustain and increase its productivity and competitiveness on the global market. Youth employment also encourages social integration and stability in border communities.
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