ADDIS ABABA, 20 November 2019 – The second Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment (YES) Forum brought together more than 600 participants, of whom around 40% were youth, and included policymakers, business associations, academia, investors and development partners. It was co-organized by ITC, UNIDO, UNCDF, UNCTAD and ILO, who are partners of the Global Initiative for Decent Jobs for Youth in alliance with the Africa Industrialization Week 2019 and the World Export Development Forum. Supported by the African Union Commission, the Government of Ethiopia and the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA), the Forum succeeded in mobilizing additional partners to join the community of committed thought leaders of the Global Initiative, such as Plan International and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and created bridges with others, such as the Global Donor Platform on Rural Development.
Building on the first edition of the YES Forum in Dakar, Senegal, where the YES Declaration was adopted, this edition of the YES Forum presented the YES Declaration for Africa, confirming the commitment for an African alliance of the Global Initiative. Acknowledged by the African Union and the AU Youth Envoy, the Declaration calls for full and productive employment and decent work for all in Africa, rooted in gender equality and rights at work, recognizes young people as active agents of change and entrepreneurs as drivers of job creation, and promotes international trade and investment for economic growth through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Declaration focuses on six actions clusters: “Youth voices and leadership; National Strategies for youth employment and empowerment; Inclusive Alliance; Access to education and skills, technology, productive assets, broadband internet and finance; Transition to the formal economy; Opportunities in the digital, green and blue economies”. It calls on partners to anchor their efforts in line with the Agenda 2063, the African Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment (APAYE), the 2019/2020 Action Plan for the Office of the AU Youth Envoy and the 1 Million by 2021 initiative to advance youth empowerment on the continent.
Speaking at the event, Aya Chebbi, the first Special Envoy for Youth to the African Union, said that considering that 60% of Africa’s population is youth - with the number expected to reach 452 million by 2050 - any discussion on the industrialization of Africa cannot happen without speaking of Africa’s youth, and without having them contribute to the discussion.
Discussions highlighted that the changing world of work requires transferrable skills beyond entrepreneurial knowhow and business management skills. With 70% of Africa’s population not connected, special attention needs to be directed to closing the digital divide while ensuring political will and accountability. Only then can the demographic dividend in Africa be realized, particularly in agriculture which is a critical source of jobs for youth, in the present and the future. Agriculture needs to be made attractive for young people to join and tap into the opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-employment, which in return can reduce the push factors for economically driven migration in the search for employment opportunities in urban areas or across borders. Similarly, harnessing sports for development as an alternative and innovative approach can serve as an entry point to engage underserved youth in employability programs as well as break down barriers of communication and thereby foster a sense of community.
Ms. Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, also highlighted that youth need to be empowered to take advantage of investments being made in Africa, starting with the creation of an enabling environment that facilitates youth to start and run sustainable businesses. In this context, providing youth with employability and entrepreneurship skills will not suffice, as they need to be connected to a network of private sector companies so that young people can be placed into the industry, thereby highlighting the importance of public-private partnerships, including for the development of the digital economy.
Similarly, young participants and entrepreneurs expressed the importance of being connected to each other in order to create powerful networks that can facilitate access to best practices, information and markets, amongst other things, and the important role that events such as the YES Forum can play in this regard.
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Chief of the Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, UNIDO