The Best Investment: Youth
Economists, development workers, politicians, even health practitioners…everyone seems to be endlessly obsessed with the “youth bulge” in Africa – a term demographers use to describe a high proportion of youth within a population. There is constant buzz about the dangers of the still-growing population of young people on the continent, including the country of Tanzania.
With half the population under the age of 25, Tanzania holds the world’s 10th largest youth population. In Arusha, the city in which I reside, young people (15 to 35 years old according to Tanzania’s official definition) compose 46 percent of the city’s residents.
The economy has grown in urban areas such as Arusha. However, this growth – as well as that of urban populations – are not matched by a rise in economic opportunities for youth entering the workforce as well. In fact, urban areas have higher rates of youth unemployment than rural areas, as the youth are not engaged in agriculture. Many urban youth, even after secondary or post-secondary education, are either unemployed or engaged in vulnerable or informal employment. Therefore, in this context of a “youth employment crisis”, the Tanzanian government and international development agencies are addressing youth and their access to economic opportunities so that the “demographic dividend” will not remain only a reserve of potential labour.
One emphasized and agreed upon solution is entrepreneurship, although that is easier said than done. Success in entrepreneurship is more than simply becoming self-employed. Work as a boda boda (motorcycle) taxi driver or fruit vendor is still casual and inconsistent, thus still suppressing youth in vulnerable employment. Success in entrepreneurship comes through structural change. There must be more than just education programs that last for a few weeks or months; Tanzania needs an entrepreneurial ecosystem to foster lasting employment and economic growth.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems are created by multiple actors who maintain support for youth entrepreneurs, such as consistent engagement between youth and the public and private sectors. Conversations need to continue and linkages need to improve between young people, the government, private sector, and even third sector organizations. Tanzanian youth often do not view entrepreneurship as a viable option, and if they do, they do not know how to succeed. This is because entrepreneurial spirit is not being cultivated, in youth nor adults to believe in and actively support youth entrepreneurship.
The role of the government:
The role of the government in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is to remove obstacles for business development, thus creating an enabling environment for basic business services to be accessed by youth. Currently, new youth entrepreneurs struggle with business registration, obtaining credit, or even opening a bank account. Their especially low rates of access to financial services hinder any growth for their business. In fact, Tanzania ranks 144 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.
The government must also focus on integration – mainstreaming youth employment into every program and economic policy. The last youth policy was the National Development Youth Policy from 2007 and the Education Sector Development Program is from 2008.
The role of the private sector:
Aside from hard capital and regulations, business development knowledge, especially through personal mentorship for ventures, is incredibly important. Most people who are self-employed and small enterprise owners have little to none business training, entrepreneurship knowledge, or skills in labour market navigation. This soft capital is crucial for young innovators and entrepreneurs starting any kind of enterprise, and is fundamental to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is a role that the private sector must partake in.
Furthermore, there is a disconnect between young peoples’ skills and the demands in the market, meaning the syllabi of current education available is not aligned with labour market demands. The private sector should partner in the development of curricula for schools and training centres, to make sure that the skills acquired are ones that are desired. In Tanzania, vocational education is currently perceived as an inferior and low status alternative to an academic education. However, practical knowledge and skills training that match the market can help address the public stigma as students learn competence for a career, not just content. Possibilities for them can then lie in career paths that include entrepreneurship and small businesses based on technical and trade expertise. The private sector could also improve and increase internship, apprenticeship, volunteering and mentoring opportunities to build youth’s skills and experience.
The role of the third sector:
For all that is loftily declared here about what should be done, however, actions for youth should not be made. The time that adults sat around discussing youth issues without asking nor involving them has passed. This is now the time for youth, not adults thinking they are acting for youth. Through a recently made partnership with a local youth organization, TCCIA will be holding a meeting with youth entrepreneurs to better discuss their youth-specific business challenges. As the representative of the business community, TCCIA will then take the youth’s needs and recommendations to both the government and business members. Acting as a liaison, I hope that TCCIA can gather all these different actors together and push for an ecosystem approach in which inclusive employment and entrepreneurship, human capital development, and better actor linkages are all taken into account. With this new “youth bulge”, TCCIA needs to increase efforts to assist youth too, beyond offering loans and business knowledge. With all of TCCIA Arusha staff between the age of 25-35, TCCIA is the perfect actor to speak with and behalf of youth. After all, they are the youth and future of the business community too.
Structural transformation in Tanzania’s political economy is important not just to create opportunities for youth but contribute to the overall development of the country. Youth employment is not just a responsibility for young people but everyone. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be achieved by 2030, and the youth population of Tanzania is set to peak at this time. The age-old saying is that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. However, to achieve the grand vision set by the SDGs, young people need to be leaders of today. The best investment adults can make for a country’s success and development is to help create an environment for youth to thrive, not just survive.
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 National Bureau of Statistics (2016). Arusha Region: Basic Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile, 2012 Population and Housing Census, Dar es Salaam.
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