The rate of working poverty among youth in Sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 70 percent of whom earn less than $2 a day, has become one of the great economic and social challenges of our time. IYF, like so many others in the youth development field, has been working to ensure more of Africa’s young people have access to the job and entrepreneurship training opportunities they need to lead independent and productive lives. Knowing the magnitude of the task remaining, I was delighted to join a number of visionary and hardworking African government ministers of youth, corporate leaders, members of the U.S. Congress, and representatives from USAID, State Department, and the World Bank to discuss how best to promote youth-inclusive policies for growth.

At the September 8 meeting, organized by the Africa Society, discussion centered on evidence-based policies and best practices as well as investment in high-impact sectors to scale up quality employment efforts. Here are some of my takeaways from IYF’s experience:

  1. Partner with an array of government ministries in each country. Governments remain fundamental allies in creating and sustaining a youth-inclusive economic growth strategy across Africa, as in the rest of the world. Education and youth ministries have always played a key role; however, the youth development community must fully engage other ministries, including finance, tourism, commerce, trade, mining, and agriculture. At IYF, we’ve seen this diversification advance the objective of more and better market-driven training opportunities. It also offers an opportunity for these ministries to break down silos and benefit from greater communication and cooperation.
  2. Build ties with the business community that go beyond CSR. Public-private partnerships are vital to any effort to boost youth employment. But to be effective, we must look beyond traditional corporate social responsibility and develop partnerships where companies can embrace the business case for refining job and other skills-based training programs. These partnerships, combined with government involvement, contribute to the multi-stakeholder alliances critical to ensuring young people gain the skills necessary to meet existing and future market demands.      
  3. Encourage hands-on training. Take Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems, which we’ve been increasingly working with in Sub-Saharan Africa to prepare youth for real career opportunities. To be successful, young TVET enrollees need on-the-job experience through internships and apprenticeships. In Kenya, for example, IYF works with Barclays Bank to deliver a sports-based work readiness training initiative (in this case, using soccer) that includes experience in specialties such as masonry and machine operation on live job sites. Young graduates like Joseph and Linnet go on to flourish in jobs in construction, a growing sector of the economy.
  4. Value curriculum-based life skills training as a key component of successful youth programming. More and more companies and governments agree that non-cognitive skills—including teamwork, conflict management, and communication—help young people succeed as students, workers, parents, and citizens. In IYF’s experience with Passport to Success®, we’ve found that using a curriculum-based, locally tailored approach is the best way to make the teaching of these essential skills scalable. IYF is currently developing a global online exam to measure students’ life skills and certify test-takers’ aptitudes.
  5. Promote entrepreneurship and employment. To support young men and women pursuing a lifetime of productive work, we must focus on both strategies. Out of choice or necessity, many of today’s youth are engaged in mixed livelihoods, moving from self-employment to a job in the informal economy and back again, or both at once. Young people need access to that kind of combined, holistic training, which IYF is exploring with The MasterCard Foundation in our Via initiative in Tanzania and Mozambique. Skills young people gain through entrepreneurship are useful not only to those seeking to launch or run a small business. Everyone seeking employment in today’s competitive job market needs to be creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial if he or she wants to get ahead.

Remember, while effective job, entrepreneurship, and life skills training programs help prepare young people for decent livelihoods, it’s a growing and vibrant economy—not the government acting alone—that drives job creation. Expanding manufacturing capabilities, investing in high-impact sectors such as hospitality and information technology, and building up a country’s infrastructure will all help boost the creation of much needed jobs across Africa. To reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and end poverty, we must work together in every country to build economies that include and benefit everyone—the poor, minorities, women, and yes, young people.