A new era for youth entrepreneurship programs: 4 trends you should know

September 28, 2016Arjun Upadhyay

Over the next three days, stakeholders committed to advancing the social and economic well-being of young people will convene at the Global Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) Summit. The Summit, now in its 10th year, seeks to increase awareness of current and emerging innovative approaches that can help youth lead productive, engaged and healthy lives. As we look forward to the YEO Summit, we are excited to share key findings from a rapid landscape analysis Results for Development (R4D) conducted on youth leadership and entrepreneurship programs in Africa.

By 2050, Africa will be home to a billion young people. The future of Africa’s development will undoubtedly be shaped by its youth - either through a demographic dividend or, calamitously, a demographic burden. Juxtaposed against this, there has been a growth in youth entrepreneurship and leadership programs across Africa. However, very little is known about how these programs operate and foster entrepreneurship and leadership. What are common trends and themes across these programs? Who are the main actors involved? And what are promising or successful features these programs have in common?

Our rapid landscape analysis attempts to answer some of these questions. Through an ecosystem analysis and various in-depth studies of programs ranging from school-based entrepreneurship models like Educate! and gender-focused initiatives such as The Akilah Institute, we illustrate program trends and identify common themes and characteristics. Our research highlights four main characteristics:

1. Youth entrepreneurship programs incorporate heavy emphasis in policy reform to improve the business climate.

Many programs we studied focus on improving youth representation in politics and assisting young people in being active and contributing members of society. These features are particularly prominent in programs in crisis and post-conflict areas. SPARK’s Youth Engagement Program, for example, seeks to create dialogue among youth, politicians, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, and civil society in order to improve the socioeconomic position of youth in Burundi and South Sudan.

2. The curricula for leadership programs usually include a “hands-on” community development project to foster leadership via civic engagement.

For example, the curriculum at The Akilah Institute includes a “social change project” where students identify a local problem, brainstorm with the community about ways to solve the problem, and are tasked to implement the most promising solution.

3. Many programs, especially gender-focused initiatives, offer mentorship opportunities.

Such programs also provide practical experiences in business development, supported by guidance from a mentor. For example, Akili Dada’s Young Women Leadership Development Initiative pairs young women with women practitioners with related business experience.

4. Programs increasingly use multi-stakeholder approaches involving the government, private sector, and civil society, to tackle challenges around skills mismatch.

For example, South Africa’s Go for Gold program has been engaging with multiple stakeholders for decades. The program prepares young disadvantaged youth for careers in the construction sector by offering both intensive tutoring during high school and an internship with a partner firm after graduation.

In Africa, the leadership and entrepreneurship landscape has never been more vibrant. From Nairobi to Lagos, youth development programs have mushroomed. National governments, policy-makers, and international development organizations have all invested in leadership and entrepreneurship programs. African youth not only have a higher propensity for entrepreneurship than their counterparts in other regions of the world, they also have a higher positive perception and attitude towards entrepreneurship.  

We hope our findings can spark increased collaboration and dialogue in learning about what works, what does not, and how, collectively, we can help ensure all young people in Africa have the skillsets required to be the successful leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Arjun Upadhyay is a Senior Program Associate at Results for Development (R4D).  He holds a Masters in Global Human Development from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and specializes in education economics, finance, and evaluation. He has been part of various projects across R4D’s Global Education portfolio including an evaluation of ASER Pakistan, the feasibility study for a Global Book Alliance, and work on early childhood development financing.

Photo Credits: R4D ; Hamid Abdulsalam, UNAMID ; Lucas Simmons, Anseye Pou Ayiti 

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