Youth in Trade Challenge: propelling youth - led economic integration through the AfCFTA

August 30, 2023


The Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) stands as a powerful testament to Africa's aspirations, breaking down trade barriers and advancing economic integration. The AfCFTA ambitiously aims to establish a One African Market for goods and services, pulsing with 1.3 billion individuals and fostering a combined GDP nearing an impressive  US$ 3.4 Trillion. This opens boundless possibilities, paving the way for shared prosperity and empowerment across the continent.

UNDP is actively engaged in fostering youth leadership across the continent, driven by its commitment to facilitate an inclusive, transformational and sustainable intra-African trade. Its efforts are complemented by a robust partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), which serves as a cornerstone in empowering young entrepreneurs with essential tools, insights and connections to navigate the vast horizons of the African market.

Once again, the second edition of the UNDP-AUC Youth in Trade Innovation Challenge, launched in 2022, captured significant attention, witnessing an influx of over 2,000 applications from every corner of the continent. This response vividly underscores the motivation and enthusiasm of African youth to actively participate in production and trade and shape the future of trade across the continent.

Of the many applications, 82 finalists were selected to embark on this transformative journey, in October 2022. These champion youth entrepreneurs went through an intensive masterclass that delved into the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA, untangled complex regulatory demands and equipped them with the tools needed to introduce innovative products and services to the broader African market.

The submitted market entry strategies from the finalists underwent a rigorous evaluation by a distinguished panel of trade and investment experts. Among these submissions, a total 15 winners, representing ten African countries, were selected in December 2022. Subsequently, these winners put forth compelling market entry strategies that outlined their plans to grow their businesses into three national or regional African markets within the next five years. These strategies not only displayed innovation but also presented clear pathways to enhanced productivity, job generation and substantial contributions to economic growth and diversification.

In their words

UNDP and Partners enable the growth and scale of youth-led enterprises within the AfCFTA

The Youth in Trade Innovation Challenge underscores UNDP and the AUC's dedication to fostering economic development and integration through trade while empowering Africa's young entrepreneurs. This initiative paves the way for a vibrant and prosperous future of trade by equipping them with essential tools and knowledge to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA. UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, through its regional teams, country offices and partner institutions, continues to support winners as they explore continental and regional business prospects, including through participation in trade fairs, such as CANEX 2022 , the Ghana – Kenya Market Entry Exhibition 2023 and the Intra-African Trade Fair 2023

With the robust support and mentorship extended by UNDP, coupled with their unyielding determination, these winners, alongside other dynamic young entrepreneurs across the continent, are on the brink of achieving more than just business expansion. They stand poised to become catalysts, contributing significantly to job creation and poverty alleviation across Africa. 

Envisioning their potential, anticipation grows for remarkable progress. Embracing the mantle of trade champions, these entrepreneurs will foster cross-border collaborations and become vocal advocates of the AfCFTA. They're set to shape a business ecosystem that's not only vibrant but also adaptive, fueling economic growth. Their drive will fuel innovation, steer technological advancements, and play a vital role in crafting the Africa we aspire to see.