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Bringing youth together to innovate is key to development in Africa


Central to the 28th African Union Summit that takes place in Ethiopia this week and to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, to be held on 30-31 January 2017, is this question: How do we harness the dividend from the continent’s current youthful population?

In 2015, there were 226 million youth aged between 15-24 years in Africa (19 percent of the global youth population). By 2030, that number will increase by 42 percent and is expected to double by 2055. So, investing in youth today is key to Africa’s development tomorrow.

But, to invest in youth, you first have to connect with them and allow them to connect to each other. This is precisely what YouthConnekt does. An innovative platform first launched in Rwanda in 2013, it brings together young people looking for employment, skills or resources to launch their own business with various partners including UNDP, private sector and government.

The initiative won the 2013 UNDP Africa innovation award, and demonstrated the tremendous creative force of the country’s youth. Within only three years, more than 4 million youths participated in social media hangouts, TV shows, innovation boot camps and conventions organized to engage them to actively participate in the country’s development. The boot camps alone resulted in the creation of about 1000 permanent jobs and 2700 temporary jobs.

Various ICT competitions encourage youth between 18 and 35 years old, particularly young women, to develop mobile apps to improve public service delivery. In addition to cash prizes ranging from US$1,000 to US$6,000, the winners receive business training and mentoring by successful entrepreneurs throughout the initial phase of their start-up.

These various approaches are very attractive to youth as they use technology to showcase their skills and can become role models or ‘champions’ for their peers. But, beyond the youth entrepreneurship component, already present in many of our youth programmes in Africa and around the world, the particularity of YouthConnekt is to delve into less visible aspects which may have longer term impact, namely the place of young people in the national political dialogue.

Meaningfully engaging youth in national dialogue is particularly relevant, not only to Africa but also beyond, though it needs to be approached with subtlety to avoid political ‘recruiting’ of young people for short-term electoral purposes.

These different components are interwoven and linked together in a way that makes YouthConnekt a modular and comprehensive programme more likely to bear more fruit in the long term.

In view of these successes, UNDP’s innovation team is supporting the extension of the initiative to 14 countries throughout Africa, together with Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and Technology. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Sao Tome, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Liberia and Uganda already participated in a regional planning workshop to discuss best practices and how to apply them in their respective countries.

Africa Rwanda Innovation Development Effectiveness Blog post Youth Inclusive growth Marc Lepage

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