Rwanda’s youth can power economic recovery

About 78 percent of Rwandans are below 35 years of age

About 78 percent of Rwandans are below 35 years of age. Placing youth at the center of national recovery in ways that unleash their entrepreneurial drive, train them in business skills and connect them with customers will catalyze economic growth and strengthen social cohesion. New businesses will create jobs, anchor communities and inspire others.

We often think that youth and opportunity go hand-in-hand, however a young age also brings major challenges that may sometimes seem insurmountable.  Rwandan youth today face epic challenges and opportunities as clearly seen in stories below:

Ms. Joy Murekatete is the owner of the JOTETE INVESTMENT LTD a multi-service company established in 2013 that offers beautification, floral and interior design services to hospitality sector and other clients. The company grows summer flowers in Rulindo district for local and export purposes. Recently, the company was heavily hit by a slump in demand, following the covid-19 pandemic. This led her to lay off some of her employees.  Ms. Murekatete successfully applied for financial support under the Young Entrepreneurs Resilience Fund, to revive her business.  With a RWF 5 million (USD 5,000) injection, her business is recovering. She now employs over 33 permanent employees and more than 208 casual workers.

Mr. Gasana Jean de Dieu identified an opportunity of shoe-making business after graduating from high school. Looking around, he realized that shoes in his rural district of Gisagara are expensive and do not fully benefit his community, hence his business aims at creating jobs and availing affordable shoes to the community. He launched Gisagara Youth Innovation Center LTD in 2016 and started manufacturing shoes. His business slowly expanded to four shops until when covid-19 pandemic hit the nation. Consequently, orders fell by half, raw material access was limited, revenue flows was affected, ultimately he closed two of his shops and laid off employees. Through Young Entrepreneurs Resilience Fund, Gasana was granted RWF 5 million which has supported his business to turn around and recover by purchasing leather and shoe making machinery, hiring extra staff and this has led his monthly sales turn over to increase by 10 percent .

Rwanda has youthful population, the lives of these young adults have been badly disrupted by the pandemic. According to Rwanda’s 2021 Labour Force Survey, youth have had the highest rates of unemployment of 20.3 percent , much higher than the rate of 12.7 percent for adults.

Youth also represent a big portion of the informal economy, which is not counted in unemployment statistics. For these young men and women, not working and staying at home during periods of pandemic lockdown meant slowing down their development. This story is similar across Africa, where 93 percent of young workers are in informal employment.

Whether in school, in formal or informal employment, Rwanda’s young people are a reservoir of talents and ideas.  Government policy makers, partners and private sector are beginning to tap into this reservoir.

To tap into this reservoir, decisive action for youth calls for:

·      Placing youth more firmly at the center of all interventions targeting the economic recovery plan, including entrepreneurship programs that incubate businesses, mentor and finance young leaders.

·      Strengthening communication with youth to ensure they stay innovative, productive and healthy by adapting to the new normal while ensuring they stay at home, respect and promoting COVID19 prevention guidelines, as a new wave of COVID-19 hits Rwanda and many other African countries.

·      Investing in youth skills to match the 21st century job market and business ideation. This keeps youth more relevant to the labour market dynamics.

·      Scaling up programs like Young Entrepreneurs Resilience Fund, launched during the pandemic in support of the government’s economic recovery plan. The USD 500, 000 fund is part of the nationwide YouthConnekt program and provides financial support and business training to entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19 and to others who have innovated in response to the pandemic.

The Ministry of youth and culture in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Rwanda and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA-Kigali) initiated the fund in November 2020 as an urgent response to the pandemic. More than 1,788 youth applied to its first round of funding, and 156 entrepreneurs were financially supported.

One awardee Abdu Usanase developed a Mobile Application “AGRITrials” that seeks to support farmers unable to attend in-person trainings during COVID-19 lockdown. The app has enabled thousands of farmers to learn about new agricultural techniques, market conditions and access other useful information.

In addition to the Resilience Fund, a number of programs across the country seek to nurture innovation and youth entrepreneurship, be it from government institutions, development partners and youth led forums to speed up the recovery by engaging young people across the country, in different sectors.

Joy, Gasana, Abdu and other youth resilience fund beneficiaries demonstrate the innovation and resilience that are abound in Rwanda. Youth hold pivotal place in Rwanda’s future, and an unprecedented opportunity for the nation to create, and share in, prosperity post pandemic era.

  • Rosemary Mbabazi, Minister of Youth and Culture, Government of Rwanda.
  • Maxwell Gomera, Resident Representative, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Rwanda