Engaging African Youth as Part of the Solution

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Events Explore Challenges & Solutions to Youth Unemployment in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo

More than 100 Zambian youth and key stakeholders from the private and public sectors recently convened in the capital city of Lusaka to discuss issues directly impacting the well-being of Zambia’s young people — employment, health, gender equality, and participation in the political process. “The Youth Voices, Finding Solutions” event was organized through YouthMap, a four-year partnership between International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). A similar YouthMap meeting in May brought together over 60 attendees to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Highlighted at the conference were the results of a new study, YouthMap Zambia: A Cross-Sector Analysis of Youth in Zambia, a joint effort by IYF and local research firm Ipsos Zambia. The event’s mission was to facilitate a frank discussion between key stakeholders and Zambian youth around how to engage the country’s 15- to 29-year-olds in the critical issues of employment, health, and civic/political participation. A chief aspect of the YouthMap study was identifying roadblocks preventing Zambian youth from attaining employment, including a lack of direct work experience, a deficit in basic skills such as literacy, and a shortage of available jobs. While acknowledging the challenges are great, the report urges that greater emphasis be placed on entrepreneurship and life skills development through training and internships.

Amplifying the importance of youth-led solutions, USAID Mission Director Dr. Susan Brems implored the event’s young attendees to forge their own employment path. “Please, do not wait for government. Be part of the solution yourselves,” she said. “Build your country. The people here are among the leaders of Zambia’s youth. Show the way to be Zambia’s youth dividend.”

The median age of Zambia’s population is 16.6 years, positioning the country to be one of the three youngest in the world by 2050. For this reason, garnering input from the very people occupying that demographic was integral to the YouthMap event. “Ignoring us is not a good idea,” said youth representative and musical artist Pompi in his closing remarks, emphasizing that youth issues should be an accessible conversation without elite “jargon.”

The event in Kinshasa, entitled “Our Country, Our Future: A Conversation with Young Congolese Leaders,” focused on the findings of the YouthMap Democratic Republic of Congo assessment and evaluated ways to unlock the potential of the country’s rapidly growing youth population. The study, conducted by IYF with support from USAID and in collaboration with the Centre d'Etude Pour l'Action Sociale (CEPAS), was publicly acknowledged by the Congolese government as an important resource that would be used to inform future policy decisions.

The report also resonated with the newly appointed fellows and alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a signature effort by US President Obama to invest in the next generation of African entrepreneurs, educators, artists, and innovators. The Kinshasa event gave YALI members the opportunity to join these critical conversations and uncover solutions to further impact within their own communities.

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