4 February 2021 A Powerful Step towards Youth Inclusion: #YourVoiceYourFuture

Renette Pickering

Between July and September 2020, around 450,000 youth from Africa and Europe participated in a digital UNICEF project, answering questions about issues that directly impact their lives. Their answers have just been released in the #YourVoiceYourFuture report.

These voices are a call to action for global, regional and national actors, to create better opportunities and a better future for every child and young person; to remove the barriers they face to supporting climate action; to build the digital skills they need to be shapers and creators of tomorrow; to access quality education and decent jobs and to increase their participation in decision-making.

Voices from Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe (countries where gold is operating) were included in the project, and reflect the opinions and concerns of a host of young people. They are eager to step up and lead this generation towards a thriving future.

As we step into 2021, we — at gold Youth Development Agency—reflect on learnings from #YourVoiceYourFuture in a bid to stay steadfastly focused on the needs of underserved African communities. We know that we are on the right track in preparing youth with character and integrity to access meaningful post-school opportunities, but there is always more to learn and much work to be done. We also know how important it is to include youth in all decisions and policies that affect them. The report states that “…young people, including the most marginalized and excluded, can provide valuable information when reporting on what’s happening in their communities, and with it help improve their own lives and those of their peers.”

In 2021, we dream and plan for our gold Model to reach more deeply and widely. With this in mind, we are currently forming partnerships in Rwanda and remain driven, aware of the sobering realities that young people highlight in the report: 27% of youth identified a lack of education as a major barrier to employment. Another 25% considered the unavailability of job centres as a problem, and 25% said that jobs are too limited.

It is concerning that 54% were unaware of any government support services to help them find a job, while 23% said such services did not exist. Young people also said that funding is an obstacle to education—43% stated that access to scholarships would make a significant difference to their lives. Another 17% said that it is the poor quality of education that is holding them back. They also identified gaps in skills acquisition, including inadequate job-specific skills (37%), soft skills (18%), digital skills (17%) and language skills (15%).

A 20-year old male from Rwanda said: “There is a lack of recognition of my skills and knowledge in my country.” According to UNICEF, more or less 800 million children will leave school by 2030 without the skills they need to lead healthy, productive lives. Youth were well aware that to thrive in today’s digital economy and in the future, they need ‘hard’ skills – business and digital skills, sector-specific technical knowledge – and ‘soft’ skills – shaping how they achieve their goals.

Young people were asked about the sectors in which they would most like to see more decent jobs. More than 67 000 young people responded, with 38% of them recommending that more decent jobs be created in the agriculture sector. Another 20% drew attention to creative industries, followed by manufacturing at 16% and public services at 11%. Youth also mentioned computer science, engineering, garment industries, accounting, commerce and media.

It is important to listen carefully to what youth say; they represent an economic force that Africa cannot afford to neglect, and we will not thrive if we do not empower them with meaningful opportunities to create a positive movement of change.

Moreover, we must amplify their voices and urge them to seek inclusion in the economy, in government, and in all areas of local leadership.

At gold-youth, our audacious goal is more relevant than ever: To develop 10 million young African leaders with character and integrity to mobilize their generation with the knowledge, tools and support to reach their full potential, with concrete results in social behaviour change, education and job creation. We call on youth to let their voices be heard in 2021, and to speak with truth and dignity, as nation-builders and powerful servant-leaders.