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How Kenya can tap dividend of its youthful population

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The average age of an African is 18, and the average age of a Kenyan is 19. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Private sector has to be more effective in linking the skills required to the educational curriculum provided by both government and private sector institutions.
  • They then have to link education outcomes to productivity and income growth such the aggregate demand of products produced from private sector consistently increases.
  • In short, the only way Africa and Kenya can ensure that the youth are not neglected and locked out of prosperity is through interdisciplinary activity focused on coordinated private sector activity linked to coordinated government action.

The average age of an African is 18, and the average age of a Kenyan is 19. While there has been an appreciation of how such a young population can be a demographic dividend or liability, far less attention has been focused on making sure the former happens.

And the reality is that channelling the productive and energetic forces of young Africans is a multi-disciplinary challenge. Government has to better embed inter-ministerial activity such that young people are sufficiently nourished and of good health and then effectively linked to appropriate educational programmes and then linked to the labour market.

Private sector has to be more effective in linking the skills required to the educational curriculum provided by both government and private sector institutions.

They then have to link education outcomes to productivity and income growth such the aggregate demand of products produced from private sector consistently increases. In short, the only way Africa and Kenya can ensure that the youth are not neglected and locked out of prosperity is through interdisciplinary activity focused on coordinated private sector activity linked to coordinated government action.

A key point of focus where government and private sector activity can converge to leverage Kenya and Africa’s youthfulness is in business development. And let’s be clear on what is being proposed here.

The proposition is not that every young person goes out and try to entrepreneur themselves out of poverty. That is an unfair burden not only because not every young person is an entrepreneur but also because private and public sectors, even within themselves, do not have the structures that support young entrepreneurs and are currently not very good at scaling existing business to enhance job creation and income growth for the youth.

There are two actions that can be done by both private and public sector to enhance private sector growth with a youth focus.

First is to more deliberately support business activity by the youth. And that does not mean government youth funds that make requirements of young people such as forming groups in order to qualify.

Such requirements are more focused on government de-risking than creating viable financing options for young and often inexperienced entrepreneurs. It is important that government, private sector, grant-makers and development finance create inter-sectoral consortiums that more effectively leverage the types and scale of support targeting young entrepreneurs with an ecosystem of support linked to financing. This is the expensive and time-consuming side of youth business development few seem willing to do.

Secondly, is to better link youth education with private sector skill requirements. And here government and private sector really have to get out of their formal mandates and have a sincere commitment to solving this serious problem. Everyone will tell you money is the issue; that if they had more money they could do more. Well it seems the money problem won’t be fixed in the near future because of a blend of limited government budgets and private sector profit expectations. Thus what is required is an aggregator of efforts in linking education-labour market skills gaps by both private and public sectors; and this should be financed by both parties as they both stand to benefit.

Let government and private sector bodies more deliberately aggregate and coordinate education and youth skills programmes towards a joint objective. Perhaps in doing so, the youth will be better linked to labour markets which can then drive productivity, profit gains and leverage the African youth dividend.

Anzetse is a development economist