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Unleashing the forces of growth


Taiwo Odukoya

The glory of the young is their strength (Proverbs 20:29)

The future of every nation is as strong as the investment it is willing to make in its youths today. It was Kofi Anan, who said, “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished.”

In 2013, Senegalese Fatoumata Ba launched Jumia Ivory Coast, an online retail platform supported by Africa Internet Group, with just 10 employees. By 2015, the staff roll had grown to more 300, making it the fastest growing e-commerce site in Africa, with more than 500,000 visitors buying over 50,000 products. Fatoumata Ba is 29 years old.


At the age of 15, Tanzania’s Patrick E. Ngowi established the Helvetic Group with just $50. A few years later, Helvetic Group became a group of diversified companies with Helvetic Solar Contractors, one of his companies, becoming the first to offer solar solutions in Northern Tanzania. Today his company is worth over $8 million.

In 2014, Iyinoluwa co-founded Andela to find the brightest young people in Africa, train them to be world-class developers, and connect them with employers around the world looking for top technical talent. In 2014, Andela was named by CNN as one of top 10 African startups of 2014. In 2016, the company received $24million in funding from Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Iyinoluwa is just 26.

“In Africa, over 30 per cent of the population is between the age of 10 and 24, and will remain so for at least the next 20 years. This burgeoning youth population is a challenge for the region, but it also could be an opportunity – and our greatest asset.” These are the words of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund. And they are true. The stories of young people achieving impressive feats in diverse fields is a pointer to how much we can change the fortunes of Africa, if we consciously focus on harnessing the potentials of our young people.

The truth is that many young people across Africa are making strong socio-economic and political contributions without significant support from governments, but many more will flourish, if we create the enabling environment. We cannot afford to keep ignoring them, lest we continue to push them into the hands of those who channel their energies toward destructive ends. And our nonchalance would be betraying a whole generation. The greatest mistake we can make is to assume our young people are too young or too ignorant to provide solutions to some of our most pressing problems. In fact, studies show that succeeding generations are more intelligent than the previous ones. Joan of Arc was 19, when she inspired the French to wrest freedom from the British. Fidel Castro was 32, when he led a successful campaign against the dictatorship of Batista. Bill Gates was 20, when he co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen. Mark Zuckerberg was 20, when he created Facebook. Yakubu Gowon was 32, when he became Head of State, ended a Civil War and laid the foundation for modern Nigeria. Young people have always had and still have the capacity to change the world in significant ways. Today, technology enables them to do so even more. Anywhere you want to see change, make room for the youths. It is the responsibility of governments and the older generation at large to invest in tomorrow by investing in today’s youth. And we can do this in many ways. For example:

• Skill acquisition: We need to develop strategies and infrastructure that would help young people build the skills needed to thrive in today’s world through training, mentorship and internship programs. This is not just a task for government, it is a task for the private sector as well, seeing they stand to benefit from a robust pool of highly skilled young people. Private investors must of necessity explore the nexus between educational institutions and the world of work, in order to bridge the prevalent disconnect between what is being taught in tertiary institutions and the realities of the 21st century workplace. Businesses have to step in to highlight the requisite skills educational institutions need to focus on building and to also empower most of our struggling institutions fulfill their mandate. And this is without prejudice to the government’s responsibility to ramp up investment in the educational sector and youth sector.


• Access to funds: We also need to invest in helping young entrepreneurs access seed funding, particularly for technology-based endeavors. And this must be intentional, strategic and require a sense of urgency that seems to be lacking.

• Policy continuity: There must be a clearly defined youth development strategy that cannot be hindered by a change in government or in political ideology. In fact, any ideology that does not support intentional youth development is poised to fail.

Our capacity for a greater tomorrow, whether in Nigeria or Africa, is invested in the youths. We cannot afford, therefore, to be impediments to their growth and development, the stifling of their potential, and the flourishing of their creativity. Let us, instead, create the enabling environment and let them loose.

Nigeria Has A Great Future!


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Taiwo OdukoyaUNUNFPA
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