To celebrate the 20th International Youth Day under the theme: Youth Engagement for Global Action, the Ye! Community brought together youth entrepreneurs and youth leaders from around the globe in a virtual discussion. Game Changers! A Discussion with Youth Leaders, sought to elevate the youth voice and provide a space for young people to learn from young change makers about how their entrepreneurial journey began, how they drive impact, and how they continue to make positive change in their communities.
The virtual discussion was organized in collaboration with Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA), Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC), and YEP Gambia (Youth Empowerment Project). It featured six outstanding youth leaders from diverse backgrounds:
Moderator- Abena Dugan, Vice Chairperson, CYC;
- Inota Cheta, Founder, She Preneur;
Each speaker shared insights about how young people can drive change, engage for action and be leaders in their communities. Here is a quick recap of the key points discussed. Get ready to take some notes!
1. Take action and be part of the solution.
It is no coincidence that our panelists started their entrepreneurial journey at a young age, either when they were college students or fresh graduates. One motivating factor that these young leaders share is that they were forced into building a role for themselves as when they entered the job market, there were no jobs. This was often exacerbated by the fact that in school they were taught skills that did not match with those required in the job market.
Instead of waiting for a job to come along, they decided to start their own businesses, not only to generate income, but also to address issues and gaps they observed in their environments. Often this included addressing directly the mismatch between what was taught in school and what was required by the job market. Therefore, many of the young leaders decided to build a business around empowering other youths, to improve their skills, and increase their competitive potential in the job market.
2. When youth are in the position to make change, everyone wins.
For aspiring young entrepreneurs to make change, it is important that they have a conducive environment that supports them. Both Prince and Nancy raised the point that this is in large part, the responsibility of the government, however, collaborations between stakeholders are critical to guide and steer the actions taken by the government.
Our speakers also shed light on the issue that young people are often excluded or overlooked as political candidates for public offices. However, when it comes to addressing youth issues, it is young people who understand the issues youth are facing and can come up with innovative solutions to tackle them. Nancy also shared that she believes political appointments are often less responsive to the needs of the people, and therefore it is critical that young people win political offices to make sure they are responsible, not to their appointee, but to the people. Therefore, political participation by youth is critical in developing and implementing an effective and sustainable youth policy at national, regional and global levels.
3. Business Support Organizations (BSOs) play a crucial role in building a better ecosystem.
As speaker Prince pointed out, no ecosystem can thrive by itself, it needs to engage different players. BSOs, such as incubators, innovation hubs and TVETs (Technical and Vocational Education and Training), provide youth entrepreneurs with diverse opportunities and resources to help them grow, and in turn, these institutions increase the survival rate of companies at early stage (the first 1-3 years). Publicly or privately operated BSOs are a valuable asset and help to strengthen networks that young entrepreneurs can tap into to kick-start and boost their business. Remember this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.”
4. Youth can still be leaders in times of crisis.
In the face of the current pandemic, youth have a lot to contribute. Nancy suggested that young people, start small and start in your community. You can raise awareness and sensitize people about the virus by posting information on social media.
Cole stated that young people can see this pandemic as an opportunity: an opportunity to innovate and to create new opportunities for themselves and others.
It is time for entrepreneurs to think outside the box, to adapt their business models, and mobilize (new) available resources to continue their business operations and adapt to changes in the environment. A number of speakers recommended young entrepreneurs should take a pause from their usual busy schedule, reflect and think about themselves and their work. They argued that this reflection can help youth think about where they are now and where they would like to go and give them greater clarity on their path going forward. Being a leader means having a clear understanding of where you came from, where you are, and where you are heading!
5. Stay humble and prove yourself!
Just because you do not have grey hair (yet), does not mean you don’t have meaningful experiences. According to Jeph, a good strategy to earn respect from others, especially from older generations, is to stay humble and stay focused on your work. Humility can open doors and allows for continuous growth. It is worth noting that generational divisions should not be understood as young people vs. older generations, but instead the split can provide a learning opportunity that can provide greater understanding between generations.
Youth continue to be given greater responsibility and placed in positions of power. Examples of this include the African Union Youth Envoy, the United Nations Youth Envoy, as well as others. As youth continue to take up their place in the driver’s seat, their potential impact and their drive to make the world more equitable and more responsible to the needs of their fellow youth peers, becomes greater. This is a great opportunity and each speaker stressed that age is no longer something that can hold you back, but instead propel you forward. Young people are innovators! Young people are game changers! Finally, our systems are beginning to recognize this.
But remember - older generations want to help! Take the time to align yourself with mentors, experts, and business professionals who can support you, guide you, and teach you, throughout your journey.
Final tips and advice from our panelists to all the youth
- Abena: Be patient, be helpful, be empathetic. It is never too late to take action
- Jeph: Look inwards to understand what is the most important to you
- Cole: Stop waiting for something to happen, unless you make it happen
- Prince: Life is not only about supporting yourself, but for elevating and promoting the good in others
- Nancy: Collaborate more, compete less
- Inota: Value the guidance from a (peer) mentor and the accountability from a business coach
On International Youth Day, we want to remind you that youth is not a period of life, it is a state of mind. Youth are not only the future, but also the present. Today, of all the days, celebrate your youthfulness.
Happy Youth Day!
Watch the full recording of the discussion below:
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(Blog header credit: United Nations)