Ryan Ubuntu Olson and Katy Vickland - Aug 12 2019
International Youth Day: Why Young People Should be Part of Every Solution

2019 Young African Leaders. Source: IREX

12 August is the United Nations International Youth Day, with the theme Transforming Education. Youth are often considered a specialised, targeted group, but the world's population is anticipated to more than double by 2050, and people under the age of 35 will continue to make up a majority of the population. The African Union defines Youth as people between the ages of 15 and 35 whereas the UN defines young people as between 15-24. As a result, whether we’re developing new technologies, strengthening market systems, or building resilient health systems, youth must be part of any solution we design and implement.

Transforming Education highlights the importance of preparing young people – whether through formal education or day-to-day experiences – regardless of their life circumstance, to be leaders in our ever-evolving world. This past month, Palladium visited the Mandela Washington Fellows Summit, where more than 700 Young African Leaders came to finish their six-week study tours across the United States. There, we met young leaders who spoke to us about some of the important ways youth engagement has enhanced the improvements of agricultural markets, supply chains, and health advocacy.

Palladium at the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellows Summit
Palladium at the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellows Summit

Agriculture is Essential

Iganachi is a Ugandan in his twenties who runs his own agribusiness, MIA.

With two thirds of youth in developing countries underemployed or unemployed, it's crucial to prepare them today for tomorrow's jobs. In a number of countries the majority of economic opportunities for young people will be in rural farming communities, and many current farmers are youths themselves.

To cope with a growing population, Uganda is one of many countries that will need a cadre of farmers to address issues of food insecurity and climate irregularities. Giving young people the adequate job training to address these needs and to keep these jobs sustainable will be essential to improving their livelihoods.

Iganachi’s organisation partnered with Palladium’s Northern Uganda Transforming the Economy through Climate Smart Agribusiness project (NU-TEC) to enhance the overall agricultural sector, which had to include a focus on youth. We helped build the skills and knowledge of local farmers to prepare them to go to market, increase their incomes, enhance the climate resilience of their crops, attract agribusiness investments, and stimulate market linkages.

Food Supply Chains Need Investment

Kitso of Zimbabwe works for a small economic organisation.

Rural farmers are hugely dependent on the viability of their crops for the marketplace – it can be devastating if crops are unable to sell for any reason. Market linkages to buyers can be life-changing for farmers who've been disconnected from systems and investments.

Meanwhile, businesses that invest in food supply chains can ensure a higher quality and more stable supply, while tapping into underutilised skillsets in many rural communities.

Kitso's organisation worked with the Livelihoods and Food Security program to help fill in gaps in the food supply chain by linking buyers to local farmers to stimulate the market economy. The farmers reported an up to 800% increase in their incomes. Investing in young people to understand market variables, how to attract business and to bring together investors with those on the ground can make all of the difference.

Youth Can Be Advocates

James is a youth who started his own social enterprise in Uganda to strengthen the health system. He's done this by developing new technologies that utilise data analytical tools, which can be used by people in remote areas to give them better access to available health resources.

Unfortunately, in many countries, accurate and available data to inform decision makers is woefully lacking. The enabling environment in which policies that promote the wellbeing of youth criss-crosses with a legal infrastructure that is often contradictory or lags behind the necessary progress to keep up with the pace of growth.

The Health Policy Plus (HP+) project helps to train youth to generate data and use that information to champion more effective health policies. By strengthening the capacity of youth, like James, they can then innovate to help more people get the care they need.

Ultimately, by engaging young people, many of the solutions to the world's most challenging problems will be better adapted and scaled in a way that’s sustainable. Youth work does not need to be one specific area of programming, but engaging youth should be an essential component of any project or initiative. Readying and preparing the youth of today will drive the outcomes we need for the future.