17 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Youth Empowerment Not Cheap Politicking


Youth empowerment has become central to the development aspirations of African countries, and in that Zimbabwe is no exception. With Government making empowerment and indigenisation a key pillar for economic growth and development, youth participation in the mainstream economy is a major talking point across the country.

Despite the abundance of policies, programmes and initiatives to empower the youth, there remains much doubt as how much young Zimbabweans are able to access these opportunities and benefit from them. A common perception in many quarters is that talk of youth empowerment is a political smokescreen, moreso as the country heads towards what could be make-or-break elections. So is it all a façade? Not so, says, KELVIN MOTSI, the spokesperson of a new initiative called Young Zimbabweans Business Platform (YZBP). He believes opportunities abound and all that is lacking is professional facilitation to turn young people's dreams into realities that contribute to national development. The Herald caught up with him to talk about YZBP and its role in Zimbabwe's youth empowerment agenda.

There is bound to be a lot of skepticism about your intentions within the public. After all, the past couple of years have seen a proliferation of groups purporting to be representing the youth and pushing for their empowerment. Many of them have fallen by the wayside. What makes your Platform different? Why should the public trust you and your intentions?

There has been a dual outcome from the economic downturn of the past decade; it spurred innovation and at the same time spawned a breed of street smart people who are more intent on swindling the desperate than on working hard. Those groups that you speak of largely fall in the latter category, where as we are innovators who genuinely aspire to provide a service that has been lacking for Zimbabwe's youths. The people behind this Platform are all relatively successful and very hardworking young people who over the years have been advancing their own enterprises. So we are not in this to rip off desperate people, we are here to ensure that anyone who wants to work hard gets a fair shot at benefiting from the opportunities available in this country. We support, lead, train and provide a platform to young entrepreneurs across Zimbabwe and in the Diaspora who want to start real businesses locally. And we are specifically looking at businesses that support and uplift the social standing of their communities in a sustainable manner from a business point of view. So what do we benefit from this? We benefit by helping create a solid base of young entrepreneurs in stable communities and this contributes to a healthier national economy, which is something that is to everyone's advantage.

So how does the Platform operate? Where does it draw its funding? Does it give money to youths to start up projects?

Members pay a nominal joining fee and annual subscription. This is necessary because we have to pay our full-time staff as well as young interns from our colleges and universities. There are other administrative costs that have to be factored in. Thereafter, we facilitate access to financing from the various initiatives available through Government and the private sectors.

We assist with project design, training and consultancy work so that our members benefit from the financing options that are available. Those who benefit from these services then remit a small percentage of their revenue to our fund. That money is the seed with which we are growing our own resource base so that the Platform can also then support members' projects without having to solely rely on Government and private sector facilities. So in that way it is a sort of revolving fund. In essence, what we are giving is a hand up rather than a handout.

Why offer a service that is essentially facilitation?

Facilitation is a key aspect of commerce the world over, that is why we have a Zimbabwe Investment Authority.

Without facilitation, many potentially great ideas remain just that -- ideas. We are taking those ideas and giving them a big shot at becoming reality. There is a serious lack of information getting to the people who need it most. In many cases, people get information about the youth empowerment schemes that are available but are not able to interpret it and thus these schemes end up not benefiting them.

This is particularly so in our rural areas, but it is also a problem in urban settings too. So our team of professionals takes that information, interprets it and ensures it is available for anyone who is interested. We then go further and offer advice, training and project design as I mentioned earlier. We do not end there. We help with submission of proposals to prospective financiers and do all we can to ensure that the project gets the funding it needs.

What we are doing is fostering a three tier mentorship programme. In Tier One, the individual gets an opportunity to interact with and be mentored by seasoned and experienced businesspersons who are in the same line of business. Tier Two has peer mentoring and networking; while Tier Three matches the seasoned with the upcoming and the entry level entrepreneurs in the same line of business.

Our thrust is what we call "functional crowd-sourcing mediation" based on taking advantage of individual members' skills. For example we have lawyers who can help with contract analysis, accountants who can assist with project due diligence and related issues, and investment profilers who can help with project analysis and assessing their viability among many others.

Taking it from there, we have heard so many complaints that the empowerment drive is not getting to the people it should get to, that the bigwigs are using this to further enrich themselves at the expense of the people who are in dire need of a helping hand. Your take on this matter.

That is a genuine concern that anyone who wants to be empowered is bound to have. And as a genuine concern it is something that should be treated with the gravity it deserves. On our part, addressing that concern is one of the key driving factors behind the establishment of YZBP. There are funds lying idle because people do not know how to access them and when they fail to access them they feel that the empowerment agenda is cheap politicking. We are bridging that gap and addressing that concern. Some people simply do not even try to access the financing facilities available because they think it is all political and thus preclude themselves from participating in the economic empowerment agenda. What we say to them is this, even if it is politicking, take advantage of that and use the facilities available to turn your ambitions into reality. When your business takes off, it does not benefit a political party; it benefits you, your family, your community and the nation.

So you work with the Government?

A: We complement the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment. There is no way they can be ignored as their mission is to "develop, promote and implement policies and programmes for the empowerment of youths and indigenous citizens in order to achieve sustainable and equitable development". We also work with other government departments, the private sector, individuals and anyone whose interest is in youth empowerment. The nature of empowerment on a national scale demands that efforts be directed in a non-partisan and un-bigoted manner. As such our raft of partners cuts across all isms and is anchored on one thing: empowerment of Zimbabwe's young people for the creation of a better economy.

How do we know this is not a get-rich quick Ponzi that will collapse?

Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investment operations that pay returns to its investors from their own money or money paid by other investors instead of from profits made from the investment. We are not doing that.

We are facilitating access to finance for our members. And as I explained earlier, there is no profit that we can generate for ourselves from payment of membership fees.

The challenge, again as I said earlier, is that there have been many street smart crooks around who have eroded people's faith. The difference with us is that other pseudo initiatives that have come before us have been either pure scams, or were poorly conceived, restricted to pushing partisan politics or lacked proper management.

We suffer from none of those ills. Ours is not a once-off thing: we are looking at the bigger picture, the long-term view. We are looking at long term sustainability and not just in terms of the projects we are facilitating, but in the viability of the Platform, which will be around 100 years from now to continue helping the youth of Zimbabwe and those in the Diaspora.

How do people join, as individuals or as groups?

There is individual membership or people can organise themselves into co-operatives depending on the nature of the projects they are pursuing.

You can get that information on our website (www.yzbp.org). We have started going around the districts as part of our facilitation and crowd-sourcing mediation and we are explaining all these issues to the hundreds of eager young Zimbabweans who we are meeting there.

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