21 February 2013

Zambia: Private Sector Must Back Youth Empowerment


A FEW weeks ago, the column extended an olive branch to youths who would like to showcase their entrepreneurial ideas and projects for possible funding from readers, who might be "venture" capitalists.

The idea is to expose our projects to people who can help kick-start or even expand our businesses.

The gesture which was supposed to be received as the best thing that has ever happened since the invention of sliced bread in the world of entrepreneurship has maybe been taken as too good to be true or has simply been missed because few youths have been in touch with convincing project ideas.

One objective of this column is to encourage fellow youths to be more enterprising, but again, it is unwise to encourage people to start a business when they have no idea about how to go about it.

That is why in the last three articles featured in this column, we discussed education as being the beginning.

Education should be embedded at the heart of any entrepreneurship and vice versa.

The thought of education chipped in as a topic for this column because it is unquestionable that education is a vital function in any thriving enterprise.

Education will help someone understand better the gymnastics of entrepreneurship like the basic skills needed to run a business so as to cope with the reality on the ground.

To deliver the vision of entrepreneurship, there should be a change in the approaches that seem not to be working out.

Youth entrepreneurs today also need a combination of financial and non-financial support.

The Government needs serious partners from the private sector to realise this cornerstone of development.

As the nation embarks on a massive development programme, the Government has clearly said it wants to empower youths because it believes they are an important component of national development.

With that in mind, the Government has identified youth entrepreneurship as a stepping stone to this national cause.

Today the column wants to cry out to the private sector and other stakeholders to join Government's efforts by seriously coming up with ways that can help youths stand up on their own.

This timely call is an occasion for the private sector to support Government's youth programmes and at the same time exercise their corporate social responsibility (CRS) coupled with the focus on the opportunities that young people can create by starting and growing their own businesses if given a helping hand.

Currently, we have a number of investors exercising or trying to be involved in CSR. This is a good thing, but it is important that this CSR includes youth projects designed by youths and run by youths.

Young people should be given the chance to start up enterprises according to their needs and skills backed by resourses from the private sector.

A few days ago, the Swedish Ambassador to Zambia, Lena Nordstrom supported this idea by saying that CSR should be integrated in business strategies to increase profits and contribute to the development and poverty reduction of a country.

And last week, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) resident representative Yoshihide Teranishi said inclusive development in Zambia could be realised by empowering women and young people in rural and urban areas.

The investors, especially mining investors to be specific, should provide resources for these local projects.

In other words, local youths should be given prospects to embark on projects they feel would develop their communities, of course with resources provided with the help of investors.

This will not just empower the youth but it will also open doors for other development endeavours that can turn around this nation, more so that the mines we desperately depend on for the economic turn-around have a lifespan.

Like the minister of Youth Affairs in Dominica, Justina Charles said recently, "in today's world, entrepreneurship acts as an engine that solves the world's problems.

"It is the foundation of economic growth and global stability, creating jobs and expanding human welfare. While older firms recede, young firms grow, inject dynamism into an economy and innovations into society, creating new wealth and jobs."

All over the world, nations are banking on enterprise-led recoveries and that means more young entrepreneurs and more enterprising attitudes from citizens.

This new direction is proving to be positive and is also acting as an answer to youth unemployment.

In 2010, an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report warned that the world ran the risk of creating a lost generation as the number of unemployed young people hit 81 million globally.

This is 7.8 million more than the global number in 2007. The youth unemployment rate increased from 11.9 per cent in 2007 to 13.0 per cent in 2009.

It adds that these trends will have "significant consequences for young people as more school leavers, and graduates join the ranks of the already unemployed".

Former ILO director-general Juan Somavia last year cautioned that: "Young people are the drivers of economic development. Foregoing this potential is an economic waste and can undermine social stability".

By promoting the spirit of youth entrepreneurship, a country stands to derive tremendous economic and social benefits from its young labour force which in turn develops a nation and promotes a good business environment in all aspects.

The private sector community should seize the moment and take this as an opening to focus on the role that young people can play to help develop our nation if given the chance to do so.

It also gives them an opportunity to generate wealth of their own.

The Government and its stakeholders should continue placing emphasis on the importance of investing in the younger generation and also continue making resources available through youth project funds, and creation of district skills training centres.

The private sector needs to back the Government and young entrepreneurs by creating competitive investment prospects for youths through investing in their business ideas and education for the benefit of our growing economy.

As for the youth, let us showcase those creative, feasible and life-changing projects so that we also get the taste of the mushrooming investment around us.

We do not want donated fish anymore; we want to learn to fish our own breams now.

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