Challenges that hinder youth empowerment and how to overcome them

Young people face a myriad of challenges across the African landscape. From high unemployment to various forms of poverty, education inequality, lack of access to mentorship programmes and many others hinder the youth from bettering their lives. 

While youth employment has dominated national and international development agendas, there hasn’t been any significant progress. The gap between the number of youth seeking employment and the employment opportunities available to them continues to grow wider. In addition, there is a discrepancy between employers’ needs and the skills of the youth entering the labour force. Paradoxically, many graduates are doing menial jobs that are not in any form linked to their degrees due to the unavailability of opportunities in their chosen fields of studies. These factors cause further challenges in the labour market and block the youth from becoming active participants in socio-economic development and growth.

Youth empowerment has long been identified as a catalytic tool for tackling youth unemployment and other youth challenges. However, many factors hinder the expansion of youth empowerment to reach its intended goal. 

What is youth empowerment

Youth empowerment refers to the prioritisation and inclusion of youth in all levels of decision-making processes. It involves researching youth challenges, engaging the youth on possible solutions and designing targeted strategies to mitigate the risks and encourage development impact. 

Youth empowerment bottlenecks

Although youth empowerment can potentially lift most of the problems the youth face, its success rate is proving to be low due to numerous factors. These include the lack of necessary infrastructure, lack of strong youth empowerment policies, limited youth empowerment activities, poor involvement of youth in the decision-making processes of each youth empowerment programme, and poor participation in the programmes.

How to overcome these bottlenecks

Following the basic principles of youth empowerment can improve its success rate. The youth become empowered when;

  • They have effective policies that protect and drive their initiatives.
  • They are included in decision-making processes. 
  • Their voices are heard and honoured.
  • Their opinions and ideas are implemented.
  • They are given the opportunity to take ownership of the programmes.
  • They are given the opportunity to design solutions to their problems.
  • A diverse pool of peers is participating in these programmes.
  • Provided with the tools and resources to participate in such programmes.
  • Communication is done in a language they easily understand.

It’s imperative for the public and private sectors to work together to develop strategies that will support youth empowerment initiatives. 

The role DBSA plays in youth empowerment

The DBSA is one of the leading African development finance institutions (DFIs) with a mandate to build prosperity for all Africans. We facilitate the creation of a prosperous, integrated and resource-efficient region that is progressively free of poverty and sustainable. We do this by seeking funding directed at accelerating infrastructure development and growth in various sectors, including education. 

We’re also responsible for stimulating progress in many government initiatives aimed at a significant development impact. As a result, we’re always researching and strategising new opportunities for young people to have a voice and participate in the economy. We centre their needs and involve them in shaping solutions that will elevate them. We believe that there is room for young people to get involved in finding innovative solutions to infrastructure problems that will directly influence their future. Fortunately, the advancement in technology makes it possible to deliver services and resources more efficiently and faster. 

We partnered with the Youth Employment Services (YES) on the development of youth precincts modelled on the YES Hub concepts, which is aimed at bringing together innovation, infrastructure, 4IR thinking and a commitment to jobs for youth in the township and peri-urban communities. The hubs aim to foster new centres of economic activity and growth within disadvantaged communities through developing economic value chains and market access to attract, create and retain economic value within the communities themselves. 

At the time of the launch, DBSA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Dlamini explained that the Bank has a rich heritage of supporting economic and social development through investing in infrastructure. “We are very proud to be able to join hands with the YES initiative to equip our country’s youth to become dynamic, productive participants in the economy. Not only does this mean that the youth themselves are afforded the opportunity to gain access to new employment and skills development opportunities, but the South African economy benefits through overall economic growth and reduced fiscal strain.” 

Final thoughts

The effects of youth unemployment on the economy manifest in the increase in the cost of living and heightened levels of poverty in communities. In our capacity as a DFI, we recognise that youth employment leads to youth empowerment. This is why we ensure that we play our part in developing and implementing youth empowerment initiatives to increase opportunities for youth development jobs.

Youth empowerment is paramount for Africa's future prosperity, but many factors hinder it. From economic challenges to socio-economic factors such as a lack of skill and inadequate mentorship, this article will highlight overcoming these challenges and empowering African youth.