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  • Reversing the Tide of Youth Unemployment
  • Saul Garlick (bio)

Happy new year sir . . . just wanted to let you know that the cinema business did not work out. Here in the city, no one cares about what one does. Last year December, my team was to have an event under our newly registered company, but it never [was] held because no one was willing to sponsor. This year, we are still planning on the event. We moved it to Easter Sunday, which is March 31st, we have submitted [a] couple of proposal letters but nothing is really encouraging. Right now we are thinking of raising funds ourselves without relying on sponsors but we can’t think of any idea on how to go about this. Please I need your advice because I am about to quit. It’s not funny. I await your reply. Thanks a lot.

—Nelly, Nigerian youth, age 20

Since the economic collapse in 2008, youth unemployment has presented a major crisis for policymakers worldwide. Many observers see the notably large youth unemployment rates from sub-Saharan Africa to Spain to the United States as an ominous problem; however, I see this view as a mistake in the orientation of their perspective. Of course there are risks associated with high youth unemployment, but within great risk lies enormous opportunity. This article is about what can be achieved with a labor force that is young, dynamic, mobile, and digital.

While the youth labor force worldwide is growing, youth unemployment also is increasing. Over the last decade, the global youth labor force grew from 577 million to 602 million, an increase of 4.3 percent,1 and it is projected to grow another 55 million by 2015. Most of the world’s youth labor force lives in developing economies, with the highest growth in the Middle East (35 percent), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (29 percent). The youth unemployment rate stood at 13.4 percent in 2009, for a total of 82.7 million young people without work, a 12.5 percent increase over 1999. If youth unemployment continues to grow at the current rate, the global youth unemployment rate will be 15.5 percent by 2015, with 102 million young people out of work.2

Demographics indicate that most developing nations are experiencing a bulging youth population. According to the UN Population Division, “Young people [End Page 213] account for 12 percent of the population in high-income countries and in Europe, whereas they make up about 20 percent of the population of low-income countries and in Africa.” Today, “Africa is home to 17.5 percent of the world’s adolescents and young adults . . . Africa’s share of the world’s adolescents is projected to grow to 31.3 percent, while Asia’s is projected to drop [from 61.9 percent] to 50.4 percent.”3 The fastest growth of 15- to 24-year-olds will take place in sub-Saharan Africa—Niger, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi.4

Innumerable changes must occur to create a society in which young people are empowered and able to find gainful employment. Rule of law, transparent government, peace, health care, and access to a quality education all contribute to human development. Rapid transformational change lies in increasing youth employability. I argue that specific disruptive innovations could lead to massive skill development among the youth population, which will result in higher youth employment and help to reverse social instability and reduce violent conflict, poverty, crime, and substance abuse.5

Model M-PESA

Mobile banking essentially has rendered brick-and-mortar banks unnecessary. We must learn from this extraordinary success and what it has done for one-to-one financial transactions.

The example of M-PESA is breathtaking. M-PESA is a service offered by Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania, that allows users with a national ID card or passport to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money with a mobile device.6 Using technology in a similar manner to revolutionize education could produce equally impressive results.

The growth of the mobile sector has already led to job creation in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that, in...


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pp. 213-217
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