By Mwansa P. Chalwe Snr
This article is a follow up on my previous one that dealt with the issue of why the Youth Development Funds (YDF failed to create jobs. I promised to provide practical solutions to the issue of creating jobs for the youth through short term and long term interventions using existing government youth policies. The Youth policies are great on paper but how to implement them seems to be a problem.
In August 2015, President Edgar Lungu launched the 2015 National Youth Policy and the Action Plan for “Youth Empowerment and Employment”. The Policy according to the President was supposed to create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the Youth.
“The plan I am launching today must result in the creation of more than five hundred thousand (500 000) jobs for the youth by the end of 2016, through the implementation of the following: The national apprenticeship and internship schemes, expansion of low interest credit facilities and provision of ongoing business support services including mentorship to youth-led businesses”, the President announced.
Lack of action irks President Lungu
However, four years down the line, this has clearly not happened as confirmed by President Lungu himself. In March, 2019, when opening the Central Province Patriotic Front Conference, President Lungu sounded a warning to relevant bodies created to promote youth entrepreneurship against the prevailing Laissez-faire attitude. He said that Youth Entrepreneurship was at the core of his heart and vision for industrialization. He warned that next time, he will either be reshuffling or firing people. He directed that drastic measures to trigger more young entrepreneurs to emerge and existing ones be boosted needed to be implemented immediately.
Further, on July 22, 2019, when swearing in Mr. Emmanuel Mulenga, the new Minister of Youth, Sport and Child Development, the President directed Mr. Mulenga to expedite the full implementation of the 2015 National Youth Policy and action.
“As you take up the office you will be required to ensure that our commitment to the youth is fully implemented to meet their aspirations irrespective of where they are”, President Lungu directed the new minister.
On the basis of the President’s statement, it is clear that the line Ministry has failed to implement the policy, possibly due to lack of ideas on how to roll it out in practice. The Ministry of Youth and Sport, therefore, may need some help in terms of ideas. The issue of lack of funds does not apply to this Ministry as the Skills Development Fund is awash with cash and there are many donors available ready and willing to pour in millions of dollars to fund viable Youth empowerment projects as long as there is accountability.
Proposed solutions to implement Youth Policy in the short term
My proposed solution will mainly focus on the promotion of Entrepreneurship and Self-employment component of the National Youth Policy. This is the most effective initiative for sustainable job creation rather than the national apprenticeship and internship schemes. The solution is recognized by International Labour organisation (ILO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD), Africa Development Bank, Economic Commission for Africa, World Bank and others. But what has been lacking are the tools and vehicles to roll it out in terms of practical implementation.
In general , in order for a programme promoting youth employment creation through Entrepreneurship and Self-employment to work, it has to be a merit based comprehensive programme, devoid of political interference and should have a mix of financial and non-financial support as well as have the full involvement of private sector. In addition, there should be some form of focus on the informal sector. Youth empowerment programmes have partly failed due to the exclusion of the informal sector who make up millions of the underemployed youth as informal sector is largely survival employment.
In the short term, the starting point in the implementation of the 2015 National Youth Policy, is by using the already existing vehicles and improving on them. In this case, the improvement of the design of the Youth Development Fund (YDF) by making changes and transforming it into being merit based should be the top priority. The 2017/8 study and evaluation of the programme done by the Zambia Institute for Policy analysis and Research(ZIPAR) in 2018,clearly concluded that the programme had failed to achieve its objectives and needed to be redesigned.(ZIPAR Report is available on the internet)
There are number of critical changes that should be made to the current Youth Development Fund (YDF). The first change should be, the rebranding of the Fund by changing the name to Youth Development Programme (YDP). It is crucial that the current negative public perception of the Fund is changed by changing the name. The name change should be accompanied by other changes outlined below.
The additional changes should include the following: outsourcing the management of the fund, disbursement of loans being conditioned on the acquisition of basic business development services skills, targeting funding to sectors with the greatest potential to create jobs( agriculture, tourism, small scale manufacturing, small scale mining and construction),targeting the informal sector/ street venders (skilled venders like welders, electricians, bricklayers, plumbers, welders, skilled youth farmers etc) to formalize and expand their operations in order to create additional jobs. The Fund should also increase the current limit of loans. There is also a need to depoliticizing youth empowerment programmes and making them merit based and independently managed which is my view is politically smart.
An effective communication strategy including using digital tools so that information dissemination to youth reach them in all ten provinces is an absolute necessity. The President could then re-launch the Programme empathising the difference between the new programme and the old Fund so that public’s negative perception is changed and the Youth buy into it.
In practical terms, in order to kick start the reforms, the first step the Ministry of Youth , Sports and Child development should do is to immediately advertise and request for proposals from Zambian owned micro finance companies for the management of the actual Fund under the newly branded Youth Development Programme (YDP).
In addition to outsourcing Fund management, the Ministry should also invite private sector institutions to present proposals for the provision practical user friendly business development training, mentoring and advisory services which should be a prerequisite to accessing finance from the microcredit scheme. The above proposals can be implemented within a period of twelve months if people charged with these responsibilities are serious.
Medium to Long term interventions
In order to make the above short term proposals permanent and include other youth employment related interventions not covered above, there is a need for a vehicle to facilitate this. In the medium to long term, the implementation of the National Youth policy for youth empowerment and employment, should be the design of a tripartite five year multimillion dollar Youth Development Promotion Project. The project should involve the Government, some cooperating partner(s) and the national private sector representative, Zambia Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI) as the secretariat.
The project should be able to address the current ongoing fragmentation of efforts. There is a variety of ministries, organisations directly and indirectly that deal with youth employment which leads to a lack of coordination amongst actors and hampers overall effectiveness of interventions. The project should also address the issue of insufficient consultation with and engagement of the private sector. The private sector is an essential stakeholder in addressing youth unemployment, not only as the engine of job creation but also as a potential partner to implement complex interventions alongside government and civil society actors.
The issue of provision or creation of a market for Youth entrepreneurs’ products and services is also an important matter that needs to be addressed by such a project. Business linkages with the mines, the supermarket chains, international construction companies and other multinationals who are importing millions if not billions of goods from outside which in reality constitutes the export of youth jobs, needs to be formalized. There are many items which Youth entrepreneurs can be organized and facilitated to produce and have a ready market for. This is not rocket science. It just needs political will.
The project’s ultimate objective, however, should be the formation a quasi-government full time institution as a special purpose vehicle(SPV) to oversee all Youth development issues. The institution formed should be able to house the following services/divisions: Virtual Business incubation (VBI) to promote starts ups and innovations, Digital Job Centre (DJC), Youth Employment Services (YES), Business development services (BDS), Funding issues and lastly, Strategic Partners Coordination (SPC) in terms of the private sector, education institutions and cooperating partners.
To conclude, policy makers and implementers ought to understand that in the 21st Century, solutions to problems have to incorporate knowledge and information and communication technology tools to be effective; and Youth unemployment is not an exception especially that Youth are addicted to mobile technology.
The details of the proposals outlined above are beyond the scope of this article. In my next article, I will demonstrate how the graduation of Skilled Venders to the formal sector can fast track youth job creation.
The Author is a former financial specialist advisor to the multimillion dollar USAID funded Botswana Private Enterprise Development Project (BPED) and the founder of Prosper Knowledge Solutions. He has passion for solving the Youth unemployment problem using his vast hands on local and international private sector experience. (Send comments and suggestions on this article to pmchalweATgmailDOTcom)