“I genuinely believe that if each one of you creative, talented, smart, enterprising young people leaves here after these three days with a commitment to take the lead in creating the Africa we all want and believe possible, we will own the 21st century,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP Africa Bureau. She was addressing thousands of young people gathered at the Kigali Arena for the opening ceremony of YouthConnekt Africa Summit 2019.
‘I Take the Lead’ was the slogan of the 3rd YouthConnekt Africa Summit that assembled political leaders, policymakers, youth leaders, captains of industry, and youth entrepreneurs from all over Africa.
Ms. Ahunna delivering her speech to thousands of young people gathered for the 3rdYouth Connekt Africa Summit
YouthConnekt is much more than just a youth conference - it is a youth empowerment programme that was started in Rwanda and which is being rolled out across Africa. YouthConnekt takes a ‘platform-approach’ to solving challenging development issues, and brings together a wide range of stakeholders to address the multiple needs of young people while also fully involving the youth in the solution-building process. With Africa being the youngest continent in terms of its demographic profile, there is a huge opportunity for the countries on the continent to invest in and reap this demographic dividend. However, there are challenges, including high under- and un-employment among young people, low skills development, inadequate access to financial resources for their businesses, apathy and disillusionment. YouthConnekt brings stakeholders together to reflect on and design the strategies, policies, and programmes needed to tackle these challenges and to create opportunities for young people. It challenges the youth themselves to play a lead role in creating the future they want.
One major component of YouthConnekt is the entrepreneurship awards. This component trains young innovators/entrepreneurs through business development bootcamps, and provides them with financial awards to help start or expand their businesses. It also connects them to banks and investors as well as business support service providers. Since inception, the YouthConnekt bootcamps have trained and supported over 640 young innovators. The businesses started and expanded by these young entrepreneurs have created over eight thousand jobs in Rwanda alone.
The comprehensiveness and impact of YouthConnekt has inspired several other African countries to replicate the YouthConnekt model. 14 African countries have launched their own YouthConnekt chapters including The Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Congo Brazzaville, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Madagascar, and Gambia.
The October 2019 Summit was a collaboration between the Government of Rwanda, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) with more than 20 other partners, including UN Agencies, private sector companies, donors, and NGOs.
The Opening Ceremony brought together 10,000 participants from 91 countries, making it the largest Pan-African youth event to date. The energy in the Kigali Arena was indescribable. Youth delegations waved their country flags, people danced in the stands, and thousands were busy taking selfies to post on social media with the slogan #iTaketheLead.
There were a number of other notable figures in attendance including 14 Ministers of Youth from across the continent, Nigerian singer Patoranking, NBA Africa Vice President Amadou Fall, CEO of Mara Group Ashish Takkar, Rwandan singer Meddy, and H.E Jeanette Kagame.
H.E President Paul Kagame spent nearly two hours engaging with the youth at the conference. After delivering his keynote address, the President opened the floor to answer questions from the audience.
H.E. Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda encouraging yougn people to take their destiny in their own hands
“YouthConnekt means a lot of things. It means individual young people irrespective of gender, religion, borders, coming together to do what is important for them, for society, and for our countries. YouthConnekt means integration,” said President Kagame as he spoke about the summit as a Pan-African movement.
He went on to address the many Ministers of Youth from other countries that had flown in for the event, urging them to take action on creating a better future for their youth.
“How do we create an environment that will level access to the opportunity to develop our talent and our skills. This is where government is important. It needs to create an environment for people with talent to excel. The government has a big role to play in providing that environment.”
Hon. Rosemary counting the many achievements of Youth Connekt in Rwanda and on the continent
UNDP hosted a panel discussion on the second day of the summit entitled “Designing the Future: Youth Driving SDGs”. UNDP Regional Director Ahunna Eziakonwa sat on the panel along with Julitta Onabanjo, Regional Director for UNFPA East and Southern Africa. The other panelists were young entrepreneurs from all over the continent. Among the panelists was Mabel Sugo, a young social entrepreneur from Ghana whose business The EcoShoes Project employs and empowers artisans with disabilities. She spoke about how her business reinvests in the environment by using waste to create unique shoes. Alhaji Siraj Bah, another panelist and a young entrepreneur from Sierra Leone, saw the effects of deforestation on the environment. He figured out a way to make charcoal from coconut husks which can burn longer than normal coal or wood. He spoke about how his company had begun producing paper bags that can biodegrade in less than three months.
Ms. Eziakonwa was very impressed with these and other youth that she saw taking initiative in setting up sustainable and successful businesses. She said, “It’s always a pleasure engaging young entrepreneurs. Let’s believe in Africa, encourage the creation of platforms to connect like-minded people and develop the best products to upscale innovative solutions for development.”
Family picture of different high level guests present at the 2019 Youth Connekt Summit.
The YouthConnekt Summit ended with several countries including Togo, Mali, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome expressing their intentions to launch YouthConnekt country programmes in the near future. It is projected that by 2020, the YouthConnekt Africa network will consist of 25 African countries with a permanent YCA Secretariat in Kigali, Rwanda.
Photo credits: Kigali Today flickr album