Youth and Entrepreneurship – the Future of Africa

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The President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama paid a historic visit to Kenya and Ethiopia last month. It was historic because no sitting president of the United States had ever visited the two countries. Timing is everything; Mr. Obama is at the tail end of his tenure of office. Coincidentally, he was also in Kenya to deliver the keynote speach on the matter of youth entrepreneurship and technology at an international conference Kenya was hosting (Global Entrepreneurship Summit). Getting the President of the most entrepreneurial economy in the world to officiate such an event is a great honor. It was the ultimate stamp of approval on all the attempts African countries are making to solve youth challenges and grow through the application of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Most African countries, Kenya included, have identified the ‘holy trinity’ between youth entrepreneurship and innovation through technology. Youth have taken to technology like a duck to water and when it comes to innovation and creativity examples are abound. The intertwine of the ‘trinity’ is real because one cannot succeed without the other; they almost always go together. In that respect, Kenyans must pat themselves on the back for securing such a high profile believer in this ‘holy trinity’ as Barack Obama. It must be mentioned here that he was the first American President to invite a number of young Africans to spend the summer of 2013 with some of America’s prolific entrepreneurs with the view to show them and teach them what it takes to be an entrepreneur. The now famous Mandela-Washington Fellowship is synonymous with youth leadership, entrepreneurship and excellence. Zambia sent a number of Fellows, some of whom I know personally, and I have noted a remarkable gearing up of ideas in these individuals.

Our youth are the future and their future is nothing like our present and therefore there is need to take this cluster of our population with the seriousness they deserve. The advent of technology is the defining difference between yesteryear, today and tomorrow. The line between what is possible and what is impossible is ever more slight bringing with it bountiful possibilities. The interface between technology and innovation is an area that we all must focus on to get ahead.

Barack Obama can be said to be a leader from the current generation. It is said that his success in his campaign to win the American presidential elections was partly due to his use of technology to both raise funds and get people out to vote. Therefore if there is anyone who has used technology to his advantage there can be no better advocate than Barack Obama. Therein lies his credibility and belief to this cause.

We must not ignore technology. We must not sideline it either, not even on the grounds that it is too expensive or too complicated or not wholly accessible. Amazingly, technology is now helping to create other tools that help to get things done. Add to that the internet. The internet is the best enabler to technological access since the Industrial Revolution. The internet does not belong to anyone. Like oxygen in the air, anyone who wants to use the internet is free to do so without restrictions. As long as one has a computer and connectivity, the world is at your feet. There is also a lot of sharing. There is much information which can be accessed freely. There is also a lot of learning that can be done via the internet. Sharing is now so quick that we can only choose to be left behind. Ideas on many topics are in the public domain. In developed countries, technology is now driving everything. Manufacturing, design, mining, drilling, medicine, production in general, exploration etc. it is now an integral part of our existence. The virtual circle is now between innovation driving technologies, which drives innovation…

If we are to harness the wonder of technology, we must have the right goals. Like the common theme in all my blogs, we must have the right mindset to harness technology for our own benefit. First we must have a population that is very, very familiar with the use of technology. This means we must introduce the subject at the earliest opportunity in the school system. Familiarity with technology will enable users to closely interrogate it to see what it can do. Technology will then become an integral part of everyday living. It must solve problems and create opportunities to get things done.

At the wider level the technological framework must be in place. The enabling environment will include regulation, access to resources; hardware and software, protection of ideas, financial and other support. Future companies will be internet based so a whole technological backbone must be created to support a multiplicity of companies. This includes, constant power supply (by whatever means), easy access to systems and hardware and interface possibilities and generally a population that is educated to taken on the challenges that technology sometimes throws at us.

Technology will influence our culture and our culture will be influenced by technology. When we get to that stage it is expected that our behavior and the environment in which we live will support these developments accordingly.

Having said that how do we move forward?

It is encouraging to note that we are not alone in this momentum. Many African countries have identified the ‘trinity’ as the future for our youth and indeed the development of our future societies. On our part, we cannot exclude formal learning in and with the use of technology. This must reflect in our school curriculum.

National policies must be skewed towards facilitation of opportunities in this area through provision of internet access, hardware and other related matters. The access to computers in schools is a good place to start.

Our future will be defined by the level of innovation but we must prepare. Entrepreneurship has been cited as an area that can solve youth unemployment. To achieve this, the youth need to be supported in various ways by the over-arching system but more importantly, the youth, themselves, should have the kind of learning that fosters entrepreneurship.

BN

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