My boss, Dr. Sipho Moyo, represented ONE earlier today on a panel here at the 2011 AGOA Forum. The panel, titled The Next Generation, looked at ways that young people could be better engaged to participate in and benefit from the opportunities presented by AGOA. The panel was moderated by Lena Zamchiya, a vice-president at SIFE International, which works to improve the business sense of university students all over the world. In addition, Modesta Mahiga, an expert in human resource development from Tanzania, and Humphrey Mulemba, Director of Corporate Strategy at United Machining Works in Zambia, joined Sipho to offer their thoughts. We also heard from several audience members, including a few student leaders from the University of Zambia.
The main idea that arose out of the back and forth conversation between the panelists and audience was that young people really have to take ownership of their situation and get involved. As Sipho noted, 70% of Africa’s population is under 35. Humphrey took it a notch further by adding that the “next generation” is in fact the current generation. In other words as Modesta later said, this continent isn’t going anywhere without youth involvement. And therein lies the challenge for upping AGOA’s potential for young people. Regardless of any interventions done by governments and outside groups, individuals have to take responsibility and hold themselves and others to account. Sipho eloquently tied ONE’s current efforts on extractives transparency, which will enable us to hold leaders to account for where funds from natural resources are spent, to enabling a wholesale change in societies that fosters mutual accountability between the people and their governments.
Other tidbits came out of the conversation I should pass on. Humphrey provided some real practical specifics that could better engage young people in business and trade. For example, there could be some trade preferences at the national government level to require a certain percentage of contracts are awarded to and services are provided by youth-owned, up-and-coming companies. Practical education is key. Each of the panelists and even the university students chimed in that oftentimes the higher level education in Zambia and other African countries is too academic and theoretical. There needs to be more practical education opportunities, linking students and new graduates to mentoring programs and apprenticeships to get them on their way into professional careers. There was even some talk on nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit amongst young people so they can start their own business and grow them.
All in all, it was a great conversation to hear some ideas on what to do to move the needle forward and create more opportunities for young people in the next generation of AGOA. The challenge, as always, is to hold our leaders to account–those in the US who will be crafting the next version of AGOA and those leaders in each African country that need to create the policies that foster opportunity for those ready to take it.