Building a System for Change

Collins Kimaro on his experience with the Youth Think Tank

In partnership with Restless Development, the 2015-2016 MasterCard Foundation Youth Think Tank consists of 15 young women and men between the ages of 15-24 from across East Africa. What unites them is a commitment to contributing to their communities and understanding the challenges and opportunities facing young people as they enter the labour market.

My journey to officially join the Youth Think Tank began in September 2015 as I traveled to Uganda for the first Youth Think Tank convening. I was very excited to meet the rest of the team and was filled with many questions. I wondered: How would the research be conducted across the region? How would young people be engaged in the process? What impact would the Youth Think Tank have?

The first convening and the months that followed answered my questions. We developed our research questions and took to the field to collect and later validate our data and findings. I had decided to apply because I wanted to play an active role in empowering youth across Africa. I realized that international development can take many approaches, and research is one key step, as it informs effective and targeted solutions. I believe that for Africa to truly realize its potential, everyone must use their skills and contribute in whatever way they can to build a system that delivers the change that the continent needs.

The Youth Think Tank provided me with a great opportunity to be part of that system. It built on my research skills gained while pursuing my Bachelor of Science in Economics at the University of Warwick. Furthermore, it gave me a platform to implement my learning from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) training and further expanded my network. It demonstrated to me that young people are in fact the experts when it comes to youth problems. Often all they need is to be “meaningfully engaged as partners, beneficiaries and leaders” as outlined by Restless Development and the Department for International Development (DfID).

Time went on, and after completing the data collection we were keen to garner actionable insights that can sustainably improve young people’s livelihoods. Based on our research, I would challenge our governments to work with the private sector to re-design our education systems.

It is evident that our traditional educational systems are not equipping young people with the skills they need to find decent employment or to start their own businesses. A systematic way to do this is to have class projects during secondary school and apprenticeship schemes in universities to help students develop the practical skills that the job market demands. The focus must change from rote learning and certifications to practical skills development. Secondly, we need to create a more conducive environment for youth entrepreneurship. This must start at the foundational level with schools helping young people develop entrepreneurial mindsets. For example, entrepreneurship classes or after-school clubs can give youth the space to design, develop and test their ideas.

All in all, I would implore stakeholders to include young people in their decision-making processes. With Africa’s large youth population, young people need to be given the space and capacity to be involved in the decision-making process for the long-term progress of our communities.

The 2015-16 Youth Think Tank may nearly be finished but my journey to help empower youth continues. This research has confirmed the importance of entrepreneurship as a means of generating sustainable youth livelihoods and inspires me to take action.

I plan to start a social enterprise that will help empower disadvantaged youth through micro-entrepreneurship and life-skills training. The skills and network I gained as a member of the Youth Think Tank will catapult this project as well as other areas of my personal and professional development. I look forward to sharing the final report with the world and moreover the socioeconomic development it will help fuel.