11 Jun Innovation: The Solution for Economic Youth Inclusion

According to the International Labour Organization, 71 million young people around the world, or almost half the Canadian population, remain jobless despite many indications of a growing worldwide economy. In Africa alone, for example, the rate of economic growth  is set to rise from 2.7% in 2017 to 3.3% in 2018. But this growth hasn’t led to the creation of quality jobs for young people. The ILO estimates that the number of vulnerable workers will continue to rise in 2018, while the rate of informality will hover around 80%.

At the same time, external phenomena, like the effects of climate change and unprecedented technological advances, will have a huge impact on the labour market. The effects of climate change, like the greater frequency and severity of extreme events, will have a significant impact on the working poor, who are mostly young people. Young people are already overrepresented in migration waves due to economic reasons, prolonged droughts, flooding and other natural disasters. Climate change affects the main sources of youth income, including small-scale farming, seasonal work, or small and medium-sized businesses.

Along with environmental changes, workplace technologies are developping at an unprecedented rate. Recent studies suggest that artificial intelligence and robotics will lead to the automation of roughly 50% of all professional activities by 2055, at the latest. This will have huge impacts on young workers, considering unequal access to education and the significant differences between the skills learned through formal education and those required by a rapidly evolving labour market. We have little information on the scope and depth of these impacts. Artificial intelligence in both developed countries and emerging markets is still in its infancy, and we still see significant gaps in connectivity and technology, especially for young women, who are slow to integrate science and technology-related jobs.

What can we do? We know that over 25 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29, mostly living in Africa, will be looking for jobs between now and 2030. Under current economic and environmental conditions, it’s difficult to imagine how so many people will manage to find decent work in order to support their families. With the high level of uncertainty linked to market transformations, the international development sector must find new ways to support young people seeking to build sustainable livelihoods. We know that the creation of small and medium-sized businesses by young people is a key solution that helps them create their own jobs while promoting local economic growth.

Other promising solutions include the development of initiatives that leverage innovation skills, and others that promote creativity and resilience among young people. For example, Canada World Youth and Youth Challenge International have developed EQWIP HUBs, an initiative that promotes sustainable livelihoods for youth. This initiative has created innovation centers where young people from 18 cities can share knowledge or receive training, mentoring and access to technological resources, among other things. Three years after its launch, the EQWIP HUBs project has trained nearly 1,600 young people in entrepreneurship and another 2,200 in employability, but it has also taught us a few lessons:

  • The importance of creating spaces where young people, especially young women, can express their creativity and exchange knowledge among peers, particularly with volunteers from Canada and other countries that host EQWIP HUBs.
  • The importance of supporting partners who offer non-formal education to young people, an essential part of academic and professional training.
  • The importance of developing a favourable environment that helps creative young people leverage local resources when turning their ideas into business plans or when looking for a decent job.

Moving forward, the training programs offered by many international development players will only matter if young people develop their ability to take advantage of the conditions that climate change and technological progress will impose. The success of these programs will also depend on their ability to promote cross-sectoral innovation, or collaborations with local authorities, businesses and organizations that work with young people.

When young people trained by EQWIP HUBs were asked about starting their business, the exchange of knowledge was stated as a determining factor.  According to José, a young entrepreneur trained in Bolivia, having a space to interact with his peers helped him reach his full potential as an entrepreneur. Like many, his exchanges with Canadian volunteers were instrumental in building his self-confidence, as well as other skills required to develop his ability to innovate. We believe it’s essential for development programs to promote creativity and innovation. Imagine what 1.8 billion young people across the globe could achieve, given a chance to rethink the world.

This article was previously published in French in the Huffington Post Québec Blog.

Volunteering overseas is a truly unique and transformative experience. That’s why EQWIP HUBs offers Canadians life changing international volunteer opportunities in Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, Senegal and Tanzania. Working in partnership with a global network, you will collaborate with local youth seeking new, job-ready skills and acquire some of your own in the process. With departures throughout the year in January, March, May, July, September and November, we can find the right position for you based on your skills and availability.

Nadia Ponce Morales has more than 12 years of experience in the international development sector. As a founding member of the EQWIP HUBs project design team, she’s currently developing new partnerships and initiatives to attract young talent to one of 18 EQWIP HUBs international centers.

Having previously worked for global leaders in sustainable development, including Canada World Youth and SUCO, Nadia has successfully used her knowledge and expertise to create initiatives and projects that benefit young people and women in more than 15 countries. Nadia holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and a Graduate Diploma in Management and Sustainable Development.

EQWIP HUBs powered by Canada World Youth and Youth Challenge International and is funded, in part, by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.