While Zambia continues to make strides economically and socially, there are clear problems that need to be addressed, according to a report by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The most pressing issue, the report states, is the growing number of unemployed youths in Zambia.

The Statistical Context

This past decade has been quite fruitful for Zambia’s economy, which has grown at an annual rate of 6 percent since 2000. However, poverty still afflicts 60.5 percent of the population. Moreover, from 2004 to 2013, the population has increased by 3.3 million to 14.5 million. The result is a disproportionately large population of Zambian youths.

This expansion amounts to an annual average rate of 3 percent, which exceeds the 2.7 percent average of other sub-Saharan countries.

According to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, the working age youth population is expected to grow at a rate of 34 percent for the next two decades. This means that the youth labor force is expected to nearly double from 5.5 million to 10.1 million.

While Zambia’s economy has shown significant growth, the expected influx of youth into the labor market presents a challenge and a question: How can they all be absorbed into the workforce?

Currently, youth make up 64.2 percent of the working-age population. And of that pool, only 11 percent obtain public jobs. The private sector, on the other hand, accounts for a small percentage of the employed youth.

Not surprisingly, agriculture accounts for the majority of the jobs that youths hold as the economy continues to rely on that industry for growth.

This fact suggests that the economy has not undergone a structural transformation. In other words, the Zambian market has not yet incorporated technology-intensive manufacturing firms. And this has left otherwise able youth underemployed, performing marginal jobs of an irregular nature.

The Underlying Factors

Zambia boasts tremendous improvement in primary school enrollment rates, having increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in 2012. However, as the report notes, the true indicator of a stable and effective education system is the progression rate of students from primary school all the way to tertiary school.

In that regard, Zambia performs poorly: out of every 100 primary school children, only 1.07 will enroll at a tertiary institution (i.e. university or vocational school).

This rate is six times below the average of neighboring countries and 19 times below the world average. Since many Zambian youth do not complete secondary or tertiary school, they are unable to find jobs and many may resort to agricultural or household work.

The struggle in transitioning from school to work depends on several factors. The quality of education is one, but it is not uncommon for young Zambians to be in and out of school trying to find sponsors to pay for their education.

Some end up graduating secondary school (i.e. high school) in their twenties.

For this reason, entrepreneurship is quite popular among Zambians as a compelling option for those who leave school. And, while the business set up have so far not been very stable — as a result of their establishment being out of economic necessity rather than opportunity — many see promise if these individuals are better supported.

The Solutions

Technical and vocational educational training schools or TVETs have been created to address the huge scarcity of skilled workers and a need for out-of-school students to find training.

However, there are two challenges facing these schools. First, is a lack of capacity: about 300,000 Zambians leave the school system every year, yet the universities and TVETs can only absorb 14,000 students.

Second, there has yet to be much stock put in the graduates of TVETs as compared to graduates of universities. Historically, TVET graduates are viewed as favorably as university graduates even though they possess the technical skills needed for a growing young economy like Zambia’s.

The government has enacted soft policies to help combat youth unemployment. The National Youth Policy (NYP) was first adopted in 1994 and was later readdressed in 2013.

The result was the National Action Plan on Youth Employment in Zambia, which developed a framework to monitor and evaluate youth unemployment to better produce jobs and resources.

Donor communities and Zambia’s NGO sector also assist. Street Kids International established the Youth Skills Enterprise Initiative, giving youth in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, opportunities to earn daily income and learn life skills. Another venture, BongoHive, acts as a networking hub for young graduates to program and gain employable skills.

Shehrose Mian

Sources: Bloomberg, IDRC, Bongohive
Photo: The World Bank

Kenyan Student Wins ‘Outstanding BTEC International Student of the Year 2015’ in London
In 2014 George Benson Lyimo was just a student trying to earn his Business Technology and Education Council (BTEC) degree in business. Now in 2015 he is BTEC’s ‘Outstanding International Student of the Year.’

In 2012 Lyimo left his home in Tanzania to go to Braeside High School in Nairobi, Kenya. Braeside—a school which uses the British system of education—provides a safe place for eager students all over Africa to pursue their goals. Whereas many African youth are deterred by violence and warfare from going to school—Braeside provides a bus system to safely transport students to and from campus.

At Braeside Lyimo flew under the radar. One teacher recalls him being—“quite a shy character.” Nevertheless his potential shone in and out of the classroom.

Despite his humility Lyimo has accomplished much to be proud of. Self-taught in the language of computers—Lyimo launched his own website called Texeer which is now a worldwide social networking platform. He also volunteers in Braeside’s IT department even though he has no formal training and was able to provide internet for the student body when the school’s connectivity failed.

In July 2015 Lyimo was formally recognized for his accomplishments at the fifth annual BTEC Awards. The ceremony took place in London in front of an audience that included teachers, employers and even Members of Parliament.

The BTEC Awards acknowledge students, teachers and apprentices for outstanding performance in their particular vocational field. Recipients are nominated by their teachers and colleagues. This year BTEC received more than 800 nominations.

The judges picked Lyimo because of his passion and devotion to education and helping others. “Winning this award means a lot to me.” He says. “Firstly it kind of builds up my confidence and my belief system that I can build something great that other people can use in their daily life. I want to give back to the world. I want to make the world a better place.”

In addition to all of his technological hobbies Lyimo organizes annual charity events which raise funds to send Kenyan children to school. This is especially significant in Kenya where enrollment rates are extremely low.

Enrollment for boys and girls in secondary school in Kenya is 51 and 48 percent respectively—but attendance drops down to 39 and 41 percent. Compare this to the U.S. where enrollment among boys and girls in secondary school is 88 and 90 percent respectively. It is also important to take into account when comparing these numbers that unlike the U.S.—education is universally free in Kenya.

This is why young students like Lyimo are truly making the world a better place. Not only does he help other children achieve their dreams by providing access to education but perhaps more importantly by being a role model for those who need motivation in the face of adversity.

Lyimo graduated Braeside with triple star distinction—the highest accolade in the BTEC degree program. Like past recipients of BTEC ‘Outstanding Student’ Awards Lyimo will continue on his career path pursuing an advanced degree in Business and Computing at Huddersfield University in England.

Celestina Radogno

Sources: Braeside School, BTEC 1, BTEC 2, Standard Digital News, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: Flickr

Kenyan schoolgirls wrote a poem about water; it meant two beautiful things. One, the girls were receiving a quality education. And, two, their community was given access to healthy sanitation.

“Dear Water” expresses the gratitude the girls have for the newly drilled borehole in their community, which has made their community cleaner and safer. In the poem, the girls describe the great lengths they used to travel to get water, time that would take away from their education. Now, the new source of water has given them more time for studies, eliminated preventable diseases and made a huge difference in many lives.

According to World Vision, a child under five dies every 90 seconds due to diarrhea caused by contaminated water and poor sanitation. Easily accessible and clean water eliminates avoidable deaths. Providing healthy sanitation for people around the world must become a priority in order to break the cycle of extreme poverty.

After gaining access to clean water, the girls were nothing but grateful. Beautifully written and recited, the poem proves the power of quality education. Education also has the power to break the cycle of poverty and contributes to a sustainable lifestyle for many girls. Secondary education reduces the rates of child marriage, therefore lowering the risk of HIV and AIDS in girls and provides the opportunity for girls to work and earn a wage.

Clean water is vital to healthy living and accurately depicted in “Dear Water” as a blessing. Clean water prevents diseases, ensures hydration and provides quality sanitation. When placed directly in a community, it eliminates the need to walk miles and miles to reach it, freeing valuable time for school and guaranteeing that children receive an education, which in addition to healthy sanitation is a key component in ending global poverty.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Global Citizen, World Vision, YouTube,
Photo: World Vision

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the combined efforts of the U.S. government, Non-Governmental Organizations, universities and companies to support African youth and future leaders in hopes of creating a better future for Africa as a whole. It was established by President Obama in 2010.

Not only does YALI aim to create and shape African leaders, but it also wants to create a network between them. What is striking about this measure is that it lays down a framework for these future leaders who are full of potential, but then leaves the more substantial and meaningful portion of the work to the young leaders themselves, leaving it up to them to shape their world.

YALI goes about this goal in several ways. For example, it offers online courses for individuals who want to learn more about areas such as entrepreneurship, leadership and public management. Completion of a YALI course not only means that a person has learned about honing valuable life skills, but also that they receive a certificate to prove it.

YALI is also working to construct Regional Leadership Centers throughout Africa with the intent of increasing accessibility and relevance of training programs to leaders and future leaders across Africa. Two have opened so far this year, in Accra and Nairobi, and two more are planned for Dakar and Pretoria by the end of 2015.

The YALI Network face2face is a Facebook group that helps young African leaders share events encouraging leadership and fellowship, or even create new skills. Members are encouraged not only to attend events but to create their own on topics that interest them or that would be beneficial to their particular community. It’s a tool to help create and maintain connections.

Another huge event put on by the group is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which brought 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35 to the United States in 2014 and 2015. Fellows take academic courses in business, civic engagement and public administration and receive leadership training. Some also participate in internships. What they take home is access to new opportunities, seed funding and useful skill sets to help build their own communities.

Participants in the fellowship are selected from almost 50,000 applicants. Next year, there are plans to double the number of participants to 1,000, as well as to develop an exchange program where 80 Americans are sent to Africa to work with alumni of the fellowship program.

Each applicant has his or her own story and set of experiences that make them valuable contributors to the fellowship. For example, Grace Alache Jerry, Miss Wheelchair Nigeria, is a spokesperson for people with disabilities, founder of her own nonprofit organization and organizer of a series of benefit concerts.

Eldine Chilembo is an advocate for women’s empowerment in the maritime industry in Angola. Noluthando Duma helps orphans in her South African Province of KwaZulu Natal and hopes to develop a home to provide resources to such children.

Kenyan Kezy Mukiri said of her experience in the fellowship, “What I’m taking back with me is humanity. We need to connect; the world is becoming a global village.”

The bringing together of such inspired, dedicated minds is an undoubtedly noble cause. President Obama summed up the goal of the movement nicely at his speech at this year’s Washington Summit.

“Our hope is. . . when you have all gone on to be ministers in government or leaders in business or pioneers of social change, that you will still be connecting with each other, that you will still be learning from each other.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: Insidevoa, Miami Herald, NPR, State, Voanews, Young African Leaders
Photo: The White House Blog

Girl code: A universal language spoken by the women of the world. Right down to its core, however, it means that girls are “in this together.”

Mary Grace Henry has been up-to-date with the girl code’s core since before she was a teenager. At the young age of 12, with the sewing machine she requested for her birthday, Henry began creating reversible headbands for purchase and used the profits to help fund girls’ education in Uganda and Kenya.

Henry named her business Reverse the Course, with the hope that her reversible headbands would “reverse the course” of girls living in poverty. Now 18 and a soon-to-be freshman at the University of Notre Dame, Henry’s organization has sold over 16,000 hair accessories to support primary and secondary education for girls living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

The organization has reversed the course of many lives, saving girls from malnutrition, early marriage and female genital mutilation.

Since its founding six years ago, Reverse the Course has supported 66 girls and provided funds for 154 years of education fees, including tuition, textbooks and boarding costs. Henry’s most immediate goal is to reach 100 girls. Next, she’d like to develop an entrepreneurial program for the girls her organization funds to provide them with skills beyond education.

Henry firmly believes in universal quality education and 100 percent of her business profits fund education for impoverished girls. Her hair accessories are affordably trendy and of a worthy cause. Her efforts have reached four countries and 21 schools, and every student who boards is fed three meals a day.

Secondary education prevents early marriages and pregnancies and provides girls with the skills to build a sustainable life. According to UNICEF, child marriage rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia would decrease by 64 percent with secondary education. Education has the power to change and build lives.

Girls are in this together, and Henry is definitely a veteran to this notion. She provides girls with quality education to lift them out of poverty, giving them the tools they need to build a sustainable life. Who knew that in addition to transforming a hairstyle, a headband could also transform a life?

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Take Part, Reverse the Course
Photo: Take Part