From the commanding heights of Mount Kigali, and as a preamble to my statement, I want to deliver, urbi and orbi, a message to the world, especially to the development practitioners and scholars, to the business community, to the tourists who cherish the beauty of nature. To all those people and beyond, I want to say that if you want to see The Africa on the move, come to Rwanda! A country where an anthology of distinguished achievements and prominent realizations blossoms!
As a development economist, and one who has travelled the continent and beyond, I can state, unequivocally, that Rwanda is a story to tell, an experience to share, and a model for inspiration.
Let me now invite you all to join me in a journey, 100 kilometres northwest of Kigali, in a city called Musanze. We will meet Cephas, a science teacher and young entrepreneur with a passion to serve his community. Cephas makes cosmetic products out of traditional plants. He uses his knowledge in science to create products that heal some common diseases in his community. In 2013, he applied to the YouthConnekt Boot Camp, and was the first-place winner and won 3 million Rwf (less than 4000 US$). He used the winnings from his award to build his factory. Today, he employs 15 full-time staff members.
Let’s continue our journey to Rubavu district, some 50 kilometres west of Musanze, we will meet Assumpta, a 27-year old young girl. Realizing that farmers in her community were growing a large amount of beetroot without a market ready and willing to support them, Assumpta decided to produce tasty and affordable wine from locally cultivated beetroot. Assumpta won the 2016 YouthConnekt award, which rewards the best young innovator in Rwanda. With her 5 million Rwf (about 6000 US$) she expanded her business. Today, she employs 10 permanent workers and provides 30 temporary jobs in her community, mostly women.
Assumpta and Cephas are what AfDB President Adesina rightly calls the “young agropreneurs of Africa.” They are graduates of YouthConnekt Rwanda. They epitomize the transformational power of ideas. With their creativity, ingenuity, and acquired skills, they have shown the way to conquer the future.
I am proud to see UNDP and UN sister agencies partnering with the Government of Rwanda in such a seminal and pioneering initiative as YouthConnekt, a programme initiated in 2013, which seeks to empower young entrepreneurs by connecting them with leaders from public and private sectors and civil society. It provides internships, mentorships, training, and coaching. It raises youth awareness of job opportunities, it promotes business incubation centres and financial products and services.
Today, some 40,000 young Rwandese have benefitted directly and indirectly from the programme – either through the boot camps I mentioned, or through platforms including Google Hangout sessions, Annual Youth Conventions, and Television shows. Many have started or expanded profitable businesses, which have generated employment. Our calculation indicates that on average, each participant in the YouthConnekt boot camps has subsequently created 8 to10 permanent jobs. For some of these businesses, their employees receive, daily, the equivalent of 6 to 10 US$, hence 3 to 5 times the daily GDP per capita in Rwanda. This is impressive.
As Timothee, a young Rwandese entrepreneur eloquently told me; “YouthConnekt Booth camps are a phenomenal journey; you come out of it with a conquering mind-set; and with the unwavering conviction that: Yes, You can! Yes, you can open your own business, with such an empowering tool that is YouthConnekt!”
Cephas, Assumpta and Timothee are, with no doubt, the Tony Elumelu, Folorunsho Alakija, and Dangote of tomorrow. The leadership, creativity, and commitment seeds are planted in them; they will blossom. Their stories show that with ideas, innovation, and passion, our Youth can realize their dreams and make Africa the El Dorado.
It is quite exciting to see that this programme covers the 30 districts of Rwanda; and is already being replicated, with the support of UNDP, in 5 other African countries: Liberia, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.
Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment; and sadly, about 60% will be joining the unacceptable army of the unemployed. YouthConnekt is a practical, concrete and most effective way to tackle the current unemployment situation in the continent. It empowers the Youth to be potent actors and driving vectors in the implementation of Agenda 2030 and of the Future We Want in Africa!
Here, I wish to salute the visionary leadership of H.E. Paul Kagame who believes in cultivating a new generation of innovators and problem-solvers to create employment and drive economic transformation. It is that vision that gave birth to YouthConnekt Rwanda. I must applaud the Honourable Minister of Youth Jean Philbert, who took that vision and unleashed the energy of Rwanda’s youth.
It is our deepest commitment to respond to the wish of Government of Rwanda and of Youth in Africa to scale up, to the regional level, this ground-breaking and pacesetter programme.
On behalf of UNDP, I am honoured to pledge our continuous and enhanced financial and technical support to the Government of Rwanda, not only in the expansion of the programme in the country, but also in the establishment of the greater YouthConnekt Africa Regional Initiative, with the setting up of a Regional Hub, here in Kigali, and the design and launching of a YouthConnekt Innovation and Empowerment Fund.
With YouthConnekt Africa, we are embarking on a most fascinating journey; and the Youth are our trip captains! Let me be their Ambassador by emphatically re-echoing what most of them told me: “Give us the space; and we will give you the world!”
By space, they mean enhancing economic growth policies that will have an impact on employment and job creation, they mean trust in their creativity and they mean the effective implementation of youth-friendly development policies, including greater access to finance, capital and markets; skills development, and a sustained investment in education, in particular in STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
We are privileged to have with us, African leaders— Akinwumi Adesina, Tony Elumelu, Vera Songwe, and Diane Karusisi— to lead our conversation on how we can open up that space and create together 50 million jobs by 2020, 10 million of which should come from YouthConnekt. I am confident that out of this conversation, we will chart a collective way forward, with strong commitments, to achieve this goal.
If we all meet our commitments, our gathering, with more than 7,000 youth subscribers, will not be just another meeting. It will be a movement! A spark from Mount Kigali, reverberating all over the continent! I would like to invite us all to join the movement. A movement which I see as a performance contract, or Imihigo, as we say here in Rwanda. A contract between us all, stakeholders, to support our youth in conquering the future.
By Abdoulaye Mar Dieye
UNDP Regional Director for Africa.
Follow him on Twitter: @mardieye