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Engaging the youth in a Guided Structured approach to unlock opportunities for themselves through Climate Action Solutions
Dr. Richard Munang
Africa’s youthful population at over 60% is endowed with diverse talents, interests, energy. skills on different disciplinary backgrounds and represents the continent’s sovereign capital. This capital can be harnessed in a structured and guided approach to turn the region’s challenges into opportunities. To substantively engage these youth and ensure they benefit socioeconomically in turning challenges into opportunities, the following are key considerations:
- we need to leverage on structures that can ensure traceability and accountability of actions, catalyse selflessness among these youth and provide a platform for structured guidance and continuous mentorship towards unlocking their potential as Africa’s primary solutions providers.
- we need to build on ongoing work that leverages climate action as an enterprise opportunity.
- we need to ensure that the climate action enterprise areas to engage the youth are non-capital intensive.
- need to leverage low risk finance structure based on what is accessible to communities – cooperatives
- We need to inspire the youths to turn their passions into profits using what they have through Innovative Volunteerism which provides youth regardless of disciplinary backgrounds, an opportunity to be structurally guided to improve, refine and adapt their skills to engage selflessly and tap into enterprise opportunities in the agro-value chain
Expounding the key considerations
Structure for engagement: youth should NOT be engaged as “individuals” alone. The key here is to engage willing and passionate youth to work through communal institutions. Hence, they need to be engaged within a community structure for accountability and traceability. Accordingly, crucial societal institutions – specifically religious institutions (churches, mosques etc.); community cooperatives; local / traditional governance systems etc., need to be leveraged as the frameworks to engage willing youth. Youth groups that are affiliated / registered / accountable to such institutions can be trained on specific climate action enterprises drawing from ongoing work, and structurally guided within the framework of the institutions where they are affiliated, to be delivering much needed solutions to communities leveraging the training and guidance they ae being given. One thing to note is that youth are not an entity, these are individuals who have different aspirations but needs serious structured guidance. They need mentorship, motivation and inspiration to self-discover that they have what it takes to turn challenges into opportunities.
Prioritise non-capital-intensive enterprise areas:
Using proven empirical test actions, on optimal trajectories for driving climate action from an enterprise perspective to guide youth to engage in climate action enterprises that address key societal socioeconomic need areas is the way to go. About 81% of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) households rely on wood-based biomass energy (fuelwood and charcoal)) for cooking. This dependency fuels health impacts. Exposure to harmful pollutants emitted from burning wood and charcoal is a leading source of Household Air Pollution (HAP), which is one of the largest health risk factors for mortality in Africa with about 400,000 deaths attributed to it annually. This is more than the average number of deaths caused by road accidents. The urgency for remedial measures through enterprises that offer alternative clean cooking options is therefore critical. In addition, use of organic fertilizer has proven capable of increasing yields by up to 40% compared to mineral fertilisers. Other empirical studies show that use of organic fertiliser for example in Kenya, by converting agriculture waste to organic fertiliser has proved to provide an over 560% return on investment on the waste to fertiliser operation, increase yields by up to 30% and income by 50% for farmers using this fertiliser.
Engaging Willing and Passionate Youth
Hence focusing on engaging willing and passionate youth in decentralising waste-to-energy recovery solutions – especially agricultural waste-to-fuel briquettes, to power agro-value addition in different fronts –eateries, institutions, & households – offers an opportunity to reverse pressure on wood-biomass thus preserve forests. It lowers indoor pollution to positive impact health. And it has among the lowest start-up costs to make it accessible to many while also offering a ready and broad market. For example, leveraging on the spirit of Innovative Volunteerism structured guided approach, we are currently structurally guiding youth to work with local farmers in obtaining agricultural waste, and turn it into fuel briquettes that burn longer, are more flammable. Through a mixture of managing production levels and raw material costs, the briquettes are priced at the same level or even below with charcoal. This is opening up income streams for these youth and ushering them to entrepreneurship pathways where they solve a problem but also create wealth for themselves
Innovative Volunteerism Spirit reshaping Africa’s approach to drive Youth Climate Action
For example, in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda leveraging in the Innovative Volunteerism structured guidance approach, youth have been trained in developing fuel briquettes which in the process have created an incubation centre which is training more youth. They have also been guided to work with farmers in collecting agricultural waste where they now convert the waste to compost and fuel briquettes. They are marketing these fuel briquettes to key user groups – households, institutions, eateries – to power agro-value addition in cookeries. They are also being guided to work with farmers in marketing biofertilizer to agro-value chain actors. This work offers a rich diversity of lessons to be shared with other willing and passionate youth.
Image: Cassava peelings on the left-hand side,
Fuel briquettes made out of cassava peelings on the right-hand side
Fuel briquettes made out of cassava peelings on the right-hand side
Leverage Cooperatives as the Structure for Accountability and Impact at Scale
The structure of cooperatives exists in nearly every community level in every country. Cooperatives are weaved into the diverse cultures in the continent and draw on critical values that are fundamental to development – selflessness, trust and co-creation of value. To track and trace the informal sector actors especially the youth is not an easy endeavour as they are not in the formal systems. Many of them do not have bank accounts nor are they registered elsewhere that can easily be traced. To ensure easy reach a common communal framework can be used and there is no better community grounded space like a communal cooperative. Leveraging on the communal structure of local cooperatives trained youth are guided to join to be part of this communal structure. Once they join these communal cooperatives, based on guarantees from existing members of good repute and their own aptitude in training, they get a little debt financing to start off the briquettes making enterprises, get support in marketing the briquettes and earn revenues that enable them to repay back. The fact that they are in this structure lowers risk and also ensure traceability and accountability. This accountability and traceability comes in as follows: they will be able to trace what they do and where they fabricate these briquettes and which households are getting them and what the households or individuals are doing with these briquettes and organic manure. Using this approach, the ability to audit the impact of financing and actions that impacts many lives right at the community level where it matters, becomes achievable.
An example that show this advantage of traceability and risk diversification of community cooperatives for youth comes from Uganda. A national cooperative called PEWOSA, has established a structure of encouraging savings and credit at the community level by clustering people who wish to get financing into units called “village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). These VSLAs are mini cooperatives that draw membership from small scale entrepreneurs engaged in various enterprise actions along the agro-value chain, including the youth, who come together, pool their resources and save in the parent cooperative – PEWOSA. Then based on the strength of their savings, the VSLAs can access low interest loans from PEWOSA that are administered to a VSLA as a group and not to individuals – to increase guarantees and lower financial risk. Through this model, youth can finance their briquettes enterprises through first taking up membership in a VSLA, convincing members to guarantee their enterprise and through the backing of their VSLA, access low interest loans from the parent cooperative – PEWOSA – to finance their enterprise. This financing will come with the added advantage of accountability through the structure of the VSLA as well as traceability through the parent cooperative – PEWOSA. This two-tier low risk financing model through communal cooperatives is timely for replication in financing youth climate action enterprises in a low risk, traceable and accountable way.
The skills, talents, energy, creativity of youth represents Africa’s sovereign capital that urgently needs to be unlocked to drive climate resilient development while unlocking income and enterprise opportunities for these youth. However, engaging these youth needs accessible structures for accountability and traceability of impact and communal cooperatives provide a ready multi-faceted structure to build on. Through such, youth can raise capital and engage in enterprises such as fuel briquettes that create income for the while solving community challenges and driving climate resilience. This is how the much-needed jobs for our youth will be created. This is how the informal sector in Africa, which is the pillar for building inclusive, climate resilient and competitive economies under the COVID19 reality, will be buffered from future shocks. It is worth noting that informal sector employment is the standard condition among majority of youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. And up to 80% of young workers in nearly all school-to work transition surveys fall in this category of informal employment.
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