Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ridding youth entrepreneurship initiative of backward practices

In the wake of the approval of the recent approval by Parliament of the 10 billion birr (around USD 435 million) revolving Youth Fund pledged by the federal government various regional state governments have announced additional youth entrepreneurship initiatives of their own. The violent unrest that affected large swathes of Ethiopia from November 2015 to October 2016 amply demonstrated the youth’s deep discontent with the government. After stabilizing the situation courtesy of the implementation of a 6-month long state of emergency the government has repeatedly declared that it is committed to creating job opportunities for millions of youth.  Such initiative will not succeed though if the business-as-usual practice, which is unresponsive to the youth’s needs, is not abandoned. If something worthwhile that truly benefits the youth is to be accomplished it is of paramount importance to give due consideration to certain fundamental matters.  

One of the reasons why the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is regarded to be behind the times is its failure to accord adequate attention to the youth of Ethiopia. Driven by the desire to elevate the country to a level attained by developed nations the leadership of the Front has been endeavoring since its youthful days to execute a political platform that it believed was viable for that era.  The youth of today, however, in no way are willing to be held hostage to the usual shenanigans besetting the Ethiopian political scene and wants its country to emulate civilized nations through the application of modern technology. When this spirit of independence and aspiration is augmented with capacity enhancement in terms of knowledge the youth will turn into a generation that continuously asks questions and demands its rights. It is imperative to jettison backward practices in order to meet the needs of such a generation.

The very first thing that the federal and regional governments must do away with when they set out to empower the youth economically is favoritism in any way, shape or form. Any subversion of the basic objectives of the youth entrepreneurship initiative through political discrimination, corruption or other untoward practices that deny certain classes of the youth access to capital and market is liable to compound the multi-faceted challenges facing the youth in general and harm the national interest. Hence, it is obligatory to facilitate the conditions that allow the youth to exploit their potential to the fullest.

The EPRDF-led government would do well to enable the youth to make wide use of social media as part of the strategy to foster entrepreneurship. All over the world the youth are using social media as a tool that transforms all aspects of life and create immense wealth in the process. The government should resist the urge to use social media solely as a platform to galvanize its youth league and focus instead on utilizing it as an instrument which empowers everyone to do something that accelerates the nation’s growth. While the importance attached to developing   small and medium enterprises is encouraging equal attention ought to be devoted to social media and other value-adding technologies.

The Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of tomorrow can flourish when the youth entrepreneurship initiative is in sync with contemporary thinking. This calls for a revisit of the national education curriculum and trainings programs in engineering and technology that produces a pool of globally competitive workforce. Providing the necessary funding and technical support as well as putting in place an enabling environment for the youth who come up with viable project ideas is bound to lead to remarkable outcomes. The implementation of these contemporary practices will contribute to scrapping obsolete practices that hinder entrepreneurship initiatives and thereby render the youth productive citizens.

In some African countries philanthropists have played a vital role in helping entrepreneurial youth perform miracles. The visionary entrepreneurship initiative launched by Tony Elumelu, the Nigerian entrepreneur who has committed USD 100 million to creating 10,000 entrepreneurs across Africa over 10 years from 2015 onward, has already started to bear fruit.  Coming to Ethiopia the allocation by the federal and regional government of significant sums of money to finance the youth entrepreneurship initiative is quite commendable. Nevertheless the desired outcome can be attained through the adoption of a strategy that has no place for failed and outdated practices. Attempting to administer mega funds in the absence of strong government structures, procedures ensuring transparency and accountability as well as adequate preparations may well have detrimental effects including embezzlement and other forms of corruption. The whole exercise will be futile if a system which holds answerable administrators, employees or beneficiaries who are irresponsible, incompetent, politically partisan and bent on personal enrichment is not strictly enforced. This is why it is of the essence to display the commitment to rid forthwith the youth entrepreneurship initiative of any and all backward practices.

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