Engaging the Youth Critical for Development

Greater opportunities for the youth and access to resources are needed to ensure that trade between Africa and the Caribbean can be fully developed.

Discussing ‘Creating Opportunities for Youths and SMEs in Today’s Global Economy’ during the recently held AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2022 (ACTIF2022), the panel emphasized the need to tackle the challenges that young people face.

Chido Cleopatra Mpenba, Special Envoy on Youth to AU Chairperson, African Union, said access to financing for small and medium enterprises is critical. She further stated that it is vital that young people be part of the decision-making process.

“So we also need to look at how we ensure that we fully incorporate young people, and how we ensure that there’s an enabling environment for young people. We have so many opportunities, we have so many ideas, and we’d come with that strength of numbers as well as innovation that we can present,” she said during the discussion at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Moderator, Business Consultant, Export Barbados, Taahir Bulbulia agreed with Mpenba that the youth deserve a seat at the table and dismissed the notion that young people are too young to make an input. Adding to the discussion, Motivational Youth Speaker, Raphael Saul said, too often, lip service is paid to the importance of including young people, but beyond that, there are no structures in place to ensure that their ideas are heard and given credit. He insisted that the youth should not feel as if they are being tolerated but rather effectively engaged.

“The narrative I think first needs to be changed, so that we’re not thinking about young people as being the leaders of the future, but we are seeing young people as the leaders of today. And if they are the leaders of today, how can we equip them, first of all, but then furnish them with opportunities to be able to make those meaningful contributions, so their voices land to the ears of those who do have the important decisions to make,” Saul said.

Ryan Moseley, Manager of the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, also weighed in on the topic. He said that the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment recognizes the role that young people can and should play in the country’s development, and is working on developing a new national youth policy to guide that process. He said even as they develop the policy, they are seeking valuable input from the youth.

“We can no longer have a top down approach, we must have an all-inclusive approach. We must make sure that the policy, when it is finished, is inclusive, it speaks to young people and provides opportunities,” Moseley said.

When asked how to encourage young people to be active citizens and change-makers, Khaleel Kothdiwala, Youth Leader and Member of the Constitutional Reform Commission, said the youth must be involved in a meaningful way in policy making. He insisted that that includes economic planning and economic and social development.

“It cannot only be that we are engaging certain types of young people. There has to be a deliberate attempt made to go into communities in which we find young people who are usually marginalized, in vulnerable communities and find ways to empower young people in those communities so that they are able to also contribute and have the mechanisms by which to articulate and by which to make a meaningful contribution,” Kothdiwala added.

The panel discussion ended with a call to action urging countries in both regions to actively engage the youth, allowing them to add to the discussion and be included in plans for charting the way forward.