The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘yas’ as an informal way to express great pleasure or excitement. The YAS! Youth for Africa and SDGs (www.yasdg.com) – short for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – initiative by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Accenture anticipates this reaction from its users.
Across Africa, unemployment levels remain high despite a fair number of youth preferring tertiary education. There are 200 million Africans aged between 15 and 24 that make up more than half of the unemployment statistics on the continent. According to the UN, the world’s population will have grown by 2.2 billion and half of those people will be Africans. The implications on the labour force will be significant if the current trends continue.
Entrepreneurship is a key factor for development in emerging markets because the new businesses created have the potential to accelerate innovation and introduce new competitors to existing structures, thus contributing to productivity. According to a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), in conjunction with Youth Business International, up to 60 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds were optimistic about their business prospects and believed they had the skills to successfully start a business. The report further showed that at 29 sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of young people involved in new businesses.
While youth are taking up entrepreneurship, there are still some barriers to entry that are significant enough to mean that the idea is not viable for all. There may be a lack of access to information, inadequate funding, or simply missing the right connections. Networking is widely accepted as a standard for fostering and growing business relationships. However, there is a certain exclusivity in that many business networks are wary of working with new entrants and would rather support mature entrepreneurs rather than young ones. Societal and parental attitudes tend to view entrepreneurship in a negative light, with parents encouraging their children to settle in traditional career choices and this often means that have little to no support from their home environments.
In many African countries, one hardly sees various sectors working together to improve access to finance and skills and this has only slowed down the rate at which the continent becomes self-sufficient. For these reasons, the UNDP teamed up with Accenture to create YAS!, an online entrepreneurship portal-platform that serves a young, pan-African audience. Its objective is to cultivate a mind-set of job creation and individual businesses that can contribute to Africa’s sustainable development
The online platform, which services all of Africa, speaks to the four main pillars of entrepreneurship, namely information, mentorship, funding and network. This is in line with several of the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda which is directed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring people live in peace and prosperity. The YAS! platform targets entrepreneurs and start-ups as well as private donors, venture capitalists and incubators seeking businesses either already involved in an acceleration or incubator programme, or those requiring funding.
The impact and benefits of such an initiative are innumerable and could not have come at a better time for Africa. By awarding financing for youth to develop and implement innovative ideas, YAS! is sending a message that no matter one’s background or current situation, young Africans can access opportunities and effect change in their communities.
By offering practical information on the key concepts of enterprise development, YAS! is helping to build an Africa where youth are more open to entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to earning a sustainable living. The portal provides services such as business plan development and aims to create an ecosystem map for corporates and start-ups, which will locate and connect various entrepreneurial service providers across the continent. Young African entrepreneurs now have access to knowledge about how to acquire funding, implement their innovations, and network and pitch their innovative ideas.
Many young Africans are motivated to address social and environmental issues for prosperity. For decades, Africans have run small-scale businesses to support their families, make a profit and even create jobs. With the digital revolution ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurs that seek to do more than just make a profit, the YAS! online platform is well-placed to be an interactive and current forum in that it is constantly being updated with fresh content from African writers, thought leaders as well as corporates.
Rory Moore is the Liquid Studio Director and Innovation Lead for Accenture in Africa.