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Strengthening youth livelihoods and enterprise innovation in Africa’s digital era

Working papers

Written by Melanie Pinet, Emilie Tant

Image credit:Still from the working paper animation (watch below) featuring the main protagonist, Namwali, a young entrepreneur from Zambia. Credit: Youth Forward Learning Partnership

Strengthening youth livelihoods and enterprise innovation in Africa’s digital era

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This publication is the second of two to explore the findings and insights from an online global consultation, held in July 2020, exploring young Africans’ use of digital technologies in different areas in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. More specifically, this paper discusses the topics of the second day of the consultation, when participants delved into employment in the gig economy, business and tech innovation, and financial inclusion.

Key findings

  • The growing number and diversity of digital platforms in Africa are opening up new livelihood opportunities to the continent’s young workers. However, these might not be sufficient to meet youth employment needs. Covid-19 has boosted some sectors while eroding others that require in-person engagement. Addressing those issues will require a stronger digital and start-up ecosystem to enhance innovation and the viability of African digital platforms.
  • Gig-matching and job-matching platforms offer young people flexibility, low barriers to entry into the job market and an alternative to informal employment, though job quantity often prevails over job quality. The pervasive effects of Covid-19 have exposed the urgent need for platforms and governments to provide gig workers with basic job and social protection.
  • Governments could do more to build and sustain the ecosystem within which digital employment solutions can scale. This means focusing on internet connectivity, infrastructure development, digital skills and a suitable regulatory framework to facilitate innovation while managing risks. Programmes to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including tax relief and awareness campaigns, are other important ecosystem components.
  • For young people to thrive in the digital economy and scale up their businesses, access to finance remains a key element to move to the next stage. While Covid-19 has accelerated the move to cashless transactions, financial exclusion remains a reality, especially for vulnerable groups. Financial literacy and youth-sensitive financial initiatives and services are needed to overcome these barriers.

This report is published by the Youth Forward Learning Partnership, led by the ODI’s Digital Societies programme with Participatory Development Associates in Ghana and partners in Uganda. Youth Forward supports young people in Ghana and Uganda to get jobs, grow their businesses and access finance to expand opportunities available to them. The Learning Partnership works to develop an evidence-informed understanding of the needs of young people and how the initiative can best meet those needs.

Gituku Ngene, Melanie Pinet and Christopher Maclay, with Sanyu Phiona and Emilie Tant