Kennedy is only 25 years. As a first born in a family of seven, he started working at the age of 16 years to support his parents in providing for the family. Kennedy’s parents earn a weekly allowance of $8 which is not enough to support his five siblings. In April 2020, Kennedy lost his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With only a high-school diploma, he is struggling to access formal employment opportunities. Kennedy is just an example of millions of youth around the world who have stopped working because of the pandemic. The Youth & COVID-19 Report published by the ILO and partners of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth finds that globally, 1 in 6 young people stopped working since the onset of the pandemic.

What started as a global health crisis has now turned into an economic crisis with millions of people around the globe losing their jobs. A report by the Africa Union estimates that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 20 million jobs, both in the formal and informal sectors, are threatened with destruction. The majority of those who will lose their jobs are working youth between the age of 15 and 35 years, an age group that forms a quarter of the global population. Young adults are the backbone of society providing energy, ideas and investment potential. A report by the Kenya National Bureau of statistics published in June 2020 indicates that over 770,000 youth in Kenya had lost their jobs due to COVID-19. 800,000 youth were already jobless in Kenya before COVID-19.  The Government estimates that 1,000,000 more youth will unemployed by December 2020.

Societal effect of youth unemployment

The youth unemployment crisis is expected to have significant socio-economic impacts for Kenya. As mentioned, youth are the backbone of society, and high youth unemployment means that future entrepreneurs and problem solvers are unable to reach their full potential. Kenya is also witnessing a high crime rate among the youth, which is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the youth unemployment rate increases in a country, youth are likely to fall prey to crime and violence, drug abuse and increased unplanned pregnancies. According to a report (The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use) by Center for Disease Control The lockdown and quarantine measures imposed by different governments have also resulted to high level of stress, depression and anxiety. Urgent actions are needed to safeguard youth’s livelihoods and create sustainable unemployment opportunities for youth to reach their full potential as tomorrow’s problem solvers.

Garden of Hope Foundation Model

The leadership development and entrepreneurship project started by Garden of Hope Foundation aims to equip youth in rural communities and urban slums with sustainable social entrepreneurship skills. The current education system does not leave much room for creativity and innovation. In a society where some careers are more “glorified” than others, it is very difficult for young people to pursue their career aspirations.

Garden of Hope Foundation supports young people in urban slums and rural communities to create their own employment opportunities by identifying challenges in their communities and developing solutions to those challenges. The youth are introduced to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and encouraged to pick goals that resonate with the challenges they face in their communities.  They are then taken through a rigorous process where their ideas are refined to meet the social entrepreneurship aspect. Once youth initiate their ventures, Garden of Hope Foundation and other stakeholders provide funding and continuous mentorship to the young entrepreneurs.

Since the start of the project, over 200 new ideas have been developed by the youth. These ideas have created over 500 employment opportunities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen youth develop several ideas to respond to the needs in their communities.

We are pleased to make a commitment to Decent Jobs for Youth to support 2,000 youth in Kenya in developing community-based solutions by 2024. Young people will be supported through the creation of employment opportunities and the provision of mentorship and financial support to their business ideas.

Challenges for other youth employment stakeholders

Radical changes in the education system: The current education systems leave limited room for students to explore other career interests apart from what has already been defined in the courses. Radical change is needed to boost youth creativity and innovation. This will encourage the students to start developing creative solutions at an early age, better equipping them to tackle the challenges they see around them.

Leveraging on Partnerships:  In order to ensure sustainability of the education and employment system, stakeholders must clearly understand their strengths and weaknesses and ensure collaborations with others to scale up the action and impact.

Garden of Hope Foundation appreciates the role each stakeholder is playing to ensure more young people around the world have access to sustainable employment opportunities.

The article was first Published on Decent jobs for youth as part of  Blog Series: Youth Rights and Voices.

Victor Odhiambo is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of a Non-profit organization in Kenya called Garden of Hope Foundation.