Urban Youth: A Great Source of Untapped Growth

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The world’s growing urbanization means that a whole generation of youth will have a dramatically different life than their parents. The world’s 3.3 billion urbanites now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report). And the vast majority live in slums or periurban areas, places of sprawl, where public services are poor and housing conditions unhealthy. Most young people working in the urban informal sector live in slum areas: for example, 75 per cent in Benin in Africa, and 90 per cent in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad and Ethiopia. Most of this work is just bare survival work: according to the International Labour Organization, approximately 85 per cent of all new employment falls into this category.

Getting youth into quality work and earning more than enough simply to survive is critical to building a healthy society. Young people are bombarded every day with good and bad influences, and as UNFPA found in its Youth Supplement: Growing Up Urban, “the interactions with the urban environment can have an intense impact on the socialization of young people, exposing them to a multitude of influences as they develop, experiment, question, and assume roles in their societies.”

It is predicted that over the next 10 years, 1.2 billion youths will enter the working-age population (UNFPA). But youth unemployment is a huge problem around the world. Unemployed young people make up almost half (43.7 per cent) of the world’s total unemployed (UNFPA). Young people aged 15 to 19 are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. Young people are the future, a resource no society can afford to waste. If their innate energy and enthusiasm is tapped, countries can see significant economic growth.

There are youth entrepreneurs who are defying the gloom and coming up with great business ideas. Five finalists for BBC Swahili’s regional entrepreneur competition – Faidika na BBC (Prosper with the BBC) – offer inspiration for youth across the South. Finalists from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda were selected for their bright schemes.

The overall winner was 24-year-old Burundian student Ashura Kisesa for a plan to build commercial public toilets in the cities and towns of East and Central Africa. Ashura, who entered but failed to reach the Faidika na BBC finals last year, has 12 brothers and sisters and is studying for a degree in agronomy at Burundi University.

“I am very happy to win the top prize in this competition,” she told the BBC. “The lack of public toilets throughout East and Central Africa is a major problem that needs to be addressed and I hope to make a difference with my business idea. My whole family wanted me to win and they really supported me which makes me especially proud. I cannot wait to get started with my business.”

On June 26 in Kampala, Uganda, Kisesa was awarded US $5,000 to put towards her business.

Kenyan national winner, 22-year-old Witness Omoga from Kakamega, wants to make identity cards for schools. Right now he works as a volunteer at his uncle’s photo studio, and hopes to get into Makerere University to pursue a degree in computer science. “I am very excited,” he said to the BBC. “I have never been number one in my life, but now I have emerged first in this competition.”

The Rwandan winner is a pioneer in the growing field of biomass energy production. A 17-year-old student from Kigali, Rangira Aime Frederick, impressed the panel of judges with his idea to turn domestic waste into energy. The national winner for Tanzania is a private tutor from Dar es Salaam, Apolinary Joseph Laksh. A business education tutor, 23-year-old Apolinary’s idea is to produce charcoal from recycled materials to offer people in rural areas sustainable and affordable cooking fuel.

Ugandan finalist, 23-year-old Dereick Kajukano, is in his last year at Kampala International University doing a degree in business administration. Dereick’s business idea is to make bags out of plastic trash. He was inspired by last year’s Faidika na BBC winner, David Ssegawa from Uganda: “When I heard him defend his proposal on air, I said to myself, why don’t I do it as well. That’s when it all started, and here I am.”


  • 2008 Global Youth Enterprise Conference: Designed as a participatory learning event, this conference aims to support youth enterprise and entrepreneurship programs and policies achieve greater effectiveness around the world.
  • KickStart is a South African project aimed at inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship among young people between the ages of 18 and 35, by promoting business awareness through training, providing grants as start-up capital and providing mentorship and assistance during the setting up phase of the business.
  • iDISC – the infoDev Incubator Support Center – is a virtual networking and knowledge-sharing platform for incubators and technology parks leveraging ICT to facilitate entrepreneurship and new business creation in developing countries.
  • Climate Capital Network: this company offers strategic advice, intelligence and assistance with fundraising for low-carbon solutions around the world. They have 2,000 investors looking for projects to invest in.
  • Global Entrepreneurship Week: the website for this event in November has many opportunities for youth entrepreneurs to connect with each other through social networking websites.

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© David South Consulting 2022

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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