'Invisible Youth': The Game-Changers in Africa's Informal Sector

Redefining youth unemployment in Africa is a topic that can no longer be ignored. So much has been said about Africa’s youth taking initiative to trump the popular African narrative of poverty. However, Africa’s economies are facing an unrelenting rise in unemployment rates because the labour market cannot absorb the millions of graduates and uneducated alike, who annually pour into the labour force.  

Attributed to the significant lack of a safety net to respond to this under or unemployment challenge, an estimated 80 percent of Africa's labour force depends on making their living out of low-productivity and informal household enterprises. The solutions to this challenge depends on a plethora of options, one of which is data-driven research and new approaches to digitising Africa’s agricultural sector. 

On February 17th, 2017, The MasterCard Foundation released a report in collaboration with Low-Income Financial Transformation (L-IFT), Invisible Lives: Understanding Youth Livelihoods in Ghana and Uganda at the Young Africa Works Summit hosted in Kigali, Rwanda. It highlights the working lives of the Youth in Africa with a case for why more skills training should be invested towards a multiple range of jobs in the informal sector as opposed to the formal sector. 

The basis for the report is to call to action directed support toward engaging the millions of mixed livelihoods that the youth in Africa are involved in.

An Infographic showing the state of Agriculture transformation and opportunities through The MasterCard Foundation.
According to the report the youth face a paradox of challenges and opportunities triggered by “Africa’s unprecedented population growth with limited formal sector prospects.” The report cites the elusiveness of the formal jobs and wage employment sector inspite of new economic opportunities, as a reason for why more youth are pursuing and embracing mixed livelihood opportunities.

With a commitment to “developing sustainable youth employment strategies in Africa” the MasterCard Foundation has supported initiatives including research that sheds light on solutions to the leading causes of uneven distribution of income across the continent. 

The report findings and data gathered is a reflection of the research done within two countries, Ghana and Uganda, respectively. While the results reflect the findings among rural youths aged 18-24 years, in the two countries, the application correlates to other developing African economies. This was after consideration was placed on the similarities and differences in the contexts of other African economies.

80 percent of Africa's labour force depends on making their living out of low-productivity and informal household enterprises

The Invisible Lives report highlights four key areas to youth employment as drivers of agricultural transformation.

Firstly, ‘young people in Africa diversify their livelihoods, undertaking a mix of informal sector employment, self-employment and agriculture-related activities to sustain their livelihood.’

Secondly, ‘agricultural production is central to young people’s livelihoods, but agricultural incomes were meagre. Many young people run small enterprises that can be easily started, stopped, and restarted as needed.’ Those who were successful in the research, were the youth who had diversified their activities and taken up more risk as they expanded to include additional activities. 

Thirdly, ‘both formal and informal wage employment is rare and sporadic, or elusive. While the informal sector which constitutes about 80% of the Africa’s labour force, provided more wage employment opportunities for young people, they were by no means abundant.’

Lastly, ‘support networks are critical for young people and they play an extensive role in their lives, not only providing support in the form of advice regarding where to look for and how to find employment, skills development, and business guidance, but also proving instrumental in accessing financial resources needed.’ 

Given that 75 percent of Africa’s poorest depend on subsistence agriculture, skills building, access to finance, technological initiatives, information sharing and entrepreneurship support, have the ability to bring about game-changing solutions that cater to both unemployment as well as poverty reduction. 

An Infographic showing the Young Africa Works role in engaging youth for agriculture development (Source: http://youngafricaworks.org/agenda/)

Even though, sub-Saharan Africa has significantly been known to have a higher proportion of potential young entrepreneurs than any other region in the world, the Invisible Lives report emphasises that, “entrepreneurship and self-employment remains an important economic activity for a majority of research participants in both countries, either alone or in partnership with someone else.”

'Invisible Youth'—those who are mostly invisible to development organisations and their own governments— can become engaged as drivers of agricultural transformation.

That young people identified local economic opportunities as a motivation to create and run new businesses, is an important factor to tackling the private sector’s limited capacity to absorb all potential job seekers. 

As a result, this new approach presented in the The MasterCard’s Foundation’s and L-IFT’s report shows that their collective research and knowledge on youth unemployment is drawn from interventions that would shift the way the 'Invisible Youth'—those who are mostly invisible to development organisations and their own governments— can become engaged as drivers of agricultural transformation. This will come from increasing their agricultural productivity and value addition to products through access to support services, training and finance capital. 

Therefore, it is through equipping the youth with the necessary resources needed to enhance their mixed livelihoods, that more employment opportunities are generated as they contribute as key drivers of Africa’s economies. 

Cover Photo by #YAW2017


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