Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability, Access Bank Plc

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Subjects of Interest

  • Corporate Communications
  • Social Development
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable Development

Emerging synergy between youth participation and sustainable development 28 May 2023

Undoubtedly, the United Nations' ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030 requires the active involvement of all members of society, including young people.

Youth participation in the implementation of the SDGs is critical for several reasons. For one, the sustainability of any initiative rests on youth buy-in: they will constitute the next workforce, Board of Directors and Governing Council that will either reinforce the foundations being set across the globe or undo the positive work established by their predecessors.

More importantly, young people have a vested interest in creating a sustainable and equitable future as they represent a significant proportion of the global population. As such, they are the demographic that bears the highest burden of unsustainable practices. According to the United Nations, there are 1.2 billion young people aged between 15 and 24 years worldwide, making up 16 per cent of the global population. With their numerical clout, this demographic group has the potential to make a substantial impact on the world if given the necessary tools and resources.

This realisation has caused many local and international organisations to prioritise youth empowerment, acknowledging it as a crucial step in transforming young people into agents of change. As a result, organisations across the world are doubling down on efforts to arm young people with the prerequisite skills, knowledge, and tools needed to make meaningful contributions to the achievement of the 17 SDGs.

Armed with diverse bodies of knowledge, young people can participate in decision-making processes across multiple spectrums — including community development projects, local, and national politics — that directly and indirectly impact their lives and the world around them. Moreover, engaging young people in critical decision-making benefits the global community as they provide unique perspectives, innovative ideas, and creative solutions that can accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

Through social entrepreneurship and innovation, young people can address complex social and environmental challenges with novel solutions. Driving innovation through sustainability-oriented businesses and edgy social movements, young entrepreneurs and development advocates are proving that profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.

Contributing to the achievement of several SDGs simultaneously, including SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), and SDG 13 (Climate Action), is no mean feat. But despite the apparent benefits of youth inclusion in the push towards the achievement of the SDGs, young people still face significant barriers hampering participation: a lack of access to quality and rounded education, limited economic opportunities, discrimination and exclusion, and inadequate representation in decision-making processes.

To overcome these challenges, it is essential to ramp up educational efforts, prioritise youth empowerment, and create opportunities for young people to participate in implementing the SDGs.

Indeed, Nigeria's poor education and skills development system creates a massive problem with the youth bracket of the population. It is, therefore, pertinent to note that education is a fundamental human right and a key enabler of social and economic development. Yet, according to UNICEF, as cited by Reliefweb, 18.5 million children were out of school in Nigeria in May 2022. By providing young people with quality education, we can equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the workforce, engage in decision-making processes, and contribute to achieving the SDGs.

The provision of access to economic opportunities for those who lack white-collar experience also dramatically influences the overall outcome of youth empowerment. In Africa, youth unemployment remains a severe issue. The African Development Bank states that 12 million Africa’s young people enter the workforce annually, but only 3.1 million jobs are created. According to Bloomberg’s reporting, unemployment in Nigeria rose to 33% in 2022 – the second highest on the continent behind South Africa – with over 40% of Nigeria’s youth population unemployed.

By creating an enabling environment for youth entrepreneurship and providing young people with the necessary support and resources, we can enable them to become successful social entrepreneurs and contribute to achieving the SDGs. This is why institutions like Access Bank have facilitated several initiatives to educate and equip the youth with resources for sustainable development.

One of the initiatives of the bank is the Youth Transition Programme, developed in partnership with the NerdzFactory Foundation, to provide the skills necessary for a successful transition into the workforce or entrepreneurship. The initiative focuses on imparting digital and employability skills to make young people more employable and able to create job opportunities for themselves. This, in turn, provides them with increased access to economic opportunities.

Over 400 young people, including graduates, final-year university students, unemployed youth, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, and girls aged 18-35, benefited from the programme. The training covered job search skills, digital training on leveraging the internet for economic opportunities, and other soft skills. The programme consisted of three webinars: The Prosperity Webinar – facilitated by industry experts; a digital boot camp, and the Youth Transition Symposium, all ensuring that intensive training to drive youth empowerment was delivered to all participants.

Access Bank recognises that initiatives like the Youth Transition Programme are essential to achieving SDGs because inclusive and sustainable economic growth can drive progress and generate the means to implement the Goals. Moreover, such programmes benefit Nigeria and the rest of the world in attaining the desired level of empowerment for a generation that is critical to scaling the impact we all want.

Indeed, to achieve our sustainability mission as a collective, we must recognise that the future of social entrepreneurship is no longer about looking up to a select few who have some rare gift for implementing innovative ideas. Instead, every individual and organisation have a role to play in mobilising skills, talents, and life experiences to move towards a more just and equitable world where all have what they need to survive and thrive in life.

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head, Group Sustainability, Access Corporation.