Young people, green skills, and a sustainable future
By offering scholarships in high-demand tech fields, Access Bank is bridging the gap between theoretical learning and practical application.
"Humanity depends on the boundless energy, ideas, and contributions of youth everywhere. Today and every day, let's support and stand with young people in shaping a just and sustainable world, for people and planet." – UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
As the world commemorates the 2023 UN International Youth Day (IYD), with the theme “Green Skills for Youth: Towards a Sustainable World,” we find ourselves at a pivotal juncture. The future of our planet depends on our collective commitment to empower the youth with skills that foster innovation, sustainable practices, and progress.
These requirements are very germane for Africa. The continent faces myriad challenges across the environmental, economic, and social domains. But not only are these challenges surmountable, but they also constitute opportunities for our young people to become the catalysts for transformative change.
Over 60 percent of Africa's population is under the age of 25. The potential in this is staggering. The young minds have the creativity, drive, and ingenuity to forge a new trajectory in development in Africa. The transformation can provide resilience, shared prosperity, and ecological progress, while driving the continent’s competitiveness.
By 2030, African youth are projected to comprise an astonishing 42 percent of the global youth population. But as a continent, we need to engage the statistical number. What is required to harness this demographic advantage? How can we equip our youth with the skills and knowledge they require to turn their collective potentials into actual economic and social progress on the continent?
“Green Skills for Youth”, as the theme of this year’s IYD celebration, is a clarion call to action for public and private stakeholders in Africa – and the world over. It urges us to finance our prospective bright future, providing education and training that align with the needs of the rapidly changing world. From adequately responding to the urgent call for climate action, to tackling inequalities and gender biases, young people are able to drive forward the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Fostering youth empowerment
As a continent, we pay a high price when our development policies and programmes fail to recognise the particular needs and aspirations of our youth. For example, in the absence of a strong labour market policy and support, a large proportion of our youth is stuck in unemployment. Instead of successful transitioning from school to the labour market, our youth are vulnerable to poverty, diseases, and crimes. The poverty, in its multiple dimensions, of lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and social protection, entrenches unending effects of underdevelopment. For instance, adolescents dropping out of school narrow their employment opportunities. Poor nutrition during adolescence often leaves chronic effects on the health of individuals when they become adults. This is why the youth must be recognised as an important component and priority of our development agenda, today.
Additionally, in recognition of their role as young leaders of tomorrow, it is important that the youth are informed and engaged with the global vision for the future. Over the next 15 years, young people will not only directly experience the outcome of SDGs and other plans but will also be the key driver for their successful implementation. In this context, it is vital to raise awareness about the 17 SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development among youths around the world, build platforms for their discussions, and create the conditions for active productive engagements.
Vanguard for youth empowerment
Access Bank has implemented a series of targeted initiatives and strategic partnerships in leading the private sector’s charge to address the challenges presented by Africa's growing youth population. One of such initiatives is the Youth Transition Programme (YTP). Executed in collaboration with the NerdzFactory Foundation, the programme was designed to tackle the pressing issue of youth unemployment amongst Africa’s young population. With a core objective to empower 1,000 individuals – encompassing young graduates, final year students, unemployed youth, Nigerian youth corps members, and girls aged 18-35 – YTP provides participants with essential digital and soft skills to successfully transition into the workforce and explore entrepreneurship, thereby granting them access to diverse economic opportunities.
This emphasis on digital and soft skills is strategic; it takes into account the significant role technology is playing in the modern job market and the importance of interpersonal abilities in fostering professional success. By enhancing participants' digital literacy and emotional intelligence, the programme also prepares them to effectively navigate the ever-changing landscape of the workplace.
Access Bank’s execution of ‘Ghetto Tech Stars’, a collaborative initiative with the EGO Foundation, further underscores its commitment to democratising digital skills in underserved communities. By providing intensive boot camps and nurturing young fellows who become change catalysts in their communities, Access Bank is ensuring that the youth are not left behind in the digital revolution. In like manner, the bank’s partnership with Udacity for the Advance Africa Scholarship Programme embodies the essence of upskilling of young individuals. By offering scholarships in high-demand tech fields, Access Bank is bridging the gap between theoretical learning and practical application. This initiative acknowledges that the transition point from education to employment is evolving, and the institution is playing its part in equipping the youth with the skills needed to thrive in a technology-driven world.
Despite the ongoing conversations to actively lead and/or contribute to decision-making, the diverse African young people must first be clear about the issues that impact them and their communities. They must feel empowered to propose and implement solutions. This requires strong communication between young people, community members, and formal decision-makers; recognition of young people’s right and capacity to contribute to – and lead – community development processes; as well as strong youth commitment to mobilise and pursue the change they aspire to, for themselves and their communities.
In recognition of this, Access Bank has fostered a partnership with the Glow Initiative to implement the Climate Leadership Fellowship Programme and provide expert training on climate change advocacy and leadership to young Nigerian leaders to build national climate resilience. The fellowship takes participants through a thorough 4-week expert training facilitated by seasoned professionals on science and climate change topics. Thus far, the programme has churned out five cohorts of climate change and innovation ambassadors, with a total of 300 alumni. These beneficiaries have gone on to further train 75,000 young people in 250 schools across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones.
More initiatives like this are needed to ensure future generations are informed and empowered enough to carry on the legacies built through foundational agreements like the SDGs. As we continue to reflect on the theme of this year's International Youth Day, let us remember that our actions today will shape the world of tomorrow.
The youth are not just our future, but they are also our present. They are catalysts for change, visionaries of sustainability, and advocates for progress. Access Bank stands shoulder to shoulder with Africa's youth, driven by a shared vision of a just and sustainable world. The onus is on all of us – public and private stakeholders alike – to empower our youth with green skills, foster innovation, and ultimately shape a future where prosperity and sustainability go hand in hand.
Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head, Group Sustainability, Access Holdings Plc.
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