The potential of our youth population must be considered a high priority in terms of actualizing our country’s shared vision for economic growth and social prosperity. In August, we celebrate International Youth Day, a day set aside to recognize the potential of our Nation’s youth as partners in securing a better future for generations to come.
UNESCO estimates that schools were either fully or partially closed for more than 30 weeks (about seven months) between March 2020 and May 2021 in half the world’s countries. Also, in late June 2021, the complete closure of schools in 19 countries affected nearly 157 million learners, while 768 million more learners were affected by partial school closures. These bleak realities are a setback to the achievement of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, which is centred around education and training.
Last year, young learners across our nation had their education affected by partial or complete school closures, leaving an indelible mark on the process of learning. As an organisation, we consolidated our responsive efforts to the pandemic effects with our Safe Return to School Initiative (SRTS). We used this initiative as a vehicle to deploy handwash points across 37 schools across Lagos, Abuja, and Oyo to support a more familiar way of learning for our young people.
According to population numbers estimated in 2020, nearly 60% of Africa’s population is younger than 25 years old. Additionally, the United Nations projected that in 2020, 62 per cent of the Nigerian population is aged below 25 years. These numbers show that more attention and recognition should be focused on the youths as they determine the nation’s trajectory. Although it is unfortunate that in 2020 the World Bank estimated that 1 million young people would attempt to enter the job market over the next decade, only less than half of them will find formal jobs.
More than ever, the importance of vocational training and upskilling to prepare our youth for the changing labour market demands, especially in emerging markets such as ours, cannot be overemphasized. As an institution committed to making tangible impact in the communities where we have footprint, in 2017 the “Skills for Life” project was incorporated into our Goal program for young adolescent girls between the ages of 11 and 16, to teach students vocational skills, including fashion designing, arts and crafts, culinary services, and basic-level information technology to improve their opportunities in terms of exploring future-oriented qualifications and competencies.
According to UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), 129 million girls are out of school worldwide, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age. These staggering statistics are why female youths should not be left out when education reform is being discussed and implemented. It is essential that the initiatives specifically tailored to address issues that challenge the progression of our youth population, especially in marginalised communities, uphold a focus on creating positive impacts for its benefactors.
Our Goal started over a decade ago and is one of such initiatives that aims to lower the reports of teenage pregnancies and HIV infections by decreasing related risk behavior amongst young women and girls by providing viable opportunities through capacity-building programs that address three levels of personal, social, and economic empowerment. The program has directly benefited the lives of over 600,000 young women, and the program’s scope was expanded in 2018 to incorporate young boys under the banner of “Goal for Boys.” For us we believe in the importance of continuity and want to be there at the critical development stages of entrepreneurs especially women in industries such as technology and innovation. Our women in technology incubator program has invested over USD 250,000 in training, development and mentoring support to over 20 female entrepreneurs including seed funding for finalists.
Based on the global events of last year, we can all agree on the sheer power and reach of the youths. With this power comes a collective responsibility amongst organizations, businesses, the public sector, and the government to create a conducive environment for this group to thrive and champion their independence in a way that gives them social and financial equity.
Standard Chartered’s Futuremakers is a global initiative that focuses on tackling inequality by promoting greater economic inclusion across markets the organisation operates in. Future makers support underprivileged young people, especially girls and people with visual impairments, to learn new skills and improve their chances of getting a job or starting their own business. Regardless of the hardships of 2020, Futuremakers programmes reached more than 168,000 young people and more than 366,000 young people between 2019 and 2020 across 35 markets.
The organisation set out to fundraise and donate USD50 million for Futuremakers between 2019 and 2023 to empower the next generation to learn, earn and grow. In 2020, in response to COVID-19, they committed a further USD25 million to Futuremakers to support economic recovery for young people impacted by the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, USD50 million was contributed to Futuremakers through fundraising and Group donations.
The Bank’s International Graduate program presents the ideal gateway for recent graduates to enter the labour market, equipping them with training and knowledge acquired through practical experience. The 18-month program’s objective is to jumpstart the careers of young people by broadening their horizons in a global, collaborative, and immersive way.
This month, as celebrate this year’s International Youth Day themed – Transforming Food System: Youth Innovations For Human & Planetary Health, which spotlights the need for meaningful effort from our young people in the collective journey towards restoring our planet’s biodiversity and food system as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis. It also encapsulates the necessity for both the public and private sectors to consolidate their concerted efforts towards ensuring the country’s future by upskilling our youth.
The fourth sustainable development goal succinctly captures the idea to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, improved quality of education is paramount for the development of all societies, and there is no initiative too small to push forward this vision. According to Standard Chartered Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters, “Our world will not reach its full potential till the young people are equipped with skills that allow them to compete in whichever market they choose.”. Therefore, more effort needs to be dedicated to making all curriculums more relevant to this global digital community the world has rapidly become.
As we move forward as a country, we must appreciate the vital role the youth play in securing the nation’s future. Achieving our youths’ aspirations is essential to unlocking the potential of this country, and therefore we all must take up this mantle. Education is undoubtedly the starting point for equipping youths with the necessary skills to be gainfully employed. This means that anything that can be done to educate young people, through schools and professional training formally, should be of utmost importance to governments and organisations who envision a solid and sustainable society.
Dayo Aderugbo is the Head of Corporate Affairs, Brand and Marketing at Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited