Mixed Livelihoods: A Reality for Youth in Africa

The MasterCard Foundation

Originally published by The Young Africa Works Summit

Africa has 600 million young people under the age of 25. These youth have aspirations and dreams of who they want to be, how they will contribute to their communities and the work they would like to do.

Identifying economic opportunities for youth requires understanding the particular constraints and opportunities that youth face. Often, youth employment programs focus on formal sector employment, in the form of preparing young people for a single job.  However, there simply are not enough formal sector jobs that exist for the number of youth who are seeking employment.

The reality is that a combination of self-employment, work in the informal sector and agriculture-related activities will be the pathway out of poverty for the majority of young people in Africa.

In the absence of large-scale employment creation, the informal economy remains a ubiquitous source of economic activity including trading, hawking or working for micro- or small – enterprises. A recent International Labour Organization report found that 75 percent of young people aged 15 to 29 were engaged in informal work.

In this context the true experience of many African youth is that they need to pursue a variety of income sources, moving in and out of different formal and informal experiences as opportunities present themselves. Youth also seek income from a variety of sources at any one time including working for a family farm or business. The mix of activities may change over time as youth build their skills and find new opportunities or in the fluctuation of crop cycles.

As youth find ways to diversify their income, they also need complementary mechanisms for income smoothing, such as being able to access savings accounts or working capital loans. Participation in earning opportunities will also be different for young men and women based on the relative lack of investment in girls’ secondary education in many African countries, lack of opportunities, and other barriers that young women face in particular.

Supporting youth through programs which include a combination of strengthening their skill set, enabling access to financial services and products and informal employment opportunities will not only address short term needs, but will also help young people build stronger coping mechanisms as well as their own assets.

For youth and their households, a recognition that a variety of jobs and income-generating opportunities will likely be commonplace means managing expectations. It also means that there are multiple pathways for youth to succeed and fulfill their own aspirations.