Are cellphone apps and Facebook the key to empowering African youth?
Technology holds promise for Africa's young people by giving them greater economic opportunity, but sometimes that opportunity is in niches such as music piracy.
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The premise of the salon was that "today’s youth population is the largest in the history of the world, and 90 percent of these young people live in developing countries. The global youth unemployment rate is the highest on record, and we’re seeing discontent and disenfranchisement play out on the news each day. In fact, the revolution in Tunisia started with an under-employed youth committing self-immolation in frustration. … Technology-based models hold great promise for increasing and improving economic opportunities for young people: low barriers to entry for youth-built apps, the widespread use of Facebook and its promise as a marketing platform, the ubiquity and ease of m-Payment systems like MPESA – these should be a recipe for youth economic empowerment.
During the salon we explored three key questions:
- How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?
- How are organizations and programs utilizing technology to reach and engage young people?
- Where should we be cautious or enthusiastic with technology with respect to youth economic empowerment?
This is the first of 3 posts on those questions, starting with question one:
How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?
I was pretty skeptical about the potential for apps, Facebook and m-payments to resolve the youth employment/income crisis, at least in the context of the rural communities in Africa where I’ve worked over the past several years. So leading into the salon, I did an informal survey among some colleagues working in Africa to find out how they observed youth making money using technology, and to see whether the idea above had any legs. My thoughts were pretty much confirmed – in the places we are working, some youth are using technology to generate income, but not so much apps, mPayments and Facebook.
In Egypt, colleagues said that youth are repairing cell phones, serving as DJs at wedding parties, setting up photocopy shops and internet cafes, selling phone calls and airtime, running shops that provide children and young people with the opportunity to play games, and using computers to make flyers and posters for certain producers and products in the communities. They also provide satellite connections for poor families to access national and international TV channels – this service is not legal but generates good income for young people.
In Kenya you’ll find youth managing Mobile Phone Kiosks popularly known as "Simu Ya jamii" (community phones). These double up as phone charging points. Pirated music is big business for some youth and phone unlocking services are increasing. One colleague noted that youth are not really creating applications, but in some of our programs, they are involved in piloting new applications, and thus influencing their development. In Zambia, you don’t see much of this type of activity in rural areas, according to a colleague there. But there are village telcos being operated by youth groups and some village groups are setting up banks of solar chargers to support solar lighting. (Cool result: When they set them up at a schools, encouraging women to come each day to charge their lights, they found that school attendance increased.)
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