The Sunday Mail
The global development discourse has over the past few years taken a deliberate focus on marginalised groups, particularly youths.
International trade discussions are also increasingly focusing on including youths and women; more so, in developing countries, where governments are seized with the need to promote economic empowerment through employment creation.
Burgeoning youth populations in Africa make it imperative to consider youth involvement in actively growing exports.
According to the United Nations, Africa has the fastest growing youth population in the world, with approximately 60 percent of its population under the age of 24.
A paper written by the International Trade Centre (ITC) titled “Empowering youth for sustainable trade” states that “a focus on youth in trade is particularly relevant today, given that young people account for a large and growing proportion of the population in many developing countries.”
Most young people are increasingly showing interest and venturing into sectors such as agriculture and agro-processing that perform well on the export market.
There is room to capitalise on this momentum as some of the youth-led businesses have been performing well on the local market and showing encouraging potential to enter the export market.
To enable youths to contribute meaningfully to the development of local exports, there is need to promote small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as they account for the largest businesses owned by this segment.
SMEs contribute significantly to Zimbabwe’s economy and their development into viable enterprises requires that youths be equipped with appropriate skills and knowledge to turn their ventures into viable export businesses.
Capacity building of youth-led SMEs should focus on a number of areas.
For example, there is room for technical interventions that would make it easy for youth-led businesses to penetrate the global market.
Engagements with most SMEs have revealed that most entrepreneurs are not conversant with business skills such as strategy development, creative design and use of technology to develop their exports and position themselves strategically in the global market.
Thus, capacity building can turn local firms into export businesses capable of creating employment opportunities and generating the much-needed foreign currency.
Information support is central in developing youth-led businesses.
Such enterprises are key to growing exports; therefore, keeping them informed of international trends and supporting them to establish their footprint in export markets should be prioritised.
The emergence of e-commerce has given youth-led businesses the platform to participate and survive global value chains.
It is now easy for local businesses to take their products to the world through the internet.
So, provision of ICT-based solutions will enable local youth-led businesses to connect with the rest of the world and allow them to learn from competition.
This way, small businesses will grow enough capacity to reach export markets based on informed decisions underlined by trending issues.
Tertiary Institutions also have a critical role in developing the human capital needed by youth-led exporting companies.
Curriculum in tertiary institutions needs to consider Government’s economic thrust so that programmes are developed to help the country realise its vision of an export-led economy.
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, has been engaging tertiary institutions to ensure the current curriculum includes practical and relevant modules linked to export development.
For example, seminars have been held with local universities such as National University of Science and Technology, and Midlands State University, where lecturers and exporters exchanged information on best approaches to prepare young people on exports.
The incubation hubs being established in most tertiary institutions are a good starting point as they are capable of spawning youth-led start-ups.
With enough nurturing, these can be strong SMEs that will contribute to the country’s export earnings.
As development of youth-led businesses take shape, there is need to address challenges that continuously affect the development of small businesses.
Youths are increasingly facing difficulties accessing finance, management skills, infrastructure and other support services to enable them to compete with established companies.
Financial institutions should, therefore, provide funding facilities tailored for youth-led SMEs.
Conventional funding options often require collateral, making it difficult for young people to get funding.
In addition, young people can also be organised into productive groups, where they can contribute to logistics and other costs that would strengthen their capacity to export.
Learning from other countries such as Rwanda, who have managed to tap into opportunities presented by young people, there is room for Zimbabwe to harness this potential for export growth.
Rwanda ranks high in the terms of ease of doing business and has been driving youth innovation as part of its export growth initiative.
It is now easy for young people to start businesses with government support in Rwanda, and the export environment is convenient for small businesses to thrive.
Some of the private sector initiatives targeting development of youth-led businesses in Rwanda include the KBC Foundation’s 2jiajiri programme, which is implemented in partnership with the National Youth Council of Rwanda.
The 2jiajiri programme, which focus on skills training, is complemented by mentorship and networking opportunities.
Promising young people are awarded with seed capital to start their own business projects.
Such programmes are witnessing a rise in youth-led businesses in Rwanda, which, if nurtured well, could contribute immensely to the country’s export growth.
Further to this, Rwanda established the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF) in 2016 to promote, inform, advocate and mobilise youth in agribusiness, leveraging on support and facilitation from stakeholders.
The youth forum focuses on inclusive development and at the same time creates a platform for young people to grow their agro-based businesses.
Such initiatives are important as they allow government to transform ideas into viable businesses that can help grow the economy and boost exports.
Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s chief executive officer.