With over 70 percent of Africa’s population falling in the youth bracket - and jobs dwindling by the day - unemployment has become a crisis that needs serious attention from all stakeholders.
Studies have shown that a large percentage of graduates do not have the skills required by employers, something that has led the latter to prefer experienced personnel to fill the vacancies available.
This has left millions of young people on the streets with certificates but no jobs.
This crisis, coupled with an education system that often suppresses talent instead of nurturing it have inspired Yusuf Ssessanga to do something about the situation.
A Sokoine University of Agriculture graduate, Ssessanga who studied horticulture moved back to his native Uganda where he briefly worked in academic institutions and development projects.
His turning point however, was when he started a landscaping business and realised how difficult it was for youth to start and run a business. Ssessanga resolved to become part of the solution. He dreamt of starting a centre to help young people create businesses and put to good use the resources around them.
His dream, he felt, required further education. So he chose to enroll for a masters’ degree in entrepreneurship and enterprise development at the University of Dar es salaam, in 2010.
Towards the end of his postgraduate, Tumaini University College (now University of Iringa) approached him so he could offer support in reinvigorating the entrepreneurship and innovation centre alongside starting a Living lab.
“This was exciting given my passion for youth entrepreneurship and innovation. Together with like-minded people in Iringa town, we started Iringa Living lab, which would later become RLabs Tanzania, an initiative that was supported by Costech and the government of Finland through the TanzICT project,” he says.
According to him, the idea of a ‘Living Lab’ is to mobilize local resources to address challenges in the community.
The project supported them with lots of training and exposure and brought them into contact with RLabs South Africa, who have continued to support their Tanzanian counterparts as mentors.
Every year thousands of young people drop out of school or graduate into a life of poverty and hopeless. RLabs is addressing the challenge by creating a community where the youth feel valued again.
“The focus is on the mindset. The biggest challenge of youth is not necessarily the lack of education or capital but having the right mindset.”
In 2015, when the TanzICT project ended, Ssessanga and his team had to either stop all activities of RLabs since there was no money to run the organization or find other ways to operate without money.
They went with option B because of their passion to support young people who had lost hope.
Having operated for four years without money, in 2019 Costech came in again to support their efforts to set up a Youth Café in Iringa town. The innovation had saved many young people in the region.
“From such a support and experience, RLabs has been able to reach over 1000 youth in 2020 alone, who are now happy with life again,” he reveals.
For instance, Paul Myovellah, an RLabs beneficiary has become an icon in Iringa town. Myovellah joined RLabs in 2015 after failing form four exams. Thanks to a friend who told him about RLabs, he joined the Grow Leadership Program offered at that time.
“Through this training he managed to start a garbage collection business without cash but just an idea. Myovellah and his friends have built their business, Envibright, to a turnover of over 60 million in a period of five years and employ 20 young people,” says Ssessanga.
Myovellah is not the only one who has benefited from the innovation hub in Iringa.
“James, one of the pioneer students at RLabs has built a photography business to a turn- over of over 30 million and employs five other youths in his company,” he says.
Omary, another RLabs pioneer has built his music studio, Mtemi Records which has become a household name in Iringa.
“Some of the beneficiaries of the mindset training at RLabs go back to school, some gain confidence to look for jobs while others start their businesses,” the founder says.
All members participate in the RLabs flagship program called Grow Leadership Academy, which has a strong focus on positive mindset transformation, entrepreneurship and digital technology.
“As social entrepreneurs, we have to lead by example and create income generating activities. We need to use what we have to create more value for the youth in our society,” he observes.
Yusuf says the most exciting moment for him is seeing young people who were rejected finally proving society wrong, showing that they have a contribution to make.
“There are many young people with immense potential who have been unfortunate and been let down by the education system. These need to be encouraged and supported as they too deserve a better future, and with a little belief, the sky is the limit for them.”
Tanzania’s populous group is anxiously waiting for government to fulfill its party’s 2020/25 manifesto, which promises to create not less than 7,000,000 jobs for youth.
The 60th anniversary of the Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE) held last week was an opportunity that brought together the government, employers and other stakeholders.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa who officiated the event reiterated to employers to give priority to young Tanzanians in the available employment opportunities because they were now employable.
“We urge employers to continue receiving our graduates, build their capacity and get them in positions where they can fit,” says Majaliwa.
He said government has instructed learning institutions to prepare young people who are able to perform at the workplace.
The fact that young people’s dreams are lost soon after they are unemployed has led stakeholders to push for alternative ways to enable more young people to become self-employed. “Even as the government creates employment opportunities, a plan must be developed to equip unemployed youth with the skills to do other things that will earn them income,” Dr Dominic Mpalanga, a development expert and employer tells Success.
Dr Margaret Mushi from Mwenge Catholic University, says everyone who is creating jobs for youths should be supported to expand and accommodate more.
“RLabs has helped a lot of young people, not only the unemployed graduates but also those who dropped out of school for various reasons. We need such creativity as a country,” she opines.
Dr Mushi stresses that government, employers, higher and mid-level learning institutions, as well as other development partners, should work together to end the problem.
By Lilian Ndilwa and Jacob Mosenda