Young entrepreneurs critical to post-COVID recovery


African governments have been advised to empower and utilise the skills of Africa’s young entrepreneurs as a catalyst to help the continent recover from COVID-19. This view was expressed by Jason Pau, Senior Advisor for International Programmes of the Jack Ma Foundation – a charity owned by Jack Ma, the Chinese businessman, philanthropist and founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba. “African young entrepreneurs are creative and intelligent, and I continue to be blown away by their quality,” Mr. Pau was quoted as saying by United Nations Africa Renewal.

Mr. Pau is overseeing the Foundation’s work in Africa, including the African ‘Netpreneur Prize Initiative’ (ANPI) programme which organises the ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’ competition, under whose auspices budding entrepreneurs get a chance to showcase their talents. ANPI is Mr. Ma’s strategic effort to encourage young Africans to harness their entrepreneurial energy to solve society’s problems.

Given the anticipated challenges of a post-COVID recovery, he noted that the continent “needs more young business leaders who can demonstrate different ways to success, and different ways of leadership. Africa must educate the next generation to be creative, compassionate and culturally aware.

“The math and coding are important, but I think we need to teach children to be human beings,” – adding that Africa must “leverage its demographics for economic growth.  As a result, there’s an urgent need to invest in areas like education, health, technology and infrastructure,” and urged African countries to further embrace the digital economy to foster transparency and civic engagement.

Background to youth empowerment

In pursuance of the UN General Assembly’s International Year of the Youth, the 15th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government held in Uganda in 2010 adopted ‘Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’ as the theme for the next Summit. Also, at the 17th Ordinary Summit of the Africa Union held in July 2011 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, under the theme ‘Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’, delegates discussed the peripheral role being played by the youth in national development.

The summit also highlighted the few achievements made so far in youth empowerment. Indeed, the African Youth Decade (2009-2018) Plan of Action document defined empowerment as: “…having the ability for supporting enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own terms, rather than at the direction of others. These enabling conditions fall into major categories such as an economic and social base; political will, access to knowledge, information and skills, adequate resource allocation and supportive legal and administrative frameworks; and a stable environment of equality, peace democracy and positive value system”. At the Summit, African governments were asked to accelerate implementation of the Youth Decade Plan of Action (2009-2018) and the African Youth Charter.

The Summit called on governments to do more on addressing youth unemployment, in line with the Ouagadougou 2004 Plan of Action on Employment and Poverty Alleviation. Further, at the 8th Session of the AU Labour and Social Affairs Commission in 2011, African ministers committed to an accelerated reduction in youth unemployment by 2% per annum through the development, financing and implementation of Youth Employment Action Plans and a Youth Employment Compact (African Union 2011a).

Policy direction

Ghana’s efforts at holistically addressing challenges of the youth can be traced to the draft national youth policy prepared by the then-Ministry of Youth and Sports in 1999. Several policies were developed and implemented in subsequent years. One key policy aimed at addressing youth unemployment led to creation of the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) under the Ministry of Manpower Development, Youth and Employment.

The objective was to create half a million jobs in three years (2006 – 2009) with funding from the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF), Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND), National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Road Fund etc. to support implementation of the NYEP (Republic of Ghana 2006). In 2008, 107,114 youth were engaged under the NYEP (NDPC, 2010). Despite significant achievements by the NPP government, it failed to launch a new national youth policy to replace the 1999 draft National Youth Policy.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC), which swept to power in 2009, promised to address the challenges facing the youth. The first step was the decoupling of Youth from the Ministry of Manpower Development and Employment and aligning it with Sports; thus creating a new Ministry of Youth and Sports. The second step was the preparation of a draft National Youth Policy to replace the previous one developed by the NPP government, under the theme ‘Toward an Empowered Youth, Impacting Positively on National Development’.

New national policy

The new national youth policy was clear on the relevance of youth empowerment to Ghana’s national development. The document noted that “…empowerment involves the creation of a congenial environment for equipping the youth with knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and ethics…” (Ministry of Youth and Sports, 2010). Consequently, youth empowerment shall involve processes for preparing the youth to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a series of activities designed to make them socially, morally, emotionally, physically and economically independent, and cognitively competent as well”. – (Ministry of Youth and Sports, 2010)

The policy identified 17 challenges facing the youth, and a number of priority areas which include education and skill training; science, research and technology; information and communication technology (ICT); youth and employment; entrepreneurial development; youth in modern agriculture; gender mainstreaming; environment; health, HIV and AIDS; networking and partnership; mentoring; arts and culture; governance, democracy and leadership; sports and recreation; and youth in conflict prevention and peace building. The National Youth Council (later National Youth Authority [NYA]) was assigned responsibility for implementing, monitoring and evaluating the policy.

The National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) was renamed the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Development Agency (GYEEDA).  GYEEDA emerged as a dominant public initiative targetting youth development in Ghana. However, it operated without appropriate legal backing. Little wonder, then, that it was poorly managed and enmeshed in intractable corruption and misappropriation of state funds.

Current initiatives

In the wake of COVID-19, and perhaps in pursuit of Jason Pau’s advice, the government of Ghana has launched several local initiatives targetting the youth as a powerful force in post-COVID-19 recovery.  President Akufo-Addo has underscored the fact that Ghana’s youth can be a positive force for development when provided the necessary knowledge, skills and opportunities to contribute in the growth of a productive economy.

Current broad policies such as entrepreneurial development; youth in modern agriculture; gender mainstreaming; environment, mentoring and coaching; arts and culture; sports and recreation are addressing some of the 17 challenges identified under the National Youth Authority.

That said, the focus of this article is on recent key initiatives in response to COVID-19. One of such interventions is the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (NEIP), which according to government will continue to serve as the primary vehicle for providing integrated support for start-ups and small businesses. It will focus on the provision of business development services, business incubators, and funding for youth-owned businesses. The overall objective is to provide integrated nationwide support for start-ups and small businesses.

The NEIP Business Support Programme is an initiative by government under the Ministry of Business Development to support unemployed Ghanaian youth through training and funding. Additionally, the goal is to assist them set up their businesses and boost existing ones. So far, NEIP has commenced training 12,000 applicants in all 16 regions of the country as part of the president’s support for entrepreneurs and business development. Since 2018, 1,350 young entrepreneurs have been presented with grants ranging from GH¢10,000 to GH¢100,000 to start or expand their businesses.

Another initiative is the ‘Presidential Pitch’, also overseen by the Ministry of Business Development. So far, three Presidential Pitches have been held. During one of the Pitches, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo presented GH¢1million to 20 young entrepreneurs under Season Three of the programme. So far, under Seasons One and Two of the Presidential Pitch, 460 direct and indirect jobs have been created in both urban and rural communities, according to data from the Ministry of Business Development. “Since entrepreneurship is a vital component of economic growth and development, government will continue to support the initiative,” said the president at a recent event.

Grants not loans

The president pointed out that the cash prizes are grants, not loans – adding that this is a demonstration of governments’ commitment to build an ecosystem that fosters opportunity and innovation-driven youth entrepreneurship. The Presidential Pitch winners will continue to receive mentorship, coaching and business advisory services over the next three years free of charge.

Under another flagship initiative of the Ministry of Business Development, the Presidential Business Support Programme (PBSP) Window (3), 26,000 young entrepreneurs are currently being trained across the country to build their capacity and enhance their competitiveness. Data from the Ministry of Business Development indicate that, since 2018, a total of 9,350 young entrepreneurs have been supported with funds and capacity training. 

Northern sector

In a more recent move, government disbursed a total of GH¢10 million to 260 young entrepreneurs in the north to help boost their businesses. The amount was to build their capacity to help play a leading role in creating jobs for transformation of the economy. Key among the businesses are agribusiness and agro-processing, smock-weaving, Information Communication Technology (ICT), animal and livestock rearing, food and beverages, fashion and clothing, among others, he said.

At the event, Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia said the PBSP was set up within the context of Ghana’s long-term strategic vision to consolidate its middle-income status and build an industry-driven economy capable of providing decent jobs suitable for development. Dr Bawumia underscored the fact that entrepreneurship is important for the private sector to become the driver of economic growth. He hence encouraged the private sector to partner with government to create jobs and opportunities for the teeming young populations. He also advised the beneficiaries to look beyond Ghana and set their sights outside the country to market their products and businesses. Dr. Bawumia’s advice buttresses Mr. Pau’s admonition that African entrepreneurs should “do more business with other African entrepreneurs”.


Ghana News Agency, 2020. Government launches National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme

Korboe, D. 2014. Youth Development Interventions in Ghana: Policy and Practice. Ibis Ghana.

Tagoe, MA and Oheneba-Sakyi, Y, 2015. Harnessing the power of the youth through National Youth Policies in Ghana: Challenges to notions of empowerment. Contemporary Journal of African Studies. Vol. 3. No. 1 (2015

UN Africa Renewal, 2020. African young entrepreneurs can help post COVID 19 recovery

(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation(s). (Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586

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