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Remove barriers to unleash the potential of young entrepreneurs

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Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA/Taken October 11, 2007 – Student leaders discuss issues with fellow students at the University of Johannesburg, Thursday, . Students today entered their fourth day of protests against the increase in tuition fees. South African youth have always been at the vanguard of social change, fighting for their rights and for a brighter future, the writer says.

By Lulu White

When it comes to negotiating economic situations, youth all across the world have distinct problems. With an ever-changing global scene, the problems for today’s youth are exacerbated by difficult economic conditions. South African youth have always been at the vanguard of social change, fighting for their rights and for a brighter future.

When comparing the problems of today’s youth in South Africa to those of 1976, it is clear that, while there has been progress, considerable obstacles remain. Access to decent education, limited employment prospects, and access to entrepreneurial opportunities, are some of the most significant challenges confronting South Africa’s youth. In 1976, young people revolted against the apartheid government’s repressive educational practices which imposed segregation and restricted black pupils’ access to decent education.

Despite substantial improvements since then, modern-day youth, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, continue to confront barriers to excellent educational resources. While it is true, that efforts to improve the education system have been made, the quality of education remains a concern.

Dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate resources, and a lack of well-trained teachers continue to hinder the educational experience. When education systems fail to provide quality instruction and resources, young individuals are left ill-prepared to meet the evolving demands of the job market. As a result, there is a significant disparity between the skills possessed by youth and the skills required by employers locally and globally.

The lack of quality education perpetuates a cycle of limited opportunities for youth. As they enter the workforce with inadequate skills, their chances of securing stable and well-paying jobs diminish. This hinders their personal growth and financial stability and undermines their potential to contribute meaningfully to the economy and society. Due to these factors, many youths remain unemployable. This has made it difficult for them to keep up with the rising costs of living. It has also led to disillusionment, frustration and a sense of hopelessness among young people.

The socio-economic disparities resulting from the persisting legacy of apartheid have left poverty levels disproportionately high among young people, particularly those living in townships and rural areas. In the saturated job market, many young individuals find that starting their own businesses is an attractive option for creating opportunities. However, challenging economic conditions and limited access to capital often make it harder for aspiring entrepreneurs to obtain the funding they need to launch their ventures.

Moreover, young entrepreneurs often lack the experience and access to established networks that can contribute to the growth of their businesses. Without access to mentorship, business training programmes, and supportive ecosystems, they face additional challenges on their entrepreneurial journey. These resources play a crucial role in providing guidance, knowledge, and connections that can help young entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and scaling a business.

Additionally, the geographical location of business centres can present challenges for young entrepreneurs. Many of the centres are located far from central business districts, making it difficult for them to access essential resources and opportunities. This situation is another structural legacy left by the apartheid regime, which contributed to the spatial and economic disparities that persist today.

Can voting and participating in democratic processes improve the situation faced by the youth? Democracy promotes accountability and transparency in governance. When citizens actively participate in democracy, they can hold elected officials and government bodies accountable for their actions and decisions. This includes ensuring fair and transparent procurement processes, tackling corruption and promoting equal opportunities for businesses. Such accountability and transparency help create a level playing field for businesses, fostering equitable access to resources and reducing barriers to entry.

While voting and active participation in a democracy alone may not directly create employment or equitable business opportunities, they play a vital role in shaping the policies, priorities and accountability mechanisms that can foster an environment conducive to economic growth and equity. By engaging in the democratic process, individuals can contribute to creating a fair and inclusive society that benefits all citizens, including fostering job creation and equitable business opportunities.

Despite the challenges posed by tough economic conditions, today’s youth continue to display remarkable resilience and determination. Efforts must be made to address the root causes of youth struggles, including the need for comprehensive employment strategies, accessible education and skills training, and support for entrepreneurship.

By investing in the potential of young people and creating an enabling environment, societies can empower the youth to overcome economic challenges and unlock their full potential, leading to a brighter future for individuals and communities alike. By acknowledging and actively working to overcome the structural legacies and barriers, society can empower young entrepreneurs to thrive, foster economic growth, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable educational and business landscape.

Lulu White is CEO of Elections Management Consulting Agency of Africa