Guest Blog Post by: Ashley Rogers
Much has been said about my generation, the Millennials. We are painted as entitled, media-consumed, and apathetic. Young folks and less-curmudgeoned old folks have challenged this caricature. However the dialogue overlooks a critical swath of the youth population, namely those non-Western youth who make up the majority of our numbers.
I live in Uganda, a country full of Millennials. With 78% of the population under the age of 30, it's the second youngest population in the world. East African Millennials face a different stereotype; they are painted as either violent hooligans, or worse, helpless dependents.
It's true that conditions are tough, with 80% unemployment of youth aged 15-24. Youth face sexual exploitation, financial exclusion, limited health access, and the indignity of poverty.
From my post as the Director of Operations for Segal Family Foundation, the weight of this reality is buoyed by the groundbreaking work of my East African age mates. They are leading social movements that are bringing a hopeful, vibrant energy to cities like Kampala, Bujumbura, and Nairobi.
My East African counterparts were affected by many of the same global trends that shaped my childhood. Those just one rung up the economic ladder are as active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, as my American friends. They Instagram weddings in the village and navigate Kampala's tangled streets using Google Maps. More importantly, Millennials worldwide share an impatience for injustice and the idealistic notion that we might be able to shake it.
Segal Family Foundation, a private foundation supporting 130 organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa, invests in this generation of leaders. We believe that systems change is not just the work of older generations. In fact, this is an area often better tackled by youth. We partner with Millennials that have decided they won't wait for elders to solve our generation's biggest challenges, but rather step forward and do it themselves.
Here are some examples of how they are doing it:
Financial Inclusion - Two youth in Uganda, Joachim Ewechu and George W. Bakka, exemplify the potential of our generation. Both young men are alumni of Educate!, a program that aims to transform Ugandan education by incorporating entrepreneurship skills and empowering youth to start their own initiatives. Educate! teaches young people that they aren't just the beneficiaries of progress but the very agents that are called upon to create it.
Joachim and Bakka's first initiative was Mara Launchpad, which is one of Uganda's first business incubators. It provides office space, connectivity, mentorship and networking to nascent businesses led by young people. Their second initiative, Angel Capital is enabling more than 500 youth to save, invest and access financing for their enterprises. Their newest project will expand their work to the regional level, as they start Unreasonable East Africa, a 6-week business accelerator program modeled after Unreasonable Institute in Bolder Colorado.
Jaochim and Bakka are changing a business environment that was previously skewed towards large, established entrepreneurs and making it work for young people.
Job Creation - As a Millennial growing up in Burundi, Aimable Havyarimana's childhood was shaken by a violent civil war that permeated Burundi until 2005. His neighborhood, Kamenge, one of the roughest in the capital Bujumbura, offered few opportunities. Having also grown up during the rise of the Internet, Aimable's favorite past-time was tinkering with the dusty computers in Bujumbura's internet cafes. His hobby led him to study computer engineering at the university level.
Aimable and five classmates felt passionate that the freedom they gained through technology should be opened to more youth. Together they created AJDI, Youth Association for the Democratization of Information, which has trained 300 youth in Kamenge to develop websites, write code, and use business software. AJDI then markets these youth's skills to companies willing to pay for contract work, and often eventually hiring the young consultants as full staff.
In a traditional and yet deeply divided environment Aimable pushes back skepticism saying, "No matter how the old generation feel about us, there is no denying we're changing the status quo in Kamenge, and if we have to clear the mess we're inheriting from the old generation, we have to build our capacity."
Activism - Eddy Oketch, combats the forces that seek to divide Kenya's youth for political gain, mostly notably seen in the violence following the 2007 election. Eddy, who became a 'street kid' at age 13, insists that poverty is at the root of violence. As Eddy explains, "If someone is economically independent, he can be politically independent, ideologically independent, and he can be tribally independent." With this in mind, Eddy built, Peace for Africa and Economic Development (PAD), which first empowers youth to start micro-businesses, then connects them to promote peace and bridge rifts between tribal groups.
In the run-up to the 2013 Kenya elections, PAD worked through 350,000 youth to launch a mobile phone campaign, hold unity concerts, convince politicians to make public declarations, and ultimately engage 5 million people in their message for peace. Eddy, still an undergraduate himself, is lifting his fellow Millenials' hopeful and ambitious message to the centers of power, rather than letting an angry and disenfranchised one fester at the fringes.
My hope is that investing in Millennials can make these stories more rule than exception. 10 million young Africans enter the labor market each year. We can see this as a threat, or an opportunity. So, I know we annoy you with our Instagram selfies, petitions via Facebook "like", and generally unfounded self-confidence, but ours is a generation to be proud of, to be rooting for, and to be investing in.
Ashley Rogers is Segal Family Foundation's Director of Operations and based in Kampala, Uganda. She directs SFF's funding and non-monetary support of partners in Africa.