New model mooted for youth economic empowerment

As the world marks the May Day today, Rwandan bureaucrats are mulling over a better scheme that can genuinely help turn the country’s young population into entrepreneurs and a skilled workforce.
 Efforts are underway to empower the youth with skills that are responsive to labour market needs. The New Times / File.
Efforts are underway to empower the youth with skills that are responsive to labour market needs. The New Times / File.

As the world marks the May Day today, Rwandan bureaucrats are mulling over a better scheme that can genuinely help turn the country’s young population into entrepreneurs and a skilled workforce.

The Ministry of Youth and ICT has already developed a framework on how the country can best develop an entrepreneurial youth. It seeks to decentralise youth economic empowerment schemes and set up a centralised co-ordination framework which will streamline all the entrepreneurship training programmes.

“We have already developed the concept and started consultations with other government and private entities. The whole idea is to set up a new network of youth training centres, from the national level through the grassroots, that are in charge of managing entrepreneurship needs of the youth,” Youth and ICT Minister, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, told The New Times yesterday.

The centres, referred to as YEGO (Youth Empowerment for Global Opportunities), will not only provide training programmes in entrepreneurship, IT, life skills and facilitation (for example, financing, mentorship, and internship) at the grassroots (sector) level, but will also cater for trainers of trainers and manage the entire value chain for youth economic opportunities such as access to markets.

Currently various public and private institutions such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Education, Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and the Private Sector Federation are separately involved in developing entrepreneurial skills, especially among the youth, leading to duplication and a clear lack of coordination among the institutions.

As a result, there is lack of a proper monitoring mechanism to gauge the real impact of the various training schemes, with well placed sources saying that at times “because of lack of coordination, the same beneficiaries keep attending the same training programmes, with little impact.”

Indeed, it’s difficult to state the exact number of people who have so far benefited from various training opportunities over the last few years, even as it remains an undisputed fact that billions of Francs have been invested in various training schemes, with thousands of people benefiting.

In addition, the lack of coordination means that there are no proper training standards. “For instance, it’s not rare to find graduates and primary school dropouts attending the same training workshop (on entrepreneurship),” added the highly placed source.

Asked about the uncoordinated programmes, Nsengimana acknowledged there were structural weaknesses that needed to be urgently fixed urgently, citing the proposed YEGO initiative as one of the envisioned solutions. “There’s no reason why entrepreneurship training programmes, for instance, should not be conducted at the sector level in a more structured way. Each sector has at least a school which can serve as a training facility and Umurenge Sacco (grassroots savings and credit cooperative), which should be brought on board to help address the issue of financing.”

The government has also moved to eliminate parallel financing schemes, suspending the youth savings and credit cooperatives (Cojads), which used to exclusively focus on the youth, preferring that Umurenge Saccos as the main vehicles for youth empowerment. Only two Cojads (for Remera and Nyamata youth cooperatives), which had already acquired licences to operate as micro finance institutions are still operating.

In the meantime, the government has created the Business Development Fund, which is mandated to assist the youth to access loans, especially from micro-lending institutions. However, in the absence of a financial institution that identifies itself with the youth and that specialises in supporting projects involving the youth – the way the Cojads were meant to operate – there are fears that this important constituency will not be in position to reasonably access funding, since most commercial banks and micro finance institutions view it as “a highly risky” population segment to finance.

“There is need for something that runs on the same model as Cojads, which had a deep understanding of the youth demographic and projects. For instance, they would conceive some projects such as buying their members motor cycles or bicycles, which they would repay in instalments and once they have fully serviced their loan, they would own the property. They operated on tailor lease arrangements, which was important for many young people,” said one observer. “Until we get a bank or a similar institution which understands the specific needs of the youth in the local context, there will continue to be a vacuum.”

In the meantime, the youthful Nsengimana, believes there’s need to change from “using consultants to successful entrepreneurs and CEOs” in providing entrepreneurship training programmes. “I believe all people need is learning from people who have lived it, they want to learn from inspiring experiences...not to be lectured by consultants who only talk about models, but have no real experience to share.”

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