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Keeping The Challenge Of Youth Empowerment At The Front Burner

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Nestlé Nigeria Moves To Expand Its Rural Women Empowerment Project -  news.independent.ng

When former American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “We can’t always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”, he knew clearly that the future would always be controlled by those who were prepared for it.

For any country or society, progress is extensively guaranteed when the youths are in active participation in its affairs. By active participation, one refers to decision-making and its implementation. Youth empowerment is basically making space for the interest and views of young people in the society. Asides from that, it also means delegating power and resources to the youths to take charge of key areas of their lives, with quality guidance and limited control.

Of course, it is no fallacy that youths are the pioneers of a blossoming future for any establishment, society, and the world at large. Young people are full of adventure, hope, energy, most importantly; ambition. They dream big and when empowered, pursue such dreams to their logical fulfillment. There is no will power that can surpass that of a developed and determined youth in his/her prime.  

An empowered youth stands out differently from his/her peers. Such a person recognizes their competence, self-determination, and value. They experiment on things worthwhile to them. They possess values they work with. The opinion of others cannot suppress their aspirations in life. When they fall, they pick themselves up and aim for greater and giant strides. Most importantly, they tap into that innate desire to beat the odds and do better by the day.

Although youth empowerment is somewhat different from youth development, they both share one distinct feature: progressive change. Youth development is centered on building up youths, while empowerment is focused on fostering greater community adaptation and involvement in the development of individual competencies of young people.

In empowering young people, there are six dimensions to be considered: social, psychological, community, organization, economic, and cultural. Socially,  youths would be made socially literate and passionate in activities that matter to his/her communities. Economic empowerment prepares them on entrepreneurial skills, how to own and manage assets and maintain financial security.

Developing a young person through leadership training and steering that capacity to integrate the gains of the training with what will benefit the community is primarily the focus of community empowerment. Organizational empowerment comes through voluntary organizations, unions youths can associate with to protect and advocate for the needs of those disadvantaged in the community.  

Cultural development achieves its purpose when it revamps and recreates cultural rules and norms already set out for youths. Psychological empowerment builds the mind to be self-aware of what young person can do . As one’s consciousness spikes, knowledge of problems and their solutions appear in clearer form. However, when one is developed, his/her self confidence comes in handy in handling turbulent times.

Youth empowerment is not just a national issue. It is a global one as well. According to the United Nations, youths make up about 16 percent of the world’s population. Sadly, a greater part of this population lacks the empowerment and development needed to make a change in oneself and the society. Globally, the total number of unemployed youths is predicted to reach 73 million in 2022, slightly better than the figure from 2021 (75 million) but still six million above the pre-pandemic level of 2019.  Back in 2020, over one in five young people in Africa were not in employment, training, or education. Based on a report published by International Monetary Fund (IMF), 40% of Iraqi youth are unemployed.  This is most likely one of the highest in the world as of two or three years ago

Youths worldwide are faced with similar troubles. First is the issue of poverty, which places a limit on everything, including the acquisition of basic education. Next on the list is lack of exposure. Youths are oppressed daily over their words, actions, and opinions. Then there is the absence of mentors and role models to look up to. Society itself shares the bulk of this blame for its harsh stereotype against the youth.

It’s a haunting reality that most countries lack strong youth empowerment policies. Oftentimes, youths have been criticized for poor involvement in politics and decision-making processes. In the case of Nigeria, unemployment, and lack of empowerment plague her youths.

It is remarkable to note that some organizations stand shoulder-high in their efforts to tackle this challenge. Among such companies is Nestlé Nigeria plc.

The brand is one institution that has consistently placed the empowerment of Nigerian youths as a top priority and has consistently invested in youth empowerment and employability. In 2020, the company took a bold step in launching the Nestlé Needs Youth initiatives. The project focused on 3 areas of concentration: employment and employability, entrepreneurship, and agripreneurship.

At the unveiling of youth-oriented project Nestle Needs Youth, the Managing Director,of Nestlé Nigeria, Mr. Mauricio Alarcon, declared succinctly that “It is clear that youth have a critical role to play in building thriving, resilient communities. We believe that communities cannot survive or be successful if they fail to create opportunities for future generations. Through Nestlé Needs Youth, we aim to help young people access economic opportunities. We also want to help equip the next generation of employees, and entrepreneurs, regardless of their field or level of expertise.

“This is important for us as a business because young people are the employees who will keep our company dynamic and competitive in the future, they are the future farmers who will grow the crops we need and the future entrepreneurs who will help us reach new markets. This is one of the ways we create shared value.”

Within the core areas of the project were initiatives like My Own Business (MYOWBU), Youth Agripreneurship Development Program(YADIS), and Employability Skills Building programs.  All these it held in collaboration with other stakeholders including the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and various tertiary institutions including Lagos Business School, LBS, and the Lagos State Government, reaching over 13, 000 young Nigerians since inception. Career fairs, technical skills training, entrepreneurship training and mentorship, and whole others.

As the last COVID pandemic caused major strains on livelihoods, Nestlé Nigeria joined hands with NECA and Redwood consulting to render online entrepreneurial skills training. The training covered topics like how to start a business, logistics, and operations, and market insight. It influenced over 1,000 youths during the lockdown.

Since 2011, Nestlé Nigeria has invested in helping young people harness technical skills in areas like electrical operations, instrumentation operations, mechanical fitting operations, automation, operations and automation at its Technical Training Centres situated at the company’s Agbara and Abaji factories. The 18-month multi-skilled, vocational training program prepares beneficiaries for the prestigious London City and Guilds technical certification.

As employment is a major issue for youths, Nestlé team took it upon themselves to establish My Own Business (MYOWBU) program which supports young people to start businesses as mobile café entrepreneurs.  The MYOWBU operators also form part of Nescafé’s consumer recruitment drive. Ever since its launch, 2,100 small businesses have been formed.

In order to enhance agriculture’s value chain and include young people in the bigger picture, Nestlé Nigeria signed an agreement with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The motive is to help better food security by securing the interest and access of youth in farming and agri-food businesses in West Africa. The aim of the Youth Agripreneurship Development Program (YADIS) is to reach 800 youth in Nigeria over the years.

For the development of youth, it takes engagement from all spheres. Such a young person must have access to quality education. Workshops, vocational training, and leadership seminars, all these help in recognizing the full potential youths possess. As youths and citizens by extension, they’re to understand their duties and roles to their communities and societies at large.

For a developing/ed nation, the youths must be included in decision-making processes. Their opinions should be taken into consideration, and their ideas implemented. They are given the opportunity to design solutions to their problems. They must be provided with resources to take on projects for themselves without harmful interruptions from external forces.

The benefits of empowering youth are endless. First, skills will be utilized to feed oneself and contribute to society. Also, the hassle of employment will be reduced. As an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, an engaged youth will have little or no time for vices, leading to low crime rates. A developed youth will have an improved quality of life and will extend it to others.

There has never been a better chance than now to stake on youth empowerment as they are the future leaders. If administered appropriately, the youths will perform beyond expectations. Youth empowerment gives them the leverage to take control of their lives and take positive steps toward the actualization of their dreams.

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