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Africa’s youth and green jobs for their future

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“What young people can do in terms of playing a role is get informed, but also participate in terms of coming up with ideas that they are able to use to address the climate change issues within their communities.” This is Sellah Bogonko, co-founder and CEO of Jacob’s Ladder Africa, a Kenyan-based NGO spearheading green workforce preparation in Africa.

Sellah’s passion is palpable and her goals are ambitious: “We aim to activate 30 million jobs in the green economy by 2033. What keeps me excited about this sector is the potential, the competitive advantage that Africa has. When we think that we have the largest arable land in the world, we have the largest useful population. Most of the critical minerals across the world actually are found here. And then 40% of the world’s renewable energy potential is also found in Africa.” [Full interview here.]

It is logical that with Africa Youth Day celebrated on 1 November and the whole month of November dedicated to the continent’s younger generation that the topics of jobs, particularly green jobs, and education are top of mind. Moreover, the official figures and projections by international institutions regarding the future potential of the green economy with regards to job creation concur with the Jacob’s Ladder Africa CEO’s vision.

In a recent study, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said Africa’s private sector can bolster its green agenda and drive increased GDP, higher income per capita, create tens of millions of jobs, and foster collaboration between governments, businesses and local communities.

“Africa faces not just incredible challenges on climate change, nature loss, and pollution, but has a uniquely dynamic economic landscape, youthful demographic, and opportunities for decarbonisation, digital transformation and for leveraging an environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework for sustainability in the business sector,” said Rose Mwebaza, UNEP Director and Regional Representative for Africa. “With this report, we hope to inspire African entrepreneurs and businesses, especially audacious first movers, to engage in green growth and contribute to sustainable development goals.”

Covering more than 3-million green miles

In 2019, when Craig Atkinson founded Green Riders, a proudly South African, turnkey, green e-mobility solution, it was a given that the company would focus on making both a significant social and environmental impact. “I’ve always been passionate about cycling and creating something meaningful for the planet and for our people. We knew that we could make an impact in people’s lives and we could do something good for the planet by decarbonising the planet. And during that period, we saw a big spike in the e-commerce last-mile delivery sector.”

Today, the company’s delivery e-bikes can be seen all over Cape Town. Since its inception, Green Riders has employed and trained 875 people, most of whom were unemployed and underprivileged youths (men and women). By October 2023, Green Riders had completed more than 315-thousand deliveries, covering more than 3,385,7740 green kilometres.

Says Craig: “During our training, we definitely try and emphasise how important it is to go green. A lot of our candidates that are now Green Riders actually feel proud to know that they’re doing something good for the planet while they’re making money on the side. So it’s really a win-win situation for us.” [Full interview here.]

Employment in reforestation

Speaking of “green jobs,” over the past three decades, the world lost over 4% of its forests, leaving Africa as the home to the largest forest reserves on the planet. Major investments for landscape restoration and reforestation projects across Africa hold the promise of huge employment creation in a variety of job descriptions, from labour-intensive, to socially interactive to high-tech. Frannie Léautier is a Senior Partner and Chief Executive Officer at Southbridge Investments, who partnered with two major investors during COP27 to kickstart this initiative.

Dr Léautier hails from Tanzania and currently resides in Washington: “The impacts include, first of all, reforestation and land restoration, which brings value not only to agricultural productivity and soil preservation, but also delivers carbon sequestration value, which is important for the whole world. Second, the activities we invest in generate jobs, because these are labour-intensive. Activities like tree planting, rehabilitating forests and taking care of the soils are very labour-intensive..”

She continues: “One element that I’m very excited on the labour-intensive side is for the higher-end skills as well, which is capturing the carbon sequestration value tree by tree and uploading that information through satellites and combining digital devices, handheld devices, with satellite data, doing data analytics, and coming up with a trend and capability of carbon sequestration at the tree level. This generates jobs for young people who are interested in technology and data analysis, but also gives value to young people who would go around collecting information and engaging with the communities and nature in doing so.”

At this year’s COP28 in Dubai, Southbridge Investments will provide visitors to their stand in the green zone an opportunity to experience reforestation in virtual reality says Dr Léautier.  “I hope people come and visit our space to see and feel for themselves in virtual reality what it means to restore a forest, what it means to preserve a forest and the value that these assets bring, not only to Africa, but to the whole world. And to do that in a fun way that will be memorable.”

Crucial building block

“The green economy is a very important piece of the puzzle that ensures our survival,” says Prof Thinus Booysen, Research Chair in Internet of Things and Engineering at the University Of Stellenbosch. He is involved in various cutting-edge mobility projects, several of them focused on solving challenges in public transport. “Another crucial building block that ensures our survival in sub-Saharan Africa and in Africa is that we have to create employment and we have to create the skills. And for me, it’s a no-brainer that all attention should be put into creating the skills that services and enables this economy, which will ensure that all of us survive.”

However, he is not optimistic about the future that many young people face: “I think the youth, at least from my perspective, is in a dire position in terms of skills and in terms of opportunities. And I think what Africa Youth Month allows us to do is to just create awareness again of what the opportunities out there are.”

He continues: “Just as an example, our engineers don’t struggle to find jobs when they walk out of university because they have the skill set to be employed. And I think that’s the opportunity that should be leveraged here. Give the youth hope through providing them basic education and providing them skills so they can service their country in the green economy.” [Full interview here.]

Mentorship to change the world

So, if the opportunities exist or will come along in the next few years, but many young people lack the skills to be employed, how can the youth be inspired to be part of the movement towards a greener economy?

“I think, generally speaking, young people do have it in them, that they can change the world, but I think what is lacking are the tools to change the world.” This is according to Dominic Wilhelm, Founder of the Global Trust Project.

He continues: “In our context, the so-called developing context, I think one of the most powerful things that a young person can have in their life is deep-tissue mentorship, someone or a group of people who can work with an individual or individuals and better enable them to understand the nature of a complex environment, empower them with a value set that understands better, innovation, entrepreneurship, humility … and in addition to that, endurance. I think those are all practical tools and values, which are invaluable in the world that we live in today. Because one thing that certainly doesn’t exist in our complex world today is straight lines. So if we can better enable young people to navigate a world like that, in which there are very few if any straight lines but more complex setting, I think I think we can add some value to young people’s lives.” [Full interview here.]

This article first appeared in the Green Economy Express, issued by Africa’s Green Economy Summit.

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