“The mentality of youth in Senegal is changing. These days, young Senegalese aren’t waiting for job opportunities to fall from the sky. They are actively working towards creating them for themselves, and for other youth.” These words, spoken by 30 year old Thierno Niang, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Rev’evolution, a youth run, self-funded start up incubator, struck a chord with me. Thierno and I were discussing his role as a panel moderator for the Youth Forum on Employment, Training, and Inclusion: A Knowledge-Sharing Event for Sub-Saharan Africa, the first ever youth event of its kind organized by the World Bank office in Senegal.
Oftentimes, institutional events that address the topic of youth tend take a “parental approach” where participants strategize about how they can provide more jobs for youth or provide more mentoring programs. “Providing” for young people, like parents provide for their children, is only natural. And yet, somehow, it removes a bit of agency from the young people it is meant to help.
It was with this in mind that the World Bank office in Senegal changed strategies to develop an event that wasn’t just about analyzing the situation of today’s African youth demographic and their prospects, but more importantly about engaging with youth, hearing from youth, and letting youth drive the discussions and strategizing. Thierno and his colleague Mamadou Ndoye (who returned to Senegal from Canada to co-found Rev’evolution), were two of over 20 young Senegalese that either moderated, presented, led discussions, or showcased their talent at the two day forum.
Over the course of the event, which took place June 6th and 7th, this dynamic group of youth demonstrated to their older cohorts that for them, real partnerships and trust in their abilities was worth much more than handouts. They also proved on many occasions how much potential there was for successful youth to pull up other youth.
Take for example social entrepreneur Cherif Ndiaye and his initiative Ecoles au Senegal (Schools in Senegal). Ndiaye, who runs his own communications consultancy firm, reinvests a large percentage of his firm’s profits to fund his second start up, Ecoles au Senegal. This education platform is completely free and consists of easily accessible teaching videos covering the Senegalese high school curriculum for students who cannot attend classes consistently or need to review certain classes or concepts to be able to obtain their diploma. Ecoles au Senegal is run by a small dedicated team of youth who film the classes, edit the videos, create networks with teachers, and manage social media. Thanks to them, more students are passing high school despite the many challenges (overpopulated classes, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment) and parents and teachers alike are taking note.
Ndiaye is just one example of the many young people in Senegal who are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and creating businesses and services that hire other youth and serve the needs of young people to come. His presentation during the forum did not fall upon deaf ears. Institutions like the World Bank are listening and events such as this youth forum are creating sounding boards for how best to engage with and support Africa’s youth.