Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Basotho youth have what it takes to transform the economy: They just need the right support

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Photo: Gil.K / Shutterstock Photo: Gil.K / Shutterstock

The power of aspirations in shaping youth's educational and career attainment cannot be overstated. In Lesotho, we surveyed the aspirations of young Basotho (people who share the language and culture of Sesotho, inside and outside the borders) to shed light on their preferences, perceived barriers, behaviors, and outcomes regarding their education and career goals. In this blog, we present the main results of our Survey of Young Basotho’s Aspirations and Challenges which reached over 1,000 youth aged 15 to 35 from different ecological zones, including urban, peri-urban, and rural areas in the country's lowland, river valley, foothills, and mountains. 

Lesotho's youth accounts for almost 40% of the total population of 2.2 million and 60% of its working-age population. We believe young Basotho could drive economic and social development with the right skills and opportunities . Shockingly, about 40% of Lesotho's youth are not in employment, education, or training (NEET), representing a significant loss of human capital and a missed opportunity. 

No evidence of low horizons

Aspirations are crucial in determining the educational outcomes of young individuals.  However, international evidence warns about the possibility of an “aspirational trap” when vulnerable people under-aspire and, consequently, invest less effort than needed to achieve positive economic outcomes. However, our survey found that this hypothesis is not applied in Lesotho. Instead, about 80% of the surveyed youth aspire to complete tertiary education. High aspirations are consistent across gender, age groups, geographical areas, and ecological residence zones. 

Yet, 60% of youths fail to achieve their educational aspiration (Figure 1). The aspiration gap, the difference between aspired and actual educational outcomes, is higher among youth from the poorest wealth quintile. Youth cite time constraints, competing household responsibilities, and a lack of family support as their main challenges. These factors are deeply interconnected, as in the case of those youth who are asked to drop out of school to engage in income-generating activities. 

These findings suggest potential complementary areas for policy action to support youth and close this aspiration gap , including linking financial support to educational attendance and strengthening time management skills to help them cope with multiple and competing responsibilities.

Figure 1. Young Basotho’s educational attainment, aspired and actual, by educational level

Lesotho youth education attainment
Source: Authors’ elaboration based on survey data

Born entrepreneurs? Basotho youth score high on personality traits associated with business success.

On career attainment, contrary to popular belief, youth are not simply waiting for public sector jobs. Instead, about two-thirds of the youth aspire to become entrepreneurs or self-employed. To further explore their entrepreneurial potential, the survey included a psychometric assessment to measure personality traits and mindsets linked to positive business performance. The assessment reveals that youth score relatively high (over 3.5 on a 5-point scale) on most dimensions (Figure 2). However, youth disproportionately focused on today’s needs (present bias), lacking future thinking, orientation, and planning. Youth also showed relatively low levels of a growth mindset — the belief that success is not innate and can be changed with hard work and effort. Key structural constraints are a lack of access to finance and credit, inadequate skills, and competing household responsibilities. 

Figure 2. Average scores on selected personality traits (Likert scale 1-5)

Source: Authors? elaboration based on survey data
Source: Authors’ elaboration based on survey data

A gendered crisis with a disproportionate impact on young women

While young women are highly and more educated than young men, their educational levels do not necessarily translate into better career attainment. Young women are 1.5 times more likely to be unemployed than young men. About 44% of young women fall into the NEET population, compared to 30% of young men. These figures highlight the challenges young women face in accessing decent employment opportunities despite their higher levels of education. 

The sectoral structure of employment confirms occupational segregation by gender. Young women are 33% less likely to complete a training course than their male peers. Understanding and addressing gender-specific constraints in the Lesotho labor market, including the need to shift regressive gender norms, for example, by empowering women to take up jobs in traditionally male sectors, may help harness the country’s youth potential.

What youth policies are needed? Ask the youth

The survey results demonstrate that young Basotho possess significant potential for entrepreneurship and self-employment . They have high aspirations, are proactive in seeking opportunities, and are willing to take on the risks associated with starting their businesses. Additionally, they score high on personality traits and mindsets linked to positive entrepreneurial performance, such as proactivity, self-efficacy, and resilience. Therefore, it is critical to design multi-faceted programs encompassing economic (e.g., training and entrepreneurship policies) and social (e.g., social norms, psycho-social services) dimensions to address the challenges to realize their potential.


Samantha De Martino

Economist, Poverty & Equity Global Practice, World Bank

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