With a rich natural resource base and a fast adoption of the latest technologies, the economies of developing countries have shown tremendous growth in the recent years. Much so that it is still baffling that will all that has been achieved through the efforts of Governments, NGOs, and many other development partners, some challenges still remain unsolved mainly youth related ones. Many countries are still faced with the high rates of unemployment amongst the youth and the many negative impacts associated with it. Just in December 2015, it was recorded that the unemployment rate amongst youth had 13.1% , this problem comes coupled with other related issues such as teen pregnancies, civil unrest and poverty which currently rates 9.6% of people living under $1.90 a day.

However since it’s endorsement in 1999 by the UN Assembly, every August 12th marks International Youth Day, which is celebrated globally with this year’s theme being “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production” acknowledges the role youth can and should play in achieving the recently adopted sustainable development goals, with greater emphasis on goal 1, to contribute towards eradicating poverty in all its forms everywhere and goal 12, to champion in sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Youth has in recent times led the way with innovative, problem-solving solutions mostly attributed to by new technologies. However with rapidly growing populations and the largest youth population in history, much needs to be done to tackle underlying challenges faced by the youth.

The investment in youth not only recognizes the pertinence of looking at development through their perspective but also considers a more sustainability approach to the problem, with youth having the potential of further investing in youth, the agribusiness, technology, and innovation. It is apparent that Youth should be considered as development partners in not only tackling global challenges but also in creating shared value for business investments, which in turn leads the way towards a more sustainable planet.

In our East Africa Sustainability Roadmap 2016 for businesses, we highlighted a number of investment opportunities for businesses including those in youth. One of the key potential areas is the focus on youth-led social enterprises that fail shortly after they start due to lack of sufficient funding, proper mentoring and partnerships.

Agribusiness in Kenya has a great potential for youth empowerment, however, the systems in place make it unattractive for youth, Such that they’d rather seek jobs in towns leaving farming to older people. Companies like KCB and many others lead the way in helping transform livelihoods and landscapes. A youth empowerment initiative by the Kenya Commercial Bank intends to create 2.5 million jobs for youth in the next 5 years, with an investment of KES 50 Billion (approx. USD 500 Million).

If we take a look at the program called 2jiajiri, which offers technical skills, startup financial support and business advisory services in selected sectors; agricultural enterprise, construction, beauty, automotive engineering and domestic services. Launched in March 2016, the program has already enrolled 2,000 youths in 89 institutions for the various 3-6 months courses across the country. They will then be incubated for 12 months. With such business-led initiatives, the global challenges of poverty and unemployment will be history. There is also a need to create shared value by partnering with youth owned ventures that turn a profit while benefiting society.

It is apparent that the role of businesses has become key in societal transformation through successful sustainability/ CSR initiatives that have a positive impact on communities. Initiatives such as business incubation, mentoring, vocational training and funding will help tackle unemployment and alleviate poverty. While investments at the production level and up the supply chain will go a long way in promoting self-employment among the youth and other marginalized members of society, especially in ventures such as agribusiness. Innovations in technology have been evident, from the invention of lion lights to energy saving technologies to mobile apps; there is light at the end of the tunnel. The challenges our planet faces today affect all in one way or the other, only integrated efforts will minimize the impacts and of course lead towards achieving all the 17 sustainable development goals.

As we commemorate the just passed youth day and youth month, it’s important to remember that we all have a role to play in tackling poverty and all the other overreaching challenges, clearly targeted in the sustainable development goals. Globally, youth has shown their potential in ensuring a sustainable future, regardless the challenges they face. Companies have in recent years joined Governments and NGOs in development efforts aimed at transforming society for better and have done a commendable job at it.

Moving forward it is hoped there will be much emphasis on initiatives that encourage the creation of shared value between investors and beneficiaries for continuity. In the meantime for youths’ sake, and of course for the rest of the year, let’s think of ending poverty in all its forms, promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, and ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (Goals 1, 8 and 12 of the sustainable)

Sustainable Square wishes all youth a wonderful celebration and better times ahead!