Social innovation guide on creating systemic change in the field of youth livelihoods. 

Youth in Africa are stuck in narratives that frame them as either makers or breakers, vandals or vanguards. They are likely to be discussed as problems to be solved and a generation not yet ready for the responsibilities of adulthood.

Social innovators are redefining the story of Africa’s youth: creating new norms in which every youth thrives and is trusted to lead. They are adopting approaches that do not view youth as the “problem”, but rather as leaders in creating solutions for themselves, and their communities. They recognize the meaningful contributions that youth can make today, and are creating new pathways to ensure young people gain the skills and experiences necessary to thrive in changing job markets.

These innovative approaches range from established and scaling to startups with budding proof of impact, and they serve the full breadth of youth years and experiences from the primary school to higher education, incarcerated youth to rural farmers, recent graduates to out-of-school learners, from informal jobs to formal, vocational or entrepreneurial paths.

Six Paradigm Shifts for Transforming Youth Employment and Leadership

Through interviews and case studies of over 45 Ashoka network social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in 17 countries, six major paradigm shifts have been identified as integral to addressing the historical and cultural marginalization of young Africans, and ultimately changing the ecosystem for youth employment in the region. These shifts also present specific innovation opportunities in the region, and are already being applied by the social innovators featured in this report in order to create impact:

  1. Don’t Exploit Youth or Create Entitlement, Reward Meaningful Contributions

    Creative forms of compensation and personal opportunities ensure young people build a culture of self-sufficiency in re- turn for personally investing their own time or money, moving away from the harmful effects of hand-outs or from asking young people to work or volunteer in critical roles without offering a fair exchange through compensation, recognition, a decision-making voice, or other non-monetary benefit.

  2. Design Classrooms Without Walls — Youth Rapidly Skill-Up Through Community Problem-Solving

    Removing the barriers between classrooms and real-world experiences ensures that youth work in teams to problem-solve and gain essential skills for the workplace, shifting away from overly theoretical, rote education, and narrow work experiences which leave youth unable to keep up with changing marketplace needs

  3. Promote Purpose and Holistic Health as Foundational for Career Development

    Activities that lead to a self-discovery of personal purpose and strengths, as well as support of every dimension of health ensure that youth expand their understanding of what’s necessary for successful, widespread livelihoods beyond skills training, job-matching, and financing. 

  4. Redefine What Counts as a “Good” Job

    Elevating informal jobs as viable respected livelihoods, leveraging alternative industries to expand job options, and promoting a shift in focus from jobs only to entrepreneurship radically shifts the mindset of both young people and the wider society.

  5. Revive Intergenerational Teamwork

    No longer having youth go through each stage of education and development in silos with insufficient mentorship or apprenticeship opportunities, and instead fostering deliberate opportunities and new structures for individuals from different generations to form sus- tained, collaborative relationships creates avenues for the younger generation to be more successful in securing their own livelihoods and wellbeing.

  6. Don’t Just Serve Youth — Trust Youth to Lead

    Moving away from serving youth in a top-down approach that creates a culture of dependency and leaves youth ill-prepared to secure their own livelihoods shapes youth as engaged, active and meaningful contributors to their communities


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