Clean energy sector to empower Africa’s youth

Green Shift Africa aims to harness green entrepreneurship opportunities in Africa to lower youth unemployment on the continent.
Published: Mon 13 Jun 2016

In Africa, the market for renewable energy is gaining momentum and it is highlighting the significant opportunities that exist in the continent’s energy market.  This is good news for a continent that has a high level of unemployment, specifically the youth of which 70% are jobless.  

In its recently published ‘World Employment Social Outlook, the International Labour organization (ILO) stressed that “based on the most recent growth projections, global unemployment is expected to rise by nearly 2.3 million in 2016 and by a further 1.1 million in 2017 and emerging economies are expected to see an increase in unemployment of 2.4 million in 2016. This largely reflects the worsening labour market outlook in emerging Asian economies, in Latin America and in commodity-producing economies, notably in the Arab States region and Africa.”

The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki–Moon observes that “Of the 1.8 billion young people worldwide, nine out of 10 of them live in least developed countries, and many in Africa…. And the number of young Africans aged 15-24 is set to double by 2045. Ban says that by harnessing its demographic dividend, the African continent could add up to $500 billion per year to its economy, for as many as 3 decades.  

Green entrepreneurship opportunities in Africa

The Africa ‘2063 agenda’ of the African Union (AU) Commission suggests that things be done differently in order to secure the continent’s future. The agenda suggests that Africa adopts a more global strategy to optimize the use of its resources for the benefit of all Africans. The continent is home to an abundance of  renewable energy, specifically solar  so it would make sense to harness this significant potential.

Speaking to Engerati at African Utility Week, Steve Arowolo, founder and CEO of Green Shift Africa, says that  green entrepreneurship opportunities could provide some of the answers to Africa’s unemployment problem especially in a world where shifts in technology, change in climate, population increase and stressed global economies are changing the way we work.

Arowolo explained that he would like to see these opportunities translate to economic empowerment for Africa’s people.He told Engerati: “In Africa, and elsewhere around the world, youth unemployment is a serious problem.  We would like to see how the new energy sector in Africa can help address youth unemployment.” He adds: “There is a great need for new skills and training in the area of green entrepreneurship.”

Green Shift Africa, a Pan-African Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with established footprints and representatives in all the five regions of Africa, was established in response to this growing need. Arowolo explains that the rationale for Green Shift Africa is driven by the imperatives of the sustainable development agenda to spur innovations in green technologies, as well as deliver affordable food, water and energy to all Africans.

Green project to alleviate poverty

The organisation is currently promoting the launch of its new initiative tagged Project GEO, which stands for Green Entrepreneurship Opportunities (GEO) for young and aspiring African entrepreneurs. It calls on policy-makers, community leaders, academics, private and public institutions, as well as other civil society organizations to partner with Project GEO to collectively address this problem through the adoption and use of green entrepreneurship education and training as one of the practical tools and measures going forward.

Project GEO is a 5-year project to be conducted and facilitated by industry experts, environmental educators, experienced entrepreneurs across Africa and beyond. The pilot phase of the project will begin with a 5-week online workshop towards the end of 2016, after which successful participants will converge in Cape Town, South Africa for a 21-day boot-camp where practical applications and green business proposal formulations will be the basis of training and assessment.

Project GEO will work with social entrepreneurs in the green economy sector to empower and support participants with initial start-up capital, as well as mentor them to success in their green ventures.

Arowolo says: “Africa needs to empower her youth, and Project GEO seeks to contribute significantly to this objective. Our priority is green entrepreneurship development. We are using education and training as tools of engagement with the energy sector. We are championing a cause for African youth and we aim to leverage the vast opportunities in the green economy sector to empower African youth through green entrepreneurship education. Project GEO will help us meet these goals.”  

Overcoming challenges in Africa’s energy sector

Funding power and energy projects is a serious problem according to Arowolo but he believes this can be overcome through partnerships and collaboration across a broad spectrum of businesses.

Another major challenge is the issue of skills. He advises that deliberate investment in skills and training should be encouraged and both government and private institutions should prioritize investment in skills acquisitions and training in the green economy sector.   

Despite these challenges, Arowolo believes that Africa is on track to harnessing its resources-both its workforce and its natural resources. However, he says that more emphasis is required when it comes to energy policies that cater for renewable energy in Africa. He adds: “These policies must have a human face and people must be at the centre of such policies.”

He adds that the AU commission must come up with a clear renewable energy policy for the continent and this policy must be jointly driven by both the people and the government.  

“There must be leadership on the part of policy makers, and we have seen what is possible when the Obama administration took leadership on climate policy through its implementation of Power Africa initiative and the Electrify Africa Act that was recently passed by the US congress. Investors will be interested in Africa when there’s an enabling environment. Policy should be tailored towards creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive in Africa. Ease of doing business is an integral part of what investors are looking at before investing.”

For further information on project applications, visit http://greenshiftafrica.org/projectgeo/. Applicants can choose to apply in English, French or Arabic. The training will be conducted in the applicants’ chosen languages.