CREATING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR THE YOUTH OF UPPER WEST REGION
A young girl in the Upper West Region is more likely to be married off at a very young age (sometimes to a man old enough to be her father) than she is to get into college. She is more likely to be a poor housewife than a decent wage worker contributing to economic development. She’s more likely to seek greener pastures in bigger cities (mostly risking her life to male sexual predators and kidnappers) than she is to find a decent job at home.
A young boy in the same Upper West Region may not know this, and for that, I pity him. He’s more likely to marry a teenage girl and get stuck in indecent employment than he will get into tertiary education. He is more likely to spend less time trekking to the bush to hunt animals than he will spend walking to school. He’s more vulnerable to criminal/illegal activities including “galamsey”, armed robbery and cybercrime than finding a decent job at home.
These are the harsh realities of today’s Upper West Region. And when I reflect on these complexities, I feel terribly sorry about the state of our Region. No human being regardless of background should have to face these challenges in today’s modern, fast-paced world where other countries are building robots and flying out into space.
This inequality isn’t only disturbing but also striking. We need to urgently build home grown solutions that cater to the needs of the people of the Region, and we must act NOW without any further delays!
But how can we achieve this?
We must massively invest in the Region’s most important asset; its youth. Young people constitute more than a third of the population of the Region (37%) and this number is expected to double in the next 2 decades, thus, presenting a unique demographic asset that can be harnessed into an economic dividend. A successful investment in one youth in the Upper West Region is an investment in an entire family/household and many generations to follow.
How to deploy this massive youth investment
We must urgently invest in business development programs for the young entrepreneurs in the Region. This will immediately create a community of aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs and enable existing small businesses to grow into bigger, more sustainable brands. The result of this will be a massive job explosion and the absorption of the teeming unemployed youth into decent employment in the Region. According to the 2021 population and housing census, more than half of those 15 years and above in the Upper West Region are outside the labour force. This is a development lacuna that must be bridged, and we can easily do this by investing in business development programs that will create job opportunities for the youth. Whilst agriculture is the largest employer of the Region, its performance in providing decent jobs and reducing poverty has been unsatisfactory. These business development programs will offer diverse support to all types of businesses, ranging from technology to the low hanging fruits (e.g., fashion design, food merchandise, clothing shops, etc) among others. In addition, these programs will provide meaningful mentorship opportunities for the youth, especially our young entrepreneurs. For example, a giant like Antika Company Limited could adopt and mentor a small agriculture company like Tieme Ndo enterprise in Nandom. Royal Cosy Hills Hotel could also mentor a small tourism business within the Region. This kind of mentorship will serve as a catalyst for the creation of a booming private sector and help us to develop more sustainable businesses and create decent jobs for the youth. There are great business opportunities in the Region that if well harnessed, will create many decent jobs, but without these business development programs, we would not be able to identify these businesses that need the support and resources to grow.
We must quickly invest in skills training and capacity building programs for our youth. This could be in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) or job readiness training. These kinds of training will equip our youth with the relevant skillset and make them competitive on the job market. Today’s labour market is constantly changing and so are its demands. We must, therefore, equip our youth with the needed and relevant skills to enable them to compete for the limited decent job opportunities. For some, this training could lead to the creation of their own business ventures (self-employment) and will benefit from the business development programs that have been discussed in point 1. This investment in capacity building programs is non-negotiable if we want to create decent jobs for our youth. Traditional leaders, members of parliament, and other relevant stakeholders must consider organizing these programs for the youth or sponsoring youth development organizations to run these trainings for them.
We need to instantly create an Upper West Infrastructural Development Fund which will focus mainly on developing the needed infrastructure for our Region if the government will not do so. Our Region still lacks in numerous infrastructure in key functional sectors such as education, healthcare, and social growth (e.g. roads). All of these have a direct effect on poverty and unemployment levels. Hence, investing in massive infrastructural development will not only provide decent job opportunities for our youth, but it will also encourage young girls and boys to go to school, establish their own businesses, and generally ease and increase business activities in the Region. The Infrastructural Development Fund should be hosted at the Regional Coordinating Council and all our leaders and employed population must be required to make minimum monthly contributions to it. We can then use the proceeds from this fund to create some of the needed infrastructure. The fund should be disbursed according to district contribution, projects awarded to Upper West contractors and jobs given to the youth within the Region.
In addition, we must as a matter of urgency create individual tertiary education sponsorship funds for our youth. In fact, the creation of these funds is long overdue. Wealthy and successful individuals living in and outside the Region should establish sponsorship funds to assist needy students in the Region. This will reduce the rate of school dropout and develop more human resource for the Region. The story of Joshua, my high school classmate, a very brilliant and ambitious young man who ended up as a drug addict and ‘galamsey’ boy haunts me each time I think of the lack of opportunities for the poor and underprivileged youth of our Region. But Joshua’s story is not an isolated one. It is an example of the many stories of the rural poor in the Region. Joshua could have easily passed as a social entrepreneur answering challenging development questions in his community, or a lawyer, standing up and speaking for his community members when the need arises. Unfortunately, he lost all of that because of lack of opportunity! For us to prevent people like Joshua from wasting away, we must zealously and exigently create these tertiary education sponsorship funds to support them. Keeping in mind that our Region is saddled with several development crisis, beneficiaries of these sponsorship funds should be tasked to work on community projects that solve challenges in their communities while they are in school. This will teach them the attitude of giving back and equip them with the necessary skills for the world of work even before they complete school.
Lastly, youth in the Upper West Region should be invited to the decision-making table. Young people need to be in the room when decisions are being made because only they can adequately understand their challenges and proffer solutions to them. The era where it was assumed that young people were incapable has expired. Young people are capable, have bright ideas, and have the energy and exuberance to bring those ideas to life. Hence, the youth need a seat at the high table where discussions on progress and development are held. This can be done through the various youth-led organizations in the Region, and there currently exist many of them.
To conclude, development will not descend from the sky. Jobs will not grow like grass. Poverty will not die like a corn plant. We must take our fate into our own hands and create the necessary conditions that will lead to the development of our Region. And for us, this can only be achieved through youth empowerment and the creation of decent jobs. Therefore, our organization, the Coalition for Positive Impact (www.cpimpact.org), established a business development program named Igniting Dreams, to provide business development support, mentorship, and seed funding for young entrepreneurs in the Upper West Region.
Within the first four (4) years of our existence, we have empowered over 1200 Upper West youth from all 11 districts in the Region, and funded 11 young businesses, leading to the creation of over 40 jobs for the youth of the Region. With more support, we can achieve even better results. Our goal for Igniting Dreams is to develop 100,000 young entrepreneurs and help 1 million young Africans to find decent jobs. 50% of these jobs will be created in Northern Ghana, especially the Upper West Region.
We have also recently launched a program that will allow individuals to establish their own sponsorship funds with our organization to sponsor brilliant but underprivileged youth in the Region to get a tertiary education. As it is often said, talent is universally distributed but opportunity is not. This program will bring sponsorship opportunities closer to the brilliant but underprivileged youth and set their dreams ablaze. This is what we represent – helping young people to bring their dreams and goals to life. Hence, if you are a private individual and are interested in supporting underprivileged youth in the Upper West Region but do not have the time to do so, talk to us. Let us help you bring this impactful desire to life! We will manage your funds effectively and help you to achieve your goals through a meaningful and beneficial partnership.
Social Entrepreneur, Poet and Spoken word Artist