The global development discourse has over the past few years taken a deliberate focus on the marginalized groups, particularly youths.
Discussions on international trade have not been spared as they are increasingly focusing on inclusivity of the youths and women, more so in developing countries where governments are seized with the need to promote economic empowerment through employment creation.
The youths are a major demographic that is growing in Africa and it is important that they be considered in taking an active role in growing Zimbabwe’s exports.
According to the United Nations, Africa has the fastest growing youth population in the world, with approximately 60 percent of its population under the age of 24.
A paper written by the International Trade Centre (ITC) titled “Empowering youth for sustainable trade” states that, “a focus on youth in trade is particularly relevant today, given that young people account for a large and growing proportion of the population in many developing countries.”
Most young people are increasingly showing interest and venturing into sectors that perform well on the export market such as agricultural and agro-processing sector.
There is room to capitalize on this momentum as some of the local youth-led businesses have been performing well on the local market and show potential to take part in the export market.
The Harare-based Fresh in a Box a fresh produce online business is one example of how youth-led businesses can be innovative at providing a convenience service to consumers.
To enable youths to contribute meaningfully to the development of Zimbabwe’s exports, there is need to promote Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as they account for the largest businesses owned by young people.
SMEs contribute significantly to Zimbabwe’s economy and their development into viable enteprises requires that youths be equipped with appropriate skills and knowledge to turn their ventures into viable export businesses.
Capacity building of youth-led SMEs should focus on a number of areas. For example, there is room for provision of technical interventions that would make it easy for youth-led businesses to penetrate the global market.
Engagements with most SMEs have revealed that most owners are not well versed on business skills such as strategy development, creative design and use of technology to develop their exports products and position themselves strategically in the global market.
Thus, capacity building can turn local businesses into export businesses, creating employment opportunities and earning the country foreign currency.
Information support is central in the development of youth-led businesses. The youth-led businesses are key to the growth of Zimbabwe’s exports and keeping them informed of international trends and supporting them to establish their footprint in export markets should be prioritized.
The emergence of e-commerce has given opportunities for youth-led businesses to participate and survive global value chains.
It is now easy for local businesses to take their products to the world through the internet. Youth-led businesses should not be left alone.
Provision of ICT-based solutions will enable local youth-led businesses to connect with the rest of the world and allow them to learn from competition.
This way, small businesses will grow enough capacity to reach export markets based on informed decisions, underlined by trending issues.
Tertiary Institutions also have a critical role in the development of human capital needed by youth-led exporting companies.
Curriculum in tertiary institutions needs to consider the economic thrust of the Government so that programmes are developed to help the country realise its vision of an export-led economy.
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, has been engaging tertiary institutions to ensure the current curriculum includes exports development practical and relevant modules.
For example, seminars have been held with local universities such as National University of Science and Technology, and Midlands State University where lecturers and exporters interacted on the best approaches to prepare young people on exports.
The incubation hubs being established in most tertiary institutions are a good starting point as it is from these that youth-led start-ups are being established. With enough nurturing these can be strong SMEs that will contribute to the country’s export earnings.
As development of youth-led businesses take shape, there is need to address challenges that continuously affected the development of small businesses.
Challenges faced by the youth in business include the lack of access to finance, lack of adequate management skills, lack of adequate infrastructure and other support services to enable them to compete with established companies.
To address these problems, financial institutions should avail funding facilities tailored for youth-led SMEs. Conventional funding options often require collateral, making it difficult for young people to get funding.
In addition, young people can also be organised into productive groups where they can contribute to logistics and other costs that would strengthen their capacity to export.
Learning from other countries such as Rwanda who have managed to tap into opportunities presented by young people, there is room for Zimbabwe to harness this potential for export growth.
Rwanda ranks high in the terms of ease of doing business and has been driving youth innovation as part of its export growth initiative.
It is now ease for young people to start businesses with government support in Rwanda, and the export environment is convenient for small businesses to thrive.
Some of the private sector initiatives targeting development of youth-led businesses in Rwanda include the KBC Foundation’s 2jiajiri programme, which is implemented in partnership with the National Youth Council of Rwanda.
The 2jiajiri, which focus on skills training is complemented by mentorship and networking opportunities and promising young people are awarded with seed capital to start their own business projects.
Such programmes are witnessing a rise in youth-led businesses in Rwanda, which, if natured well, could contribute immensely to the country’s export growth.
Further to this, Rwanda established the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF) in 2016 to promote, inform, advocate and mobilise youth in agribusiness, leveraging on support and facilitation from stakeholders.
The youth forum focus on inclusive development and at the same time creating a platform for young people to grow their agro-based businesses.
Such initiatives are important as they allow government to transform ideas into viable businesses that can help grow economy and boost exports.
Companies should leverage on preferential trade agreements Companies should leverage on preferential trade agreements
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