Unemployment among our youth is one of our biggest challenges. The time has come to create jobs and lay a new foundation for Nigeria’s economic growth.” This statement was made by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 with respect to the pervasive and disturbing unemployment challenges confronting the Nigerian youth. Despite the sweeping criticisms which tend to trail the announcement of government policies in Nigeria, the administration of Goodluck Jonathan has shown itself being committed to investing in the future of the country and its resourceful and creative youths.
It is in line with this that the administration inaugurated the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN!) Programme in 2011 to address this distressing national problem. YouWiN! Has been described as a business competition aimed at job creation by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth to develop and execute their business ideas. The specially designed competition for young entrepreneurs as well as would-be youthful entrepreneurs in Nigeria is to ensure clarity (as against mere wishful thinking) in the minds of the target group and also to ensure that the Federal Government’s drive to create more jobs, especially young Nigerians, is founded on a solid ground. And the results so far have proved the wisdom of this initiative. The President himself as well as other dignitaries gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of the first set of 1,200 YouWiN! Awardees at the Presidential Villa on April 12, 2012. The same was the case with YouWiN! Women, which was the second edition of the entrepreneurial scheme, designed exclusively for young Nigerian female entrepreneurs. It needs restating that since 2011 when the scheme was inaugurated, YouWiN! as an innovative enterprise programme, has enabled young men and women entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 45 to add value to the economy through their Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
I treating the issue of job creation as a matter of utmost national responsibility that the President quickly went ahead to fulfill his campaign promise to build a pool of enterprising, hardworking, accountable and innovative young wealth creators. The N50billion seed fund for job creation (the basis for YouWiN!) was then quickly made available. With the understanding at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) that the nation cannot afford to toy with the future of its youth, it designed the programme to ensure that resourceful young entrepreneurs who qualify can access financial grants up to N10million each to start their SMEs. One other interesting aspect of the unique scheme is that it is collaborative effort among the Federal Ministries of Finance, Communication Technology, Youth Development and Women Affairs and Social Development. This positive partnership is a unique and novel approach to solving an issue as hydra-headed as youth unemployment across the land. But it is not intra-government collaboration alone. To ensure that the programme is successful, YouWiN! is being executed in co-operation with the private sector to ensure proper coordination, diligent implementation, close monitoring and objective evaluation of the scheme. Credible private sector businessmen and women as well as captains of industry have joined hands to provide mentorship and guidance to guarantee that young Nigerians are properly directed while activating their business ideas.
As far as government programmes go, YouWiN! has, indeed, been a noteworthy success. The winners from the last two editions have, in line with the spirit of the project, are creating wealth for themselves while adding considerable value to the lives of other youths and the entire nation. Being a veritable transformation platform, the government has quickly seized on it to actualise the administration’s Transformation Agenda and push the country to join the league of knowledge-driven economies in which youths also apply their creative energies, activate their dreams and contribute to national development. This was attested to by President Jonathan at the launch of the third Edition in November 2013. He announced with a sense of fulfillment even while acknowledging the huge gap that still needs to be plugged, that over 27,000 jobs had been created since the commencement of the YouWiN! He also reiterated his belief in youths, who he described as not only “vibrant” but equally “intelligent, resilient and hardworking”. And as he gave the clarion call to other stakeholders to support the youth empowerment scheme, the President pointedly urged the governors and the National Assembly to collaborate with the FEC in order that the programme could be expanded in other ways, especially at state and constituency levels, so that as many youths as possible can benefit from YouWiN! or entrepreneurial concepts designed along the same lines. And after going round the stands of YouWiN! awardees, who exhibited their products at the launch, President Jonathan remarked that “the exhibition by a few of the awardees which I have just reviewed confirms that our youths are indeed, industrious and highly talented.” Mr President said he was sure that “with targeted support, the products and services on display here will compete with the best in the world. They will not only serve our domestic needs, they are potentially export revenue earners for this country.” With the launch of the third edition, one would like to encourage the organisers to stay in step with the acknowledged transparency which had been the hallmark of the application and selection process. It is this somewhat un-Nigerian approach to the competition that has made it such a credible draw with both the target and general audiences. If this is maintained, there is also every likelihood that it would attract more private sector players to get involved at different levels. With no less personality like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, being directly involved in the design and execution of YouWiN!, one cannot, but expect that the positive highlights will be maintained and even surpassed. And for the applicants, it bears remembering Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s oft- stated remarks that the scheme was not all about winning money but primarily for empowering young entrepreneurs with the right kind of training to enable them acquire the right attitude and resolve to succeed in the tough business environment.
Kayode writes from Lagos.
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