The UoN Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, had the distinct honour to host the 3rd African Research Universities Alliance- Centre of Excellence for Unemployment and Skills Development (ARUA, CoE-USD 2022) International Conference themed “Sustainable and Workable Solutions for Youth Unemployment in Africa.” The blended conference was held at the University Of Nairobi Towers - the Chandaria Centre for Performing Arts on July 26th -28th and was marked through a series of activities; Research paper presentations, keynote presentations by international industry experts, mentorship sessions, and the African Youth Business and Innovation competition (YOBIC 3.0) Hackathon.

The primary objective of the ARUA CoE for Unemployment and Skills Development is to tackle the challenges of youth unemployment using a stakeholder network approach involving academic research institutions and non-academic institutions with shared vision, interests, goals, and objectives of developing integrated approaches to maximize youth employment opportunities. Addressing Africa’s multi-faceted causes of youth unemployment will not only drive inclusive economic growth but will also draw economic dividends from Africa’s youth-concentrated demographic.

Speaking on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Stephen Kiama during the opening ceremony, the Associate Vice Chancellor, Research Innovation and Enterprises-University of Nairobi; Prof. Margaret Hutchison acknowledged the need  for continuous research and projects to  identify key factors to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment in African countries and provide platforms to engage young people and stakeholders as active actors in exploring solutions for creating economically productive future.  “Youth employment is a subject of great concern to us who nurture and prepare the young people for their dream careers and employment... The menace of youth unemployment in Africa cannot be ignored. The youth make up around 40 % of the working-age population in Africa but they constitute 60% of the unemployed.”

The Dean, Faculty of Business and Management Sciences; Prof. James Njihia while welcoming participants to the University of Nairobi highlighted initiatives being undertaken by the  Faculty to shift from a theoretical approach to practical entrepreneurship focused curriculum that imparts students with necessary practical skills to create jobs.

The Director, ARUA-Centre of Excellence for Unemployment and Skills Development (CoE-USD), University of Lagos, and Prof. Sunday Adebisi in his remarks articulated the specific objective of the conference.   “This conference will examine how to combat the aggravating state of youth unemployment through policies and practices that can drive sustainable and Innovative Solutions”.

During the conference, 65 Research papers were presented by students from various African Universities. Team Tawi from the University of Nairobi was declared the overall winner in the African Youth Business and Innovation competition (YOBIC 3.0) that was held on Thursday 28th July 2022. The team won a cash prize of 3000 Pounds. The team members Victor Baraza, Wechuli Eugene, Preetesh Jakharia from the Faculty of Health, and Shirley Wandera from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences developed the Tawi Health App to promote access to healthcare services.  2 students from the University of Nairobi won a cash prize of 200 pounds each in the top 10 best research papers presented during the workshop. Alice Aloko Odingo’s paper on Socialization nexus in the achievement of sustainability agenda and Kenya Vision 2030 and Ndirangu Ngunjiri’s paper on Capital market growth, Big four agenda development in creating youth employment opportunities will be among the top 10 research papers to be published in a special edition ARUA CoE-USD 2022 Journal.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Research- University of Lagos; Prof. Bola Oboh encouraged the youth to take advantage of available opportunities to showcase their ideas and innovations. The Executive Director, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis; Dr. Rose Ngugi gave a keynote address on Sustainable and workable solutions for youth unemployment in Africa. Her presentation brought out the significant role African Universities play in transitioning graduates into the labor market and the need to focus on activities that drive economic growth like manufacturing. She also made a passionate appeal to the youth to gain critical skills that will help them get into entrepreneurship. 

Professor Tony Bailetti from Carleton University-Canada made a presentation on Cross border and digital entrepreneurship for overcoming youth unemployment and creating decent jobs in Africa. Prof. Bailleti challenged the youth to think beyond geographical borders and leverage technology and seek opportunities that allow them to work from anywhere in the world. 

Ms. Teju Abisoye from Lagos State Employment Trust Fund discussed Rethinking informal entrepreneurship as a sustainable solution for decent job creation to combat youth unemployment in Africa. Ms. Abisoye recommended that governments shift focus from the formalization of small- Medium enterprises and instead focus on improving productivity. 

Prof. Gituro Wainaina from the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences made a presentation on Sustainable Development Goals and Youth opportunities in Africa stating “Each of these 17 SDGs resonate with the youth” he called upon the Universities to equip the youth with practical skills and tools to practice innovation and creativity.

The mentorship session saw Young African Entrepreneurs, scholars, and CEOs of big start-ups from Kenya and Nigeria share experiences and recommendations.

The resounding message to the African Youth from the over 20 speakers during the conference:

 “The youth need to innovate and collaborate with the private sector and government so that inventions are adopted across the region and world. Entrepreneurs are solution providers; the Youth should look at the problems in society and come up with ventures that solve those problems. Entrepreneurship is the best way to solve this big problem of unemployment”

 The ARUA, CoE-USD 2022 is sponsored by the ARUA-UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) Capacity Grant. The conference was attended by students from the University of Nairobi, University of Lagos, University of Kwazulu-Natal, University of Ghana, University of Cape Town, Fountain University Osogbo-Nigeria, Addis Ababa University- Ethiopia and Jomo Kenyatta University, University of Dar-es Salaam among others.