As we pass through Youth Month, it is vital that we address the pressing need to provide opportunities for young people and tackle the high unemployment rate in South Africa. The South African government’s chosen theme for Youth Day 2023, “Accelerating youth economic emancipation for a sustainable future,” compels us to explore how entrepreneurship can serve as a catalyst for creating numerous opportunities for the country’s youth. Rather than solely focusing on the daunting task of creating over 220,000 jobs daily, let us empower young individuals to forge their own paths and generate their own opportunities through entrepreneurship.

Youth entrepreneurship has become more accessible than ever before, with both the government and businesses stepping up to support emerging businesses in this space. By encouraging entrepreneurship, we can transform the job market from a source of anxiety and scarcity for young people transitioning from their studies to a realm of possibilities where bright ideas can disrupt industries and create employment opportunities for their peers.

This month, we invite you to embrace the challenge of identifying and supporting young, talented entrepreneurs. You may be surprised by the abundance of remarkable individuals out there. Allow us to introduce you to three local businesses led by inspiring young entrepreneurs: Colin Mkosi from Cloudy Deliveries, Rabia Ghoor from swiitchbeauty®, and Thapelo Nthite, Sange Maxaku and Xolisani Nkwentsha from Botlhale AI.

What we can learn from these remarkable individuals is that having great ideas and the drive to bring them to life are the keys to embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. With the availability of young entrepreneur accelerators and support programs, young South Africans now have more resources than ever before to help them create their own opportunities.

Why South Africa Needs More Young Entrepreneurs

As Africa’s population continues to expand, South Africa’s growing youth population faces the persistent challenge of unemployment. However, despite having one of the highest unemployment rates globally, South Africa also holds significant promise in entrepreneurship.

With only 15% of employed young South Africans (aged 15 to 34) being entrepreneurs, it becomes clear that supporting and encouraging them to explore and embark on their entrepreneurial journeys could be the key to unlocking the nation’s economic potential. Here are five reasons why youth entrepreneurship is crucial:

  1. Reducing youth unemployment
  2. Encouraging growth within the informal sector
  3. Job creation
  4. Inspiring and motivating other young entrepreneurs
  5. Contributing to poverty alleviation

Challenges Faced by Youth Entrepreneurship

While supporting young entrepreneurs through accelerators and funding initiatives is crucial, we must also address the barriers to youth entrepreneurship adoption among young South Africans entering the job market. One such challenge is arguably the lack of entrepreneurship education and skills development.

Although the government has recognized youth entrepreneurship as a potential solution to youth unemployment for years, adequate training in entrepreneurship has not been sufficiently implemented in public education. While this challenge may be expected within the public sector, the private sector can also play a significant role in entrepreneurial skills development by investing effectively in supporting entrepreneurship.

The challenge lies in how the corporate sector approaches investment rather than effectively addressing the issue. Many private-sector initiatives aimed at supporting enterprise and supplier development (ESD) programs often adopt a checkbox mentality, prioritizing their internal return on investment over broader societal impact. This approach creates a disconnection between fund allocation, genuine needs, and purposeful activation.

The current emphasis on short-term impact measurable in annual reports disregards the critical opportunity for long-term solutions. By fostering entrepreneurship success and focusing on what benefits the country as a whole, we can achieve tangible returns and lay the foundation for a more prosperous economic future.

It is important to recognise that job creation is not the primary expertise of most private sector companies. Thus, expecting them to single-handedly solve this issue would be unrealistic. This underscores the significance of partnerships between the private sector and business growth organisations. Together, they can move beyond short-term victories and embark on a transformative journey toward creating long-term societal impact and fostering inclusive economic growth for generations to come.