Youth Engagement Summit Report


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A review of the successfully concluded Youth Engagement Summit. Intercontinental Hotel Mauritius, 25th-27th December 2013

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Youth Engagement Summit Report

  1. 1. Youth and Emerging Digital Value Chains of the 21st Century by Madanmohan Rao Conference Chair, Youth Engagement Summit 2013 Youth represent the future of a country’s prosperity, and ICT environments need to be aligned to the emerging value chains of the 21st century to effectively engage youth. This seemed to be the general consensus of the first edition of the Africa Youth Engagement Summit, held in Mauritius from Dec 4-5. The event was organised by Extensia, a leading community of major ICT players active in Africa, and hosted by the government of Mauritius. For the first time in history, youth are more in tune with new technology than their elders, earning them the name ‘digital natives.’ At first glance, many think that youth are easily distracted, play too many games, prefer online interaction rather than face-to-face, suffer from attention deficit disorder, and are unaware of online security risks. Further research, however, reflects that youth today are more creative, expressive, globally oriented, connected, mobilised and entrepreneurial than ever before. Youth in recent times have created successive waves of startups which became ICT giants: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook were all created by college students and in some cases even college dropouts! So can the next Facebook or Google come from the youth of Africa? The inaugural YES summit featured two sets of discussion topics: high-level snapshots of what Africa’s ministries, mobile operators and educators are doing for their online youth, as well on-the-ground insights with case studies and workshops. Youth today expect quick responses to their activities on social and mobile media – which call for responsive infrastructure solutions, community engagement models, and new career paths. As digital infrastructure continues its rapid evolution, higher-level issues of Internet governance, security and the Millennium Development Goals also need to come into play for youth. The conference profiled the activities of ICANN, AfriNIC, UN agencies (UNDP, UNICEF) and Wikimedia Foundation in the region. Country profiles were presented from across the continent, featuring Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya, Namibia, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Angola, and The Gambia.
  2. 2. Solution showcases featured the works of five companies, and workshops were conducted on big data, open content, mesh networks and digital entrepreneurship. Incubators and awards schemes have been developed across the region as ways of incentivising youth in the digital arena. The summary in Table 1 for the YES event draws on my “8 Cs” framework for the knowledge society which I prepared for United Nations’ WSIS (see my paper “Visions of the Information Society” In other words, youth will be truly empowered if they have affordable access to digital media, content generation tools, community support, incentives to contribute to the knowledge society, pro-active culture of collaboration, and capacity building for entrepreneurship. Table 1: “8 Cs” of the Knowledge Society: Youth engagement in Africa Parameter Initiatives in Africa Connectivity Free WiFi (Sierra Leone), low-cost laptops (Kenya) and tablets (Mauritius), schemes for ICT access for people with disabilities (Egypt), rich-media campus networks (Nigeria) Digitised textbooks and e-learning modules (Sierra Leone) Content Community Capacity Commerce IT clubs and community service centres (Egypt), mobile ICT labs in buses for rural communities (Angola) AIS/AFRINIC Fellowship Programme, gender inclusion policies and mentorship (The Gambia), research networks + certifications in IT training (Nigeria), internship programmes (Angola), capacity building for SMEs (Egypt) E-commerce laws (Namibia), m-Pesa (Kenya) Culture Common spaces for innovation (Angola’s Media Libraries network) Capital Investment and incubation for startups (Kenya and Mauritius), Societal Acceleration Platform (Namibia) Alliances with Microsoft and IBM for startups (Mauritius), Southern Africa Innovation Support (SAIS) Program, partnerships between Wikimedia foundation and mobile operators Cooperation ICANN is promoting a participative and multi-stakeholder approach to Internet self governance in Africa, and the Dot Africa consortium is advocating domain name branding strategies for the region.
  3. 3. Egypt regards “digital socio-economic development” as the way forward to prosperity, freedom and social equity. Countries such as Kenya and Namibia are formulating Vision 2030 ICT statements, which include a youth focus. In the region, Kenya stands out as a hub for ICT startup activity, with entrepreneurs developing products and services for bulk SMS management, polling, content mapping, and social media gateways. Design thinking is being promoted as a discipline, and crowdfunding is emerging as an attractive funding option. The Mauritius Technopreneurship programme provides not just technical support via hackathons and bootcamps but also capacity building in communication skills and business plan writing for startups. Challenges in Africa will continue to be in improving rural access to ICTs, creating content and services for agricultural communities, accelerating social innovation, and strengthening inter-ministry cooperation for youth initiatives. Encouraging moves from the point of view of youth include the emergence of BPO initiatives in many countries, followed by startup hubs and incubators. Governments can do a lot to accelerate e-government services and thus lift the tide for a broader range of e-services and entrepreneurship. Further developments on youth engagement initiatives in Africa will be tracked on the Extensia portal ( and explored in 2014 events such as the Innovation Africa Digital Summit to be held in The Gambia on March 2527. Dr Madanmohan Rao is the author of 15 books on ICTs, knowledge management and culture. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao