Nothing for us without us

Youth in South Africa and the rest of Africa need to begin defining what Youth Service means to them and what the broader aim of youth service programmes should be in addressing the high levels of unemployment in Africa. As the main beneficiaries and participants of National Youth Service (NYS) programmes youth need to begin defining and owning NYS programmes and directing the resources injected into them to address their own challenges.

 Youth in Africa have been labelled a ‘Youth bulge’ in the academic circles due to the fact that they are causing a challenge to governments who have to address and find solutions to the high levels of unemployment facing Africa today. The question of whether the large number of youth in Africa today and tomorrow is a burden or an opportunity to African states is one that is yet to be answered.

For those who don’t know what National Youth Service is, NYS can be broadly defined as  “an organised period of substantial engagement and contribution to the local, national, or world community, recognised and valued by society, with minimal monetary compensation to the participant” (Sherraden 2001;2)

National Youth Service programmes such as the South Africa’s National Youth Service, the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps and other youth service related programmes such as lov Life, City Year South Africa, NARYSEC and many others were represented at the “National Youth Service, Employability, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Livelihoods” Learning Forum that was held at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 25th and 26th November 2013.

The two hosts of the forum were Volunteer & Service Enquiry Southern Africa (VOSESA) whose mission is to ‘support the growth of knowledge about civic service and volunteering in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region through research, publishing and evidence based advocacy as well as Innovations In Civic Participation (ICP) an American based organisation involved in promoting sustainable development and social change in the youth civic engagement space.

The main aim of the learning forum was to draw upon and share the research and learnings of NYS programmes from African countries across the continent.  19 African, 2 European and 2 Northern American countries were represented on the day which made for a very interesting mix of culture, experience, language and opinion.

Though the learning forum covered a broad range of topics and conversations such as ‘What can NYS do for Youth entrepreneurship?’, ‘How can NYS prepared young people for employment?’, ‘Private sectors role in enhancing youth employability through NYS’ and ‘How can NYS prepare young people to build their livelihoods when they are unemployed?’, the key focus areas of the forum was the need for strategies for strengthening youth employability, entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods through NYS.   

One of the highlights of the forum was a research paper that has been compiled by Carrie Bodley-Bond and Karena Cronin based on a study done by Carrie, Karena, Mariatu Fonnah, Dr. Tinashe Pfigu, Susan Stroud and Marie Trellu-Kane on National Youth Service in Sub-Saharan Africa countries. This research gives youth of Africa and Southern African opportunity to learn about what programmes on the continent are like and what promised practices can be promoted in making youth service programmes more effective.

As a young person who had the opportunity to attend the event and represent the Serve Is Organisation of which I am a member I feel it is very important that youth in Africa begin participating in programmes not just as beneficiaries but as advisers, designers, and as advocators for change in programmes where they feel that programmes are not addressing the root of youth related challenges; If the challenges of youth are unemployment, creating sustainable livelihoods and the need for great support in entrepreneurial activities then youth today must demand that the focus of programmes both private and public begin addressing this need. Above and beyond that the mainstreaming of such programmes must become a priority to ensure that local, rural and urban youth begin benefiting from such programmes aim to have a ‘one size fits all approach’ which ignores the fact that youth are a diverse group.

The happenings in North Africa during the ‘Arab Spring’ reflect quite clearly what happens when the voices of youth are not heard or listened to and the learning forum in itself represents the first step in bringing attention to the need for YS to begin developing and addressing African Youths pressing needs and challenges which will not just be fixed with short term solutions that do not empower youth themselves to solve their own issues.

The youth represented at the forum took a resolution to begin mainstreaming the conversation on what national youth service is and have taken it upon themselves to encourage other youth to join the conversation. To join this movement of Youth seeking to understand, define and own the ideology of youth service follow me on @Smnukwa, or send me an email on

“Nothing for us without us” – African Youth Service and Beyond

Sherraden M (2001) Youth Service as a strong policy (CSD Working Paper). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

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