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A call for the development sector to invest in the youth during COVID-19

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A call for the development sector to invest in the youth during COVID-19

Noxolo Ntaka

28 Jul 2020

4min min read
  • Epidemics--Economic aspects
  • Population--Economic aspects

This article is part of a series on youth innovation during COVID-19 developed by the African Centre for the Study of the US at Wits University, the Youth Bridge Trust, and the Africa Portal.


everal large donors have already begun responding to COVID-19 by re-directing their efforts towards research focused on the virus as well as being more flexible with their existing funding models. As donor behaviours continue to shift amid the pandemic, it is becoming apparent that the current COVID-19 reality is one that cannot be solely addressed by health-related non-profit organisations (NGOs).

Instead, increasing attention has been placed on the way in which the pandemic could – and has already – impacted the work of other human-related NGOs. A number of NGOs are therefore finding themselves in a situation in which they are being compelled to respond to the crisis by assisting and mitigating its impact on vulnerable and marginalised communities.

One particular marginalised group, in this regard, is the youth.

The economic impact of COVID-19 on the youth

A recently released report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), indicates that young people, globally, have borne the brunt of job retrenchments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report reveals that more than one in six young people stopped working since the onset of COVID-19, while those who have remained employed have had their hours cut by 23%. As it stands global youth unemployment is on the rise in sectors that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, namely the manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare and the informal sectors.


Although the continent accounts for a small share of the total number of COVID-19 cases globally, African economies are already finding themselves in an impending global economic downturn. This is mainly caused by the decline in oil and commodity prices and a crippled tourism sector due to closed borders. What is most alarming is the fact that COVID-19 has pushed Africa into recession for the first time in 25 years, with growth being forecasted at between -2.1% and -5.1% in 2020 compared to 2.4% in 2019. The outbreak is hitting the continent’s three largest economies – Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola – in a time where weak growth and investment remains a reality.

This downturn is expected to have a dramatic effect on jobs: At the start of April 2020, the African Union estimated that close to 20 million jobs were at risk given the projected shrinkage of the continent’s economies. With 60% of Africa’s population under the age of 25 in 2019, the most vulnerable to such job losses will be Africa’s youth. A step in the right direction in addressing this and the harsh effects of COVID-19, would therefore be for the development sector to work hand-in-hand with the youth in Africa.

How NGOs can tap into the potential of Africa’s youth

COVID-19 presents an opportune moment for NGOs and donors to consider gearing their funding, more aggressively, towards the most vulnerable due to the pandemic. Thus, potential partnerships with youth-led and orientated initiatives working towards the social and economic mobility of youth during this time is crucial. Young people have not only demonstrated resilience and ingenuity in seeking solutions and ideas in times of crisis, they have also taken initiative in adapting to models that seek to respond to the impact that COVID-19 has had on education, engagement, employment, entrepreneurship and their communities. Therefore, donors and NGOs that respond directly to marginalised youth during and post-COVID-19 will not only be increasing their social currency but also maintaining their relevance.

To start, the donor and NGO community need to engage with young people, through formal discussions, with youth-focused organisations that have broad reach and impact on the continent. Organisations such as Africa Matters, the South Africa Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), and YALI Regional Leadership Centers are some of the organisations that would be great to approach given their influence across the continent on young people.

Partnerships of this kind would ensure that NGOs are able to network and speak with young people during and post-COVID-19 on possible funding and investment opportunities. Additionally, this will provide insight into how the youth are responding to the pandemic and where they need assistance most. This is particularly crucial given that the youth – especially those from marginalised communities – have largely been left out of multi-stakeholder discussions with regards to the impact that COVID-19 has had on them and their communities. The relevance of NGOs during this period and post the COVID-19 economy, will thus largely be determined by their willingness to respond directly to the youth considering the continent’s increasing youth demographic dividend.

Additionally, solutions that integrate youth priorities with digital technology could also aid in the actual fight against COVID-19 whilst uplifting the most vulnerable. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that between 29 million to 44 million Africans could be infected with COVID-19 should containment measures prove unsuccessful. A proposal put forth by Kenyan health care experts, Neema Kaseje (Founder of Surgical Systems Research Group) and Dan Kaseje (Professor of Public Health, Tropical Institute of Community Health), is one that could assist in this regard. The two experts propose that young people be trained towards becoming community health volunteers by improving their digital skills and bettering their ability to effectively screen, isolate, test and manage potential COVID-19 cases. Such an approach has the potential to not only increase youth employment during this time but further ensure that youth are able to work at the frontlines of caring for those most susceptible to the virus, namely elderly people and those with underlying conditions.

Concluding remarks

It is evident that donors need to consider funding projects geared towards the youth and the threats and opportunities facing them during this pandemic. Furthermore, it is indicative that, given the high numbers of Africa’s (growing) youth population, donors need to not only capitalise on young people, but also to engage and work with youth-orientated and -led organisations. An approach of this kind takes a long-term and sustainable view to mitigating the impact of the virus. Such approaches have the capacity to truly drive innovation, economic development, and employment across Africa.

(Main image by the World Bank licensed under CC.20)

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.