Prioritizing Investment in African Youth key to unleashing their full potential and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals


“Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind.” Kofi Annan

Africa has the youngest population with over 40% of its people below the age of 15, while about 20% of the population fall between 15-24 years age. This exponential growth presents the continent with a great opportunity to harness the potential of its youth in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is the international community’s ambitious response to today’s most pressing global development challenges. 

The youth played a key role in shaping this agenda and experience first-hand many of the issues it seeks to address. Despite this, progress has been uneven, with many young people across the continent still experiencing interlocked forms of discrimination, limited political inclusion, high levels of poverty, and limited access to health, educational opportunities, entrepreneurship and decent jobs. Moreover, young women and girls are disproportionately affected by these forms of discrimination.

While there are many challenges among the young people, the youth bulge that Africa is experiencing presents an excellent opportunity for the continent. Similarly, African youth have established themselves as innovative change makers which is demonstrated through leveraging innovative social entrepreneurship approaches as a source of livelihood; youth engagement in governance, leadership and decision making processes as demonstrated by Nigeria’s “Not Too Young To Run" bill that lowers the age requirement for elective offices in line with its commitment to youth participation in governance; and youth action in ending violence and other harmful practices against young women and girls.

The knowledge, reach, practical skills, social interests and innovations entrepreneurial capabilities portrayed by Africa’s youthful population is essential if sustainable development is to be realized. However, the benefits of this large youthful population will depend on how well the youth are prepared for doing business, employment and other income generating activities. We must all work together to position our young people as innovative problem solvers.

It is time to turn beneficiaries into benefactors.  It is time we did more to invest in the young people. The scale and scope of their ambition requires particularly strong partnerships at every level with young people, who are already engaged in making the SDGs a reality. Investing in youth leadership not only ensures that the future generation is equipped with competencies necessary for strong leadership but enhances young people’s understanding of how to be accountable and inspiring leaders, facilitates positive social change, including structures, policies and procedures that are demand-driven to address the needs of their communities and countries, now and in the future.

Today, we would like to celebrate young people’s critical role as both drivers and beneficiaries of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We can only achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030 if girls and young women are empowered and if they are not left behind, and we need boys and young men to take greater responsibility and be actively engaged to create a gender-equal world.

As UN Women, we have worked to strengthen young women’s participation in policy discussions, consultations and regional or country-level programmes. We recognize the need for gender-sensitive and age-sensitive analysis that can be translated into responsive policy and programming so that we appropriately address the differentiated experiences and roles of young women and men, hear their voices and ensure their needs are met.

Similarly, we have launched a UN Women youth strategy as a road map for our country offices prioritizing youth in their work and achieving results for and by young people. Our doors are always open to partnerships who will work with us to think of ways to engage, reflect and integrate youth perspective in our work at all levels and in all areas.

UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. For more information, visit

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Martha Wanjala, +254725247454