Kenya, US can help youth get jobs

This week, US President Barack Obama will make his much-anticipated presidential visit to Nairobi, where he'll attend the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Addressing this summit is in many ways a perfect bookend – six years ago, in one of his first major addresses abroad, President Obama announced the creation of this summit to elevate youth and entrepreneurship as critical components to bringing greater economic opportunity to countries around the world.

That address in Cairo in 2009 came just as the world was reeling from the financial collapse that rippled across economies and societies. As he spoke, no one yet knew the full impact the global recession would have on employment and opportunity, particularly for young people.

Now we do: in the aftermath of the crisis, in nearly every region of the world, youth were hardest hit by unemployment. Even today, the youth employment rate is far from pre-recession levels in many places.

In Africa, the youth employment crisis is compounded by the reality that the youth population on the continent is set to double to 400 million, with more young people entering the workforce than there are jobs waiting for them.

In Kenya, up to 80 per cent of 2.5 million youth are unemployed. In the United States, youth unemployment for 16-19 year-olds is more than three-times the overall unemployment rate.

Early career opportunities are critical: research indicates that, at least in the United States, two-thirds of all wage growth that an individual will see over the course of their lives occurs in the first ten years after reaching working age. If young people do not have access to wages for several years, this can have a devastating impact on their overall lifetime earnings.

Given this global challenge, the Summit comes at an opportune time for our nations to share best practices and find common solutions. President Kenyatta has made youth employment a priority on his agenda, working with the private sector and philanthropy to stimulate new job creation for youth in the booming field of information communications technology.

When I visited Nairobi in March this year, The Rockefeller Foundation pledged to work alongside his administration to connect high potential but disadvantaged youth to jobs in the ICT sector through our Digital Jobs Africa initiative.

The initiative seeks to improve one million lives across Africa through these job opportunities, and is working in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

President Obama might consider a similar approach using his recently launched TechHire initiative. While currently focused on helping to train American workers to attain high-paying technology jobs, there is opportunity for him to also include a focus on getting disadvantaged youth into entry-level technology-centric jobs.

Both countries are seeing the value of public-private partnerships to addressing the youth employment crisis. President Kenyatta has brought multinational and African-based companies to the table to hire more youth, through a practice called impact sourcing — the deliberate employment of high-potential but disadvantaged youth. The government has also introduced a tax rebate benefit to all employers who hire at least 10 new graduates and interns as apprentices for 6 to 12 months.

In the United States, a consortium of 17 companies led by Starbucks, Microsoft, and Walmart just pledged to create 100,000 jobs for what we call "opportunity youth", those between the ages of 16-24 who are not in school or in a job.

This is a critical step to levelling the playing field for young workers, and the US government, alongside the initiative's funders, including The Rockefeller Foundation, must collaborate to provide companies with the tools to make this a reality — and then hold their feet to the fire.

The youth employment crisis is a worldwide problem in need of both global and local solutions. With two presidents who have prioritised the need for youth opportunity and entrepreneurship, this week's summit can surface ways our countries can work together to benefit disadvantaged youth in both of our nations.

Together, we can demonstrate to the rest of the world that unemployed young people are not just a policy challenge, but are critical to the long-term economic development and success of our societies.