By Prince Kurupati
Pan African Visions sat down with Shingirayi Kondongwe, a Zimbabwean tech-entrepreneur for an enlightening interview on how his Youth Opportunities Hub is conscientizing as well as linking African students and professionals with regional and global opportunities for furthering their academic endeavours and professional careers.
Shingirayi Kondongwe is a Tech-entrepreneur, innovator and policy-maker by profession. He is the founder of Youth Opportunities Hub, a digital platform that specializes in youth opportunities around the globe. He is a former key member of the United Nations Development Programme RBA, New York, where he focused on the Sahel region including Central Africa. Shingirayi is also a Tony Elumelu Fellow having been one of the winners in 2019. He is also a fellow of the United Nations Graduate Study Programme, Geneva, Switzerland (class of 2019).
Academically, Shingirayi holds a Master’s Degree in Energy Policy from the African Union Commission (class of 2020). He also holds a First-Class Bachelor’s Degree in Politics and Public Management (Honours). In addition, he is one of the Directors of Modern World Investments, a property consultancy firm based in Harare.
You are the founder of Youth Opportunities Hub; may you explain the core function of the platform?
Youth Opportunities Hub is the world’s leading platform for global youth opportunities such as scholarships, grants, internships, and fellowships among others. The core function is to publicize information concerning these global opportunities and we do that via our online blog platform, www.youthopportunitieshub.com. As a result, the platform now attracts over three million monthly views.
Youth Opportunities Hub is more than just a platform to access opportunities, but we also venture into important partnerships that advance the welfare of the global youth. We are also creating partnerships with various Youth Organizations around the continent. The most notable partnership that we are working on at the moment is with SAYouth, the largest Youth organization in South Africa responsible for connecting employers to the youths that are in dire need of employment. In conjunction with SAYouth, we are developing a system of tracking progress and impact, for instance, which youths benefited from a training program or employment and how? This data will help us to understand the impact of our programs in the context of developing youth skills.
Recently, we also partnered with the International University of Applied Sciences (IU) in Germany. IU is currently offering 80% scholarships to prospective students for all Bachelor, Master, or MBA degrees. The idea is to make education accessible to everyone who would like to grow on a personal and professional level. The nature of our partnership is to promote this offer through our platform/website.
What motivated you to launch the Youth Opportunities Hub platform and when did it first go live?
When I came back to Zimbabwe from the diaspora around March 2020, it just took me two months of my stay in the country to realize that not much was being done when it comes to the dissemination of information regarding youth opportunities. I realized that the problem we have today is getting information to young people, and that’s how Youth Opportunities Hub was born. Hence, the platform officially went live in June 2020.
It is also very important to note that the World Bank predicts that as many as 11 million young people will join an expanding labour market every year for the next decade. Thus, there is a need to strengthen skills development systems that improve employability, promote access to employment opportunities and increase incomes for inclusive growth. Against this background, I founded Youth Opportunities Hub in order to promote access to employment opportunities by linking the youths to their potential employers as well as filling the dearth of information when it comes to youth opportunities.
From the time you launched the platform up to now, are you recording successes in relation to the platform’s intended objective/s?
Yes, we have managed to set up a team which specifically focus on recording the platform’s successes. We have managed to set up channels for testimonials and success stories. As a result, thousands of young people give their success stories and testimonials and this greatly helps us to understand the exact impact of our work from over 100 countries worldwide where we draw our membership from. Our objective is to assist the global youth to take opportunities that come their way. As Youth Opportunities Hub, believe that “Access to Information” is the passage to success and achievement.
Going into the future, are there any new developments that you are planning to add to the platform perhaps for the benefit and added convenience of all those who rely on the Youth Opportunities Hub for various global opportunities such as scholarships, internships and grants?
We are planning to introduce our Youth Opportunities Hub Scholarship Programme for the less privileged. This is something we have been planning for a long time and we intend to launch the Program by January 2023. For a start, the Scholarship Programme will mostly benefit the countries we receive most website views from and these include South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan and the Philippines. A separate scholarship programme for local Zimbabwean students will be launched around June 2023.
We also want to put more effort into enhancing youth skills. We have done that before, but we want to create more youth programs that will give the youths relevant 21st-century skills. Previously, a good example is our Youth Opportunities Hub Country Representative Program (YOHCRP) in which we selected and connected youths from various African countries with the main purpose of giving them free leadership training. Upon successful completion of the program, each participant received Certificates in recognition of their participation.
To expand the opportunities available to African students, especially the disadvantaged, what do you think African governments and civil society should do? Are there any exemplary programs being done across the African continent which you think should spread to other countries?
Not much is being done to benefit African students and this is extremely disappointing. The responsibility is not only for the government and civil society but for the private sector as well. Now, when we are talking of opportunities being expanded to disadvantaged African students, we are referring to the availability of work and entrepreneurial opportunities.
It is important to note that the world of work as we used to know it may be in the 70s, 80s and 90s is completely different from the current settings. Without undermining the structural unemployment argument, from my own point of view, rather it is the global labour/economic opportunities that are shrinking coupled with population increase. It is a worrisome situation whereby the youth population is increasing yet the economic opportunities are shrinking and that according to me is the main reason why young people are struggling to get employment. If we go back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, if someone finishes a college degree or any form of training, they were guaranteed of securing employment. The world of work of today offers limited opportunities, it’s a survival of the fittest scenario. Now, this is the situation that gave birth to what we call “structural unemployment” whereby those with more years of experience are preferred in comparison to those with little or no experience at all, because of limited economic opportunities.
If we look at Africa, international institutions are not set up for young people. Africa doesn’t have financial institutions and markets to serve young people yet we have a population of 455 million young people and the number is predicted to rise to 850 million by 2050. Today if a young person in Africa go to a bank, for example, they would be probably asked, ‘How old are you? Oh, you are 21 years old… go and bring your tax history for the last 25 years’. What does that really mean? It means young people are excluded from business financing. How can the continent be ready for new ideas, technology and growth in such a scenario?
However, there are solutions and exemplary programs being implemented in Africa. A good example is the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Competition, Ignite Africa, and YouthConnekt among others. Another good solution that can be adopted is to create new financial ecosystems around young people. Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks (YEIBs) must be created and these will be new financial institutions that will create support and finance businesses of young people in a large cycle model throughout, from technical assistance, and debt to equity financing.
On the global stage, do you think African students and professionals are afforded the same opportunities as those from other continents? Do you think Africans are doing enough to take advantage of the availed global opportunities?
Yes, the global arena is fair and opportunities are being expanded to everyone regardless of their culture, beliefs, race or colour. There is overwhelming evidence! Africans are winning top jobs at international institutions, look at the late Kofi Annan, who ran the United Nations. There is Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian, has steered the World Health Organization (WHO) through the Covid pandemic. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian, heads the World Trade Organization (WTO). Makhtar Diop, a Senegalese, who is presiding over an investment portfolio worth about $64bn at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) among other examples. We also have African students who are doing quite well in the global arena, breaking records, showcasing their talents, uniqueness and intelligence. However, I am not denying that until recently, the continent had been largely side-lined.
The biggest question is if we are doing enough as the African Continent to take advantage of the availed global opportunities? The answer is we are trying but more can be done. Africa can do more, but we need to rewrite our story as the African Continent in order to achieve our full potential. I think in terms of mindset and attitude, I think we still have a long way to go. Africa is not really marketing itself well in terms of the achievements that it is making and by this, I don’t just mean those who are in power but I am also talking about ordinary citizens who are doing a lot of transformative work. But the Continent’s image remains backward, at the same time a lot of progress is being made. What does this mean? It means that the continent’s story is not being told in a positive way to the rest of the world. To take full advantage of the availed global opportunities, we need to tell our story well, we need to market our continent in a very exceptional way.
What do you think is the best route to ensure that all students and professionals who are awarded opportunities abroad return to their home countries upon completion of their studies and internships rather than utilizing their skills in foreign lands?
The best route is to make our continent more attractive in the context of making necessary opportunities available and also creating the right environment for individual growth and prosperity. Currently, there are so many obstacles that may militate against Africa’s potential for ideas, technology and growth thereby preventing African professionals to return home upon completion of their studies and internships. Rather, so many of these African professionals end up plying their trade in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Bad policies, corruption and poor fiscal management are proving to be serious obstacles. In addition, conflicts in the context of terrorism and interstate wars are also serious obstacles. For instance, if we look at the current situation in DRC (Goma), Nigeria (Northern part), Mozambique (Cabo Delgado), CHAD just to name a few, the situations there are not ripe for employment, growth, new ideas and growth. New ideas and growth in Africa will thrive where there is peace, good governance, transparency and accountability. The solution is to do away with bad leadership which I believe is the main reason why most of these African Professional prefer to utilize their skills in foreign lands.
Are there any African organizations, institutions and individuals that you want to single out for doing extraordinary work in availing opportunities (scholarships, grants, internships) to Africans?
I think Mr. Tony Elumelu through his foundation namely the TEF, is doing excellent work in availing opportunities for the African youth. Since 2010, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) has helped empower African entrepreneurs from across the continent. To date, TEF has distributed more than $85 million in grants for seed capital and supported more than 1.5 million entrepreneurs from all 54 African countries.
The African Union Commission through the Pan African University (PAU) is also doing well in availing opportunities for the African youth through its annual academic fully funded scholarships. To date, PAU has graduated more than 2000 students from all over the continent. Other notable organizations who are making a difference include UNDP through its youth wing, YouthConnekt, and the African Development Bank through its annual internship programme just to name a few.