Day 3 – SAM – The challenges of reaching the young

Part of LMDF’s aim is to work with populations that are most excluded, including those in rural areas, women and youth. Our MFIs are fantastic at providing products for those in rural areas and do a lot to work to ensure loan schedules fit with crop cycles. Products have also been developed with women specifically in mind, including special efforts and education to support empowerment.

Yet reporting on the proportion of young people reached remains poor. And in fact MFIs find this to be a real challenge. This might be surprising – Africa is a youthful continent. 60% of the population is under 25 and the continent is home to many of the countries with the youngest median age.

Niger 15.4 years
Uganda 15.8 years
Mali 15.8 years
Angola 15.9 years
Malawi 16.5 years
Zambia 16.8 years
Burundi 17    years
Mozambique 17.2 years
South Sudan 17.3 years
Burkina Faso 17.3 years

* World Population Review 2018

This youthful population can be considered as giving the continent considerable potential. Such a population structure has nearly always precipitated a period of strong growth. However, at the moment, youth unemployment often remains pronounced in the countries with young populations. This led many of the people I spoke with in the SAM to comment on the social problems which were prevalent among the young, notably drinking and gambling and gangs and violence.

Despite the obvious need for opportunities for these young people, microfinance institutions may often be reluctant to work with youth, because they may be transient, unreliable or less committed and require considerable support.

Nonetheless these concerns should not prevent MFIs from trying to work with youth, given this is one of the key challenges facing Africa. It was good to hear from several institutions working hard to address these issues. Many MFIs have realised that training is crucial to ensuring young entrepreneurs exceed with their businesses. Other MFIs have tried building models that appeal to young people looking for work such as supporting them to buy motorbikes and become boda boda drivers.

It will be interesting to see how products evolve for young adults – as this area is so key for the future of the African continent.