Last Friday’s announcement of a stimulus package for youth-led business is critical in many ways because youths make up the majority of the unemployed.
Demographically, the youths make up an estimated 60 percent of the country’s entire population.
On Friday, the Government announced a $17 million relief fund intended to support businesses and associations led by youths. The thinking is to lessen the negative impacts of the coronavirus (Covid-19) on the youth enterprises.
In announcing the fund, the Minister of Youth, Sport, Art and Recreation, Kirsty Coventry, stressed the fund would benefit enterprises and registered associations in existence for periods between six months and a year before the lockdown (March 30, 2020).
In the past schemes, apparently established to kick-start youth enterprises became vehicles for siphoning funds, which funds were subsequently abused and never used for launching or furtherance of businesses spearheaded by youths.
So it was significant, therefore, for the Government to single out beneficiaries as those that have been in business for a specified period. This is intended to weed out fly-by-night and briefcase businesses.
There has been some critical thinking in ensuring that genuine entrepreneurial schemes benefit from the relief fund and that the programme is not swamped by opportunists or dodgy career fund-raisers.
The fund is a grant intended to build the capacity of youth-led businesses and registered associations, engaged in activities complementing the Covid-19 national taskforce’s relief efforts.
In identifying activities complementing the Covid-19 national taskforce’s relief efforts, the Government is deliberately availing a ready market for the youth enterprises. Among the numerous challenges youth-led businesses have faced in the past are difficulties in accessing opportunities.
Activities such as manufacturing and distribution of protective materials, namely face masks, sanitisers and soaps, represent low-hanging fruits for enterprises led by youths because there is a huge market awaiting supplies.
In guiding the youth-led enterprises, the Government should assist in exploring opportunities beyond the domestic market. Organisations such as Zimtrade could be tasked to run with researching markets for the youth enterprises.
The second critical undertaking for the Government is to identify retired people who previously operated in business.
Their role would be, where possible, to ensure the success and growth of the youth-led enterprises.
The retirees need not necessarily be confined to Zimbabwe. They could be regional, but also there is a vast fund of such human capital in the northern hemisphere, who are able, willing and ready to impart their skills. These come normally supported by their national governments. There will, therefore, be no cost implications for Zimbabwe and the youth enterprises.
In suggesting the two approaches cited above, we are informed by prior examples of previous endeavours by the Government, during 2009, 2011 and 2013 with the notable one being an $11 million facility in 2011. This scheme was administered by Old Mutual, CABS, the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, and the Zimbabwe Youth Council.
Its mandate was to fund youth projects throughout Zimbabwe. However, to this day, the scheme stands out as a monument to how a noble concept can be abused in a manner that staggers the imagination. The scheme failed to transform the lives of many youths in Zimbabwe. Many of the beneficiaries used the funds for personal enrichment, such as buying flashy cars, expensive suits, and even paying roora!
An evaluation of the funding disbursed during the above-mentioned three phases uncovered a startling fact: About 70 percent of the funds disbursed went unrepaid.
There is, therefore, a body of information that both the Ministry and the Government should rely on in disbursement and exercising oversight of the use of the relief funds.
But it is hoped that this stimulus package will make an effort to ensure that an equal proportion of the beneficiaries will be from rural areas, since a greater number of the country’s population is resident in the rural areas.
In the majority of cases rural-based youths are often unaware of the opportunities their urban counter-parts access, and consequently they are excluded.
The glitter of and the migration to urban areas can be stymied, if there are deliberate efforts to include youths based in rural areas in efforts to empower and support their activities.
Apart from inclusion of the rural youths, the stimulus package should seek to be gender sensitive in the selection of beneficiaries.
It should also be sensitive in identifying enterprises and associations run by or representing youth with disabilities as deserving support because this form of empowerment will reduce their dependence on others.
Every crisis national or global always spawns its own survivors. This relief fund could be an opportunity and a foundational basis for many success stories emerging from the economic ruins of Covid-19.
For many serious youths, the $17 million relief fund could be a springboard to survival and success in the post-Covid-19 environment.