First-person perspectives on the world of work
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The Future of Work Podcast

Episode 53
Social justice

The social justice challenge for African youth

20 February 2024

The UN has designated 20 February as the World Day of Social Justice, a day whose sole purpose is to bring attention to the urgent need to make social justice stronger in the world.

But what is social justice? And why does it matter for the youth in Africa, in particular?

Social justice is placing the rights of all people at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies. It means tackling issues such as poverty, exclusion, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, all of which are challenges in Africa.

With half the population of Africa aged 19 or under, and a quarter of the world's people expected to be living on the continent by 2050, social justice cannot be achieved globally if it is not first realised for the youth in Africa.

So what do African youth need to realize their dreams and aspirations, and what are the social injustices holding them back? Discover what the youth believe are the solutions Africa's social injustices and listen to what they say they need to realize their dreams, in their own words.



-Hello, and welcome to the International Labour Organization's

Future of Work podcast.

I'm Anders Johnson coming to you from Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire,

here to talk about and celebrate the World Day for Social Justice.

This International Day is observed every 20th of February

to focus attention on the urgent need

to strengthen social justice around the world,

which includes efforts to tackle issues such as poverty,

exclusion and inequality, unemployment, or a lack of social protections,

all of which are challenges here in Africa.

Now, one of the things that makes this continent so unique

is the age of its people,

and, no, I'm not referring to the fact

that Africa is the cradle of human civilization.

Instead, what I want to draw attention to is the fact

that half the continent's population is 19 years old or younger,

and with one-quarter

of the world's population expected to be African by 2050,

I think it's fair to say that if the world is to achieve social justice,

that will depend, in a large part,

on achieving social justice for Africa's youth.

To unpack this issue, I'm joined today by Jonas Bausch,

the ILO's Regional Youth Employment Specialist for Africa.

But first, based on the principle that "nothing about us without us,"

I'm pleased to introduce two amazing guests,

both young Africans doing their part

to advance social justice for their fellow youth,

Botshelo Mpho joining us from South Africa and Mulombe Chisoti from Zambia.

Botshelo, Mulombe, welcome to the Future of Work podcast.

-Thank you for having me. -Thank you for having us.

-First, tell me a little bit about yourself,

and when you think of the term "social justice,"

what does it mean to you?

-I'm from South Africa, the province of Limpopo,

and a little village in Limpopo called Lenyenye.

I'm an honours student.

I'm yet to graduate in the undergrad degree,

Bachelor of Theology, this April.

When I think about social justice,

the two words that pop up in my mind are "social development,"

and I have three terms that I instantly think about.

It's education, government, and religion.

Education in terms of quality education that advances the lives of the youth

that are getting this education.

When I think about government,

is the government putting in place the structures

that could develop the social structures of the world or rather South Africa?

To focus on South Africa, and religion specifically

because the society in most places is shaped by religion.

-Thank you so much.

My name is Mulombe

and I am a student at University of Lusaka.

Social justice means ensuring all individuals have equal rights

and access to opportunities regardless of their race,

regardless of their gender, their background.

It also means standing up against discrimination

and injustice in our communities, in our countries,

and regions.

-How do you see that link between decent work and social justice?

Is it the same thing for you

or your classmates or are they distinct issues?

-Decent employment includes having job security,

having a proper salary, and working proper hours.

Not overworked and underpaid.

Decent employment is part of social justice

and it's part of achieving social justice.

-Let me ask you, how important is social justice to you or your friend,

your classmates?

Is this something that's a term that you speak about often or not at all?

-Honestly, we do not speak much about social justice,

but I've come to realize this is an important topic.

It's a very important term, in terms of developing the society

that we live in.

In social justice, we are talking about employment,

we're talking about development, in almost all areas of our lives.

It is important that we talk about social justice

in order to advance our lives as well as the people around us.

-For a lot of people when they talk about the question of social justice,

and you said it yourself earlier, it's about inclusion,

it's about opportunities.

What's holding you back?

What's holding African youth back

from achieving the kind of job opportunities

that they so badly need?

-I think it all starts with the limited access

we have to quality education,

skills training.

Most of the jobs that we have now are in the informal sector,

so that means there's no job security, there's no decent employment.

-Botshelo, what about you?

-The world has moved into an advanced status,

it has moved into technology, the fourth Industrial Revolution,

and so forth.

Looking at the people that have graduated five years and 10 years back,

they've graduated in this poor education, or rather the education

that is not really relevant to where the world is today.

Not having these technical skills, not having this is holding the youth back.

People have graduated in theoretical education

and now the world is looking for practical skills.

-What do you see, then, in a way is the link between education

and decent work and social justice?

-The link will have to be practical training, right?

A lot of times when we are talking,

we're talking about how do we fix the problem.

There's a young man in my village who started a backyard garden,

very small, started gardening vegetables, and he'd sell around the neighbourhood.

Instead of people going to the supermarket,

they'd buy from him.

He grew from the backyard and he owns about 16 hectares now,

he's supplying those supermarkets, right?

One thing that we should teach the youth

is entrepreneurship, take matters into your own hands.

Teach them how to create these jobs themselves and for others.

-I think one of the major things is mentorship,

helping mentorship programmes, which is partnering with businesses

to offer hands-on learning and opportunities

to people who are just leaving high school to bridge gaps,

let me put it that way.


In my village,

I affiliate with a certain organization

called [?] Park.

It's a digital organization, and it deals with equipping young people,

as well as women, with digital skills.

It's teaching these young people about the digital world,

about technology,

and, as they grow, they grow with this information about technology.

Rather than taking the different route into the theory of other education,

they fall in love with robotics, for example,

and they take on that career path

leading to greater opportunities and greater heights,

you know what I mean?

For me, that, and also giving women those opportunities as well.

For me, personally, that is awesome.

It's giving the youth hope,

it's giving the youth a chance and the privilege

that social justice is addressing.

These people are given the privilege to go into these fields

that they couldn't have gone to without the practical skills,

the digital skills that these organizations are offering.

-Let's turn now to the region.

Jonas, thank you for joining us.

It's a big question I know,

but what's the youth employment situation in Africa looking like right now?

-First of all, thanks, Anders, for having me today.

It's a pleasure to be here with you.


I would perhaps like to start

by addressing one of the common misperceptions

when we speak about youth employment in Africa.

Somehow there's this notion that for a big part,

young people are to be held accountable,

or are responsible for not being able to have decent employment.

Young people are either unmotivated or idle,

or that maybe they have unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps we rather need to turn that statement on its head and say,

"Well, let's not so much, when we speak about youth employment,

first look at young people.

Let's look at everything around them.

First of all, if we do that,

we will realize that the youth employment challenge in Africa

is an economic challenge.

The underlying reason or the root cause of the youth employment challenge

that we see on the continent is that

African economies have simply not grown,

not just fast enough, but also not inclusive enough.

Economic growth has not translated

into better labour market outcomes for a large part of African youth.

To put it differently,

the image of the rising tide that lifts all boats

has really remained an aspiration for far too long across Africa.

That's one part.

Another part, of course,

is also that schools and training institutions,

universities, in many cases,

they do not adequately prepare young people

for the new and emerging job opportunities

that are out there.

-What kind of numbers?

What's the details in terms of what the ILO has on that?

-As of this year,

around 26% of young people in Africa

are neither in education, employment, or training.

That's one out of four young people in Africa.

When we look at those young people that do have work,

we realize that the overwhelming majority of them,

up of 90%, are working in the informal economy,

meaning they have no access to social protection,

they have often difficulties

to access their rights or representation,

sometimes hazardous or dangerous working conditions.

What is really one of the key problems is that

far too many people in Africa work but still live in poverty,

and not just looking at young people, but at everyone,

that's around 29% of all workers in Africa.

Just in short, to sum this up,

I would say that there's a lack of job opportunities,

but not just of any job opportunities,

in particular of productive and decent work opportunities

that would allow young people to live up to their full potential.

That's the state of youth employment in Africa today.

-Just hold that thought for a second.

Botshelo, Mulombe, what's your take on that?

-I do agree.

In South Africa, we have about 50% of graduates

who are unemployed.

They're not sitting idle at home.

They went to school,

they sought for education, and they got it.

After having those qualifications, what then?

They not do something with their lives?

They did, but after getting those qualifications,

there is no job to go to.

Do you understand?

It's not them not doing anything for themselves.

They have tried.

They have sought education,

they've paid dollars of rands to get those qualifications,

but at the end of the day, there are no jobs.

-A pretty enormous challenge, it looks like.

What is the ILO recommending to help improve the situation?

What have you seen works?

-Yes, let me perhaps just continue from where I left it off.

If we look at youth employment through the lens,

first, of an economic problem,

then also, in terms of the solutions, we should probably ask,

What are the recommendations?

What are the policies

that we need to tackle in order to solve that economic problem?

The term that we are using at the ILO is that

how can we promote a structural transformation

of African economies and societies?

Structural transformation is a long-term project.

It requires for us to move activities, economic activities, and jobs

from low-value-added sectors to higher-value-added sectors,

and to really develop sectors, value chains.

That requires, first of all, sound policies,

but not just any type of policies or just employment policies,

but pro-employment, macroeconomic, sectoral, and investment policies.

Just simply put, it means that

whenever government is considering a specific economic policy,

for instance, investments,

how to scale up public, but also private, investments

we should also look at, what will be the implication for jobs?

How many jobs will that create, or will it create any?

Will it be just capital-intensive, investments maybe,

and what's going to be the quality of these jobs?

Secondly, what we also see has been working

is that the ILO has been supporting countries

in implementing, and also evaluating active labour market programmes.

What are those?

These are, for instance, skills training and retraining programmes,

entrepreneurship promotion services,

or employment services, for instance,

that try to link young people to existing job opportunities.

We have undertaken, over the past year or so,

a massive review of the evidence that's out there.

There has been a lot of attention

on evaluating what works in youth employment.

And what we are seeing is that, on average, these programmes do work

and they work even better if several aspects of them are combined.

I think it goes back a little bit to what we just heard at the beginning,

namely that mentoring programmes and placement programmes,

they are important.

The fact that we combine different elements,

skills training, perhaps, with placement programmes

that connect with the private sector.

These are the kind of approaches

that the ILO has been working with intensively with governments,

but also with workers

and employers' organizations across the continent.

-Well, to all of you then, what are your final thoughts?

If you have a message for our listeners

on how to support youth to achieve social justice and decent work,

what would it be?

-The first thing that I would say is to listen and to amplify

the youth's voices,

and then creating spaces for them to share their ideas

and their solutions for the problems that they're facing.

I think that would be the first step.


In the Social Justice Day, it was stated that

we need African solutions by Africans, right?

I'm saying we need solutions for young people by young people.

Let those who are experiencing this situation,

who are experiencing these issues, this employment,

these social justice issues, tell you what they need themselves.

Do not spoon-feed us.

Do not let us tell you how to feed us,

but actually teach us how to feed ourselves.

Let us be part of the programme.

Let us be part of the system that helps ourselves.

-All right. Jonas, to come back to you, what's the ILO doing to make sure

that young people are part of the solution?

-Indeed, I think young people are a critical,

not just stakeholder or beneficiary, but partner for us to,

together, design programmes and policies, but not just to design them,

also to implement them together.

That is something that we at the ILO take very seriously,

how can we meaningfully engage

with young people and youth-led organizations?

Perhaps I'll just give you two short examples

from our recent work in Africa on youth employment.

For one, we have been developing, together with the African Union,

an AU-ILO youth employment strategy for Africa

over the past year or so,

and we have done that very deliberately together with young people.

It's also important to see the many youth-led organizations

that are out there across the continent

as potential partners for implementing solutions.

For instance, in Nigeria,

we have been working with the Nigeria STG Youth Network

to develop, together,

a digital skills training programme and placement programme,

whereby the ILO has been supporting as a financial and technical partner.

But it was essentially the STG Youth Network in Nigeria

that has put forward, not just the programme, but also curriculum,

and that developed it, and implemented it, and then connected young people

who benefited from that programme with traineeship

and internship opportunities of employers.

I think that was a very positive experience for us

to see that young people have a lot of ideas

and they also have a lot of capabilities

in putting to work and making solutions and making them happen.

-Unfortunately, that's all we have time for today.

Thank you so much to our guests for joining us.

-Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

-Thank you for having me.

-Thank you very much for having me.

-To you, our listeners,

if you'd like to know more about social justice or decent work,

you can find the information on the ILO website at www.ilo.org.

If you'd like to share your thoughts on what social justice means to you,

please do so with the hashtag #socialjusticeday.

For now, thank you for listening to the ILO's Future of Work podcast,

and I hope you'll join us again next time.