Young Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of Young Entrepreneurs in Africa. I know that many of you have joined us here today from the farthest corners of Africa. So I say, karibuni – welcome to you all.
The 21 Session of our Governing Council this week is always a special and very important occasion for us. For it is at this gathering, held every two years, that the Council’s 58 member governments set our agency’s work programme and budget. It is the United Nations in action, and you have the great privilege of joining us to see and learn how we move forward, together, in this rapidly urbanising world.
Your generation is the first in history to face life and the future in an overwhelmingly urban world. The year 2007 marks, for the first time, that half of humanity is living in towns and cities. And in just a generation to come, that figure will rise to two-thirds of all human beings. Just think of it. As young leaders of today and tomorrow how will you manage this situation? This is also the year, in which the global number of slum dwellers is set to reach the 1 billion mark. How do we cope with cities growing in size and growing in poverty? These complex questions define some of the most serious problems we face in this new urban era – in your urban world.
The United Nations has long recognized that the imagination, ideals and energy of young people are vital for the continuing development of our world. This recognition is evidenced by the creation, by the former Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, of the Youth Employment Network. That Network identified entrepreneurship as one of its top priorities.
UN-HABITAT endorses this focus and views this as directly addressing the issues that are at the core of its own mandate to improve the lives of the urban poor, and to foster sustainable urban development. In this rapidly urbanizing world, this mandate can only be achieved by looking beyond the brick and mortar, and looking to peoples’ livelihoods.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I now wish to share some of our latest facts and figures on this irreversible urbanisation of the world. Did you know that Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world today? That Africa’s annual average urban growth rate is 4.5 percent, twice as high as Latin America and Asia? And that already, 37 percent of Africans live in cities, and by the year 2030, this is expected to rise to 53 percent? By then, Africa will no longer be a predominantly rural continent.
Another fact: Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s largest proportion of urban residents living in slums. These slums are home to 72 percent of urban Africa’s citizens, representing a total of 187 million people. These figures show that the locus of absolute poverty in Africa is shifting to urban areas. At the same time, looking at it positively, improving the housing and infrastructure facilities in slums and elsewhere would also mean increased need for skilled workforce and entrepreneurship. I have no doubt that youth can meet this challenge.
Of the estimated 1 billion people living in slums and inner cities, more than half are under the age of 25, and 40 percent of them are under 19. These are the primary victims of poverty. Despite this potentially explosive situation, the problems of urban youth living in poverty are largely absent in urban policies and strategies.
These shocking facts and figures explain in part why young people are so vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, early marriages, prostitution, drug abuse, crime, and AIDS. This is why we are working to keep the candle of hope burning by investing in young people and consulting them.
What solutions are there? The recent Nobel Peace Prize award to Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank shines out as a most apt example of how alternative economic measures like small loans can benefit marginalized communities, which in many developing countries are made up largely of young people.
We already have a road map. In the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, world leaders signed up to the Millennium Development Goals, or the MDGs, as they are popularly called. These are a set of eight goals aimed at combating poverty to ensure a sustainable future. UN-HABITAT is charged with responsibility for monitoring progress on Goal 7, Targets 10 on water and sanitation, and 11, aimed at improving the lives of slum dwellers. Another pointer on that roadmap is Goal 8, Target 16. It urges governments to “develop decent and productive work for youth” – a cornerstone of the Youth Employment Network.
And now I refer briefly again to the priorities of the Network started by the former Secretary General in partnership with the World Bank and the International Labour Organization. It was created under the impetus of the Millennium Declaration. Its work is based on four global priorities known as the four "E's" – Employability, Equal opportunities, Entrepreneurship, and Employment creation.
Thus the partnership between UN-HABITAT, the ILO, and other UN agencies, needs constant strengthening and honing – especially in those aspects of it that involve partnering with you, the new generation. All of this has served to strengthen the 1995 World Programme of Action for Youth which recognised that poverty is growing younger. It considers youth equal and key partners in the global effort to eradicate poverty and attain the goals. I am also pleased to mention here that under the Global Partnership Initiative for Urban Youth Development in Africa, UN-HABITAT has trained a number of young men and women in environmental entrepreneurship in Kenya. We hope to upscale this to other African countries. Our gender program too has focused on training young women in entrepreneurship.
At UN-HABITAT we believe that equitable and sustainable growth is the key to poverty reduction. We recognise that the majority of the poor are young and urban. Worse still at every step downhill, it is women who suffer first from crime and health problems. It is girls who are first deprived of schooling because they have to do housework, and it is their mothers who rarely win in property disputes after separation or the death of their husbands.
More than 30 years of UN-HABITAT experience confirms that the establishment of an adequate and innovative plan for urban poverty reduction requires that we tackle poverty together in an integrated and holistic manner.
Already UN-HABITAT works in many countries around the world, many of them Least Developed Countries. We have a very strong youth component that focuses on crime prevention and youth governance programmes. We promote water conservation through special water and sanitation classes in schools in developing countries.
Youth see entrepreneurship as a way to follow a dream. You carry with you the entrepreneurial torch naturally. Your efforts are the processes of discovering, evaluating, and exploiting opportunities. This is the natural entrepreneurial spirit of youth. You like the idea of running your own businesses. You like the feeling of hope, independence, and of being in control. We must all nurture this curiosity and interest among young people by developing and supporting programs that give youth early exposure to the risks, rewards, and critical thinking skills needed to succeed.
My young friends,
UN-HABITAT views this day as a day to support these feelings of hope. Young Entrepreneurs Day today is a day to share successful practices by youth from across Africa. By sharing your experiences, we hope to show that it's possible not just to show that entrepreneurship is a catalyst for small scale initiatives, but that it can help people attain decent livelihoods and lead peaceful lives in our communities.
We also hope that together, we can work on strategies that will contribute to the creation of future policies and programmes in the area of youth entrepreneurship. This will go a long way to mitigating urban youth poverty and the perception by some that youth are a problem. Instead, we need to increasingly acknowledge youth both as partners and an important part of the solution to sustainable cities.
There are no easy solutions to urban poverty in Africa. It is incumbent upon us therefore, to create new opportunities. The salvation begins right here in Nairobi. And I conclude these remarks by saying we are listening to you.