The crowning of Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi as Miss Universe confirms that our youth are more ready than ever to take their rightful place on any global stage – all they need is an opportunity, says the writer. Photo: Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – I was invited to visit South Korea by the Korea-Africa Foundation last week to discuss and engage on sustainable ways to build a stronger Korea-Africa relationship, which was established last year.

The South Korean government believes that the future of the Korea-Africa relationship is the youth – and start-ups remain a common ground to build this partnership, says ambassador Yeon-ho Choi, president of the foundation. 

Representatives from the African Union (AU), African Development Bank, UN and many more echoed the sentiments and encouraged the South Korean ecosystem to forge a stronger alliance with Africa. The AU shared its vision to positively impact one million young people by 2021, by focusing on entrepreneurship, education, employment and engagement. 

Youth represents 65% of Africa’s population – so much more needs to be done now to nurture them towards realising their full potential. South Korea’s ecosystem is also pushing for its youth to become global founders, gain global insights and remain globally aware to help them partner better with their counterparts, while building products that can benefit the global community. 

I was also fortunate to be on a panel that adjudicated ten South Korean start-ups, with the winners walking off with some much-needed grant money from the government. 

The government is also forging ahead with various local institutions to build sustainable SMEs and start-ups. After speaking to a few youngsters, I was quite impressed with the amount of support they get from their government. 

One (a 27-year-old) recently received 300 000 000 million won ($252 million) to scale and expand globally. The business is a venture company that specialises in robotics that make electrical appliances smarter and easier to use. It’s also developing educational robots, IoT platforms and modular robotics kits. The young founder’s story of how they built this company and employed over 100 people was quite an eye-opener for me. 

Across the continent, we have institutions with lots of monetary muscle to support youth development. I really wish that leaders and those mandated with the means to empower young people will devote their time and energy to seeing them succeed. 

More often than not, these organisations fail to support young people because they deem them too immature to be entrusted with such large amounts of capital. But the global evidence negates this archaic and traditional mind-set, as the advance of new technology is being led by many young people.  

After returning from South Korea, I attended the Science Forum at the CSIR in Pretoria, which focused on open innovation, with many hubs and technical colleges sharing their work and opportunities, as well as various embassies and international organisations highlighting youth scholarship opportunities. 

With over 500 youngsters in attendance eager to grab opportunities, I am more convinced than ever that our youth are not lazy; they are hungry to work, grow, succeed and contribute to their respective economies.  

Waking up yesterday to the news that young Zozibini Tunzi won the Miss Universe title gave me goosebumps and clearly confirms that our youth are more ready than ever to take their rightful place on any global stage – all they need is an opportunity. 

As I write my last opinion piece for the year (my 43rd piece this year), let’s move into 2020 always remembering that our youth are our future. 

They must be instilled with a strong sense of self-worth from the right stakeholders supporting their efforts, which is vital to achieve both their individual goals and Africa’s developmental ones.

I wish you all happy holidays and may your new year be filled with hope, ambition, success, love and peace.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Africa. 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.