“The need to invest in strong, emerging, result-oriented African leaders is clear.”
Synthia Ontita, Research and Project Management Associate of The Youth Cafe, asserts this as she discusses the importance of youth involvement in Africa’s sustainable development.
“Our young people today are facing complex challenges and life-threatening risks that have snowballed over the years,” she continues. “These risks arise when accessing basic rights like quality education, healthcare, or decent work. Young people are also affected by the onset of climate change and the frontline impacts of disasters.”
Synthia’s comment echoes the guiding principles of The Youth Cafe, a not-for-profit organization based in Kenya that works to promote youth-led approaches to African development by empowering and amplifying the voices of young people. Launched in 2012 by a team of motivated young people that included current Executive Director Willice Onyango, The Youth Cafe utilizes multidisciplinary programs and initiatives to prepare African youth to take responsibility for the future of the continent’s development. The organization now has a network in 56 different countries and has over 200,000 beneficiaries below the age of 35.
As Research and Project Management Associate, Synthia is actively involved in the development, implementation, and financial success of The Youth Cafe’s various projects. One such project has an environmental focus and aims to accelerate a shift from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. This program, the Youth na Biz Project, is a component of The Youth Cafe’s Environmental Preservation and Climate Change theme.
The Youth na Biz Project promotes solar energy throughout Kenya in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with the UN’s 13th Sustainable Development Goal, which recognizes climate change as the biggest threat to development. This project addresses the increasing need for Kenya to become an actor in the growing market for renewable energy. Specifically, the Youth na Biz Project provides reliable solar energy to small businesses and conducts skills trainings to increase opportunities for young people in the renewable energy industry. By conducting training courses and testing for workers in the solar industry, The Youth Cafe aims to prepare approximately 1,900 young people yearly for reliable jobs in Kenya’s green economy.
“The most severe impacts of climate change will be felt by youths in the low- and middle-income countries, and pose threats to physical, psychological and social well-being,” Synthia explains when asked about the mission of the Youth na Biz Project. “Through the project, we aim to solve two problems together: climate and environment preservation and creation of jobs for the youth.”
The Youth na Biz Project is just one of The Youth Cafe’s programs that address climate change and sustainability. The Youth Cafe also collaborates with countries within the Great Green Wall, the African Union’s initiative to combat land degradation and desertification in the Sahel-Sahara region. This collaboration promotes sustainable agroforestry by training young people and farmers in rural regions, implementing an incentive system for agroforestry practices, and launching a communication campaign to connect young people in relevant rural areas and the wider African and European youth.
The Youth Cafe prioritizes the environment because those at the non-profit have witnessed and therefore understand the consequences of the climate crisis in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Kenyan communities are already facing the adverse impacts of climate change, including increased temperatures, drought, and flash floods. In Kenya, soil degradation and unsustainable land and water use are contributing to and intensifying the threat of climate change.
“We focus on [the environment and climate] because we know young people today will be alive in 30 years to come, and will live to feel the effects of climate change,” Synthia says. “It is therefore incumbent upon young people to come up with proposals and solutions to help in the preservation of the environment and come up with innovative solutions to mitigate climate risks.”
The Youth Cafe members recognize that to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development, youth must be involved in the strategies, policies, and solutions. Young people represent a majority of Kenya’s total population, presenting enormous potential for attaining a greener, more sustainable future. Like the rest of her colleagues at The Youth Cafe, Synthia has channeled all her efforts towards championing youth empowerment on all levels.
When asked to describe her own perspective of Kenya’s development, Synthia sums up her belief in the power of youth, a statement that seems to capture The Youth Cafe’s hopeful and progressive outlook: “I believe young people are indeed a tremendous and essential asset worth investing in as they are the future of tomorrow.”