Unleashing the potential of youth to succeed in business

Join us at the YES Forum in Dakar, Senegal, on 13-14 November 2018 to learn more about youth entrepreneurship policies, improving access to finance for young entrepreneurs and facilitating access to markets. The two-day programme will include plenary sessions, inspirational talks, a marketplace for key actors, and a pitching competition for young entrepreneurs. The YES Forum is a featured event of the Global Entrepreneurship Week and organized by partners of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.

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Event date and location

The two-day event will be held in Dakar, Senegal on 13-14 November 2018 during the Global Entrepreneurship Week. The event is jointly organized by Jokkolabs, host of the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Senegal, the Government of Senegal, and Agence Nationale pour la Promotion de l'Emploi des Jeunes (ANPEJ), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Trade Centre (ITC), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).


The event aims to provide a platform for stakeholders involved in the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth and particularly in the area of youth entrepreneurship and self-employment to engage, share experiences, innovations, and opportunities for scaled action.


Entrepreneurship and self-employment provide economic opportunities for the world’s largest ever population of young women and men to create more and better jobs in the private sector. Globally, the private sector drives jobs growth, accounting for 87 per cent of total employment in the formal and informal economies in 2016. The majority of the world’s 1.2 billion young people aged 15–24 live in developing economies, where small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 52 per cent of total employment. SMEs and young firms are often more dynamic than large firms where employment growth is concerned.

Unleashing the potential of young women and men as drivers of job creation and economic growth is not only desirable but critical for sustainable development. Youth-led enterprises can trigger significant momentum for youth-led job creation, given that start-ups account for up to 50 per cent of newly created jobs, and young entrepreneurs primarily employ their peers. Young people show significantly higher levels of entrepreneurial initiative than adults (1.6 times higher). 

Yet, the established business rate among adults is substantially higher than for youth, pointing to the need for enhanced support for young entrepreneurs. Youth entrepreneurship and self-employment also foster local innovation and improve the resilience of young people on the job market, as they encourage young people to find new business solutions to social and economic challenges. Consequently, youth-led social entrepreneurship has proved to hold great potential in mobilizing young people to address these challenges. 

Urgent action is needed to address the critical challenges that young people encounter in their drive for entrepreneurship and self-employment. The main challenges are

  • Lack of enabling policy, regulatory and institutional environments,
  • Weak entrepreneurial ecosystems, including lack of platforms to foster young entrepreneurs’ engagement, knowledge exchange and transfer, lack of networking opportunities, and lack of access to markets;
  • Limited access to finance and investment opportunities, due to minimum capital requirement, lack of collateral, higher risk profile thus higher reluctance of financial institutions to lend money; and
  • Limited skills and knowledge transfer which continues to impede young entrepreneurs from establishing their own businesses, gaining access to technology, developing entrepreneurial skills and pursuing their education.

The Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth recognizes the need to scale up joint action to address the above challenges to unleash the potential of youth to succeed in business. In this context, youth entrepreneurship and self-employment is one of the thematic priorities identified by the partners of the Global Initiative to make a difference in the lives of young women and men.



The event is expected to:

  • Generate lessons learned and best practices from successful policies, programmes and initiatives in the area of youth entrepreneurship and self-employment in the West Africa region;
  • Call upon stakeholders for joint action, provide recommendations and develop a roadmap to support young entrepreneurs by 2030, as well as scale up partnership, including through new commitments to the Global Initiative, to support youth entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Language and Audience

The event will be bilingual, with interpretation in English and French. The event brings together key stakeholders in the field of youth entrepreneurship and self-employment in West Africa under the aegis of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.

It brings together young entrepreneurs, governments, private sector at national, regional and international levels, business support organizations, social partners, financial service providers, parliamentarians, civil society, media, United Nations agencies, academia, foundations and regional institutions to share experiences, innovations, and opportunities to accelerate support to young entrepreneurs in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Event format

The event format will be as follows:

  • Plenary sessions on the three main themes of the event
  • Breakout sessions to engage in technical discussions
  • Pitching competition for young entrepreneurs
  • Marketplace for youth entrepreneurship and self-employment actors
  • Global Initiative commitment platform
  • Inspirational talks from young global entrepreneurs



Tue, 13 Nov 2018 08:00 am to 18:00 pm

Day 1 - YES Forum


Promoting youth entrepreneurship and self-employment calls for actions at policy and institutional levels. Evidence shows that effective reforms in business environments lead to the emergence of new firms and job creation. The session focuses on understanding what works and what does not in promoting an enabling policy and regulatory environment for young entrepreneurs and self-employed youth. Challenges in supporting youth entrepreneurship and self-employment encountered by policymakers and institutions, particularly in the case of West Africa, is also explored. The discussion will be informed by experiences and lessons learned from integrating youth into national entrepreneurship and industrial strategies, in line with regional development objectives anchored in frameworks such as the Third Decade of Industrial Development for Africa (IDDA3), the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).

The role of tech hubs and industry associations in supporting young entrepreneurs

Tech startup ecosystems are composed of different actors, including, in particular, tech hubs. A tech hub is a community that fosters innovation for tech startup companies. A tech hub can be a specific area like Silicon Valley or a specific building or set of buildings where small startups can rent space alongside each other to share facilities and ideas. Other key institutions such as banks, venture capital funds, service providers (to startups), educational institutions are also part of the landscape. Although they are not on the startup frontline, IT industry associations also have a role to play. Industry associations like ITAG or OPTIC have an interest in connecting innovators with their members, and welcoming tech entrepreneurs who frequently become regular IT service companies.

This session presents the role of tech hubs and industry associations in nurturing the development of strong tech ecosystems in the African context. Speakers will discuss the relevance and feasibility of startup development and promotion activities happen within the broader ecosystem, and hubs play convening and connecting roles with them. Also, the session will highlight challenges of ecosystems that are nascent, within small countries, as well as map more mature ecosystems. The session will also look at startup needs assessment and the challenges of serving startups in immature ecosystems.


Taking action on sustainable development. Impact driven businesses (social enterprises) have shown to be the driving force in the private sector for the achievement of the sustainable development goals. By default of their business model, which is guided by combining profit with a specific social impact objective, social enterprises naturally contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. Social entrepreneurship has proven to hold great potential in taking action to fill gaps left by local governments and institutions and to address prevailing social, economic and environmental challenges. However young social entrepreneurs continue to face obstacles in realizing their full potential. 

The session is inspired by the success stories of young entrepreneurs applying business solutions to economic, social and environmental challenges, while being cognizant of the challenges that young women and men continue to face in their entrepreneurial endeavours. This session will identify and discuss best practices and opportunities to empower young women and men  to create and develop successful social enterprises that can respond to pressing issues faced in Africa, including food security and climate change, waste management, or marginalization of vulnerable groups of society. It will build on inputs provided by the preceding panel on Making policy work for youth entrepreneurship, and will highlight the challenges and needs characteristic to social entrepreneurs in the West Africa region, including access to skills development opportunities, to networks and and to adequate financing.


Agripreneurship, transforming the rural economy. The African Transformation Report of 2017 presents how agriculture has the potential to drive Africa’s economic transformation, and even more, how agribusiness provides opportunities for young women and men who face increasing levels of unemployment. While agriculture is critical to ensure food security for a growing population, it also presents a path to sustainable industrialization and opportunities for job creation and employment in agricultural and non-farm sectors, including in agro-processing and manufacturing of agricultural inputs.

The session builds on the evidence that agri-based industries are a critical source of jobs for Africa’s youth and consequently for inclusive and sustainable rural development. In particular,  this session will discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by agripreneurship to drive rural development and to accelerate the sustainable transformation of Africa. While responding to high youth-unemployment, agripreneurship can ensure food security and can reduce the consequences felt by economically driven migration and rapid urbanization.  Identifying good practices in creating enabling environments for agripreneurship will highlight the importance of integrating industrialization through structural transformation into national development plans, and strategies in line with regional strategies and frameworks (including the IDDA3 and the Agenda 2063). Furthermore, it will highlight the importance of building the capacities of young women and men to tap into these industries, and of facilitating business linkages  for improved market access and integration. Similarly, the session will discuss how agripreneurship can advance social, economic and environmental development through the opportunities it generates in circular economy and for the creation of green jobs.


This panel will discuss successful approaches in improving access to finance, and the challenges that need to be taken into consideration, including financial literacy for rural development, and the importance of improving non-financial services in tandem.


Panel 2: Innovative financial mechanisms


In partnership with a regional or international incubator 4-5 young entrepreneurs will be selected to take part in this live on-stage pitching competition. Young entrepreneurs will pitch their business cases to investors who will provide instant feedback and ask challenging questions.

The competition will put a specific spotlight on young entrepreneurs from the West Africa region with a focus on social entrepreneurship and sustainable development goals. The jury will consist of impact investors and established young entrepreneurs.


This session will take stock of the day, recap the key messages and recommendations of the breakout sessions in the morning and of the two afternoon panels, as well as sets the stage for day 2. Including the announcement of the winner of the pitching competition.

Wed, 14 Nov 2018 09:00 am to 18:00 pm

Day 2 - YES Forum


Building connections, whether to improve business transactions or to exchange ideas, is critical to a young entrepreneur. Market linkages and integration into value chains provides young entrepreneurs with improved access to market information and new technology. Hubs and communities are gaining momentum in many parts of the world in supporting young entrepreneurs, especially by giving a space for knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer support. Entrepreneurship training, coaching and mentoring are essential support services to accompany young entrepreneurs in their path to business success. The session will provide insight into these different elements, markets, networks, knowledge and skills that play a critical role in promoting youth entrepreneurship.


Panel: Access to networks, skills and innovation

While young women and men entrepreneurs are notably the driving force of sustainable development, particularly given their propensity to pursue entrepreneurial activities that aim to target prevailing social, economic and environmental issues, they still face many challenges. Deficiencies in skills, market linkages, and access to information and services hinder young women and men from developing successful businesses, which are particularly acute when operating in the informal economy. This panel discussion will identify approaches for promoting gender-sensitive youth-led entrepreneurship—including policies, training, post-training support, enabling mechanisms to transition from the informal to the formal economy and incubation and acceleration hubs—with the potential to help unleash youth entrepreneurship in the region and contribute to a more inclusive and environmentally sustainable economy.

Enabling young entrepreneurs for a greener economy

Summary: This session will discuss the role of young women and men in the just transition to a greener economy, bringing together young entrepreneurs, service providers, and policy-makers to share experiences and views about the next steps for a greener economy in West Africa.

Empowering young women entrepreneurs in social-challenging environments

Summary: This session will showcase how approaches to women’s entrepreneurship development empower young women in business, family and community, by combining entrepreneurship training with post-training support, advocacy for a conducive environment and adapted business support services, as well as awareness raising towards productive roles for young women in families and communities.


This session will provide an opportunity for selected organizations active in this thematic area to highlight achievements, discuss challenges and announce future action related specifically to the three key themes of this event: policy and business environment, access to markets and access to finance.


The panel will provide a platform to launch and scale up partnerships to Decent Jobs for Youth and for existing partners to present progress on their commitments. It will provide an opportunity to call upon stakeholders to take joint action towards supporting young entrepreneurs by 2030.


The closing will serve to recap the key messages and recommendations of the two-day event. Similar to the lightning talks held at the opening session, heads of organizations and high-level representatives will be given an opportunity to emphasise the lessons learned that will propel the joint efforts onto a path of effective actions towards the creation of decent jobs for youth.