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Young people need opportunities to display their talents

Young people need opportunities to display their talents

—Tonye Cole, one of Africa’s top business leaders
From Africa Renewal: 
—Tonye Cole, one of Africa’s top business leaders
Tonye Cole, one of Africa’s top business leaders

Tonye Cole co-founded Sahara Group, an international oil and energy conglomerate, and is also a member of the global Sustainable Development Goals Fund’s Private Sector Advisory Group, which is made up of top business leaders of major companies around the world. Sahara Group has been involved in youth development in Nigeria. In this interview with Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor in New York, Mr. Cole underscores the urgency of providing young people with avenues to express their talents.

Africa Renewal: Your company is said to be supporting young people in your country, Nigeria. How do you do this? 

Mr. Cole: First, let me point out what we believe the youths have—ideas. However, there must be a match between their ideas and access to innovations. Young people need a platform that allows them to express their talents for the global market out there. 

What do you mean by a “platform”?

Policies that allow young people to demonstrate their talents and a supportive environment that tells them all the time that they can do it, that there is this market. A pipeline they can use to access that market. 

And what is this platform? 

Once the government sets policies that allow you to take an idea, channel it through some territory and through that territory that idea hits this huge market, it’s done. The revenue flows back to the young person somewhere in Africa. 

Young people need not come to the West to demonstrate their talents. And that’s exciting, because we get to keep our young people on the continent. But we need to give them the tools to export what they have and earn the foreign exchange that they can reinvest in their countries. That is our challenge. So we are creating an entrepreneurship platform that connects them to the rest of the world.

So your task is to advocate for policies that promote young entrepreneurs and support them in finding markets overseas, correct?

That’s what platforms are.

What skill sets are you targeting?

We are designing a platform for young people who are IT minded. There are 12 million such young people in Nigeria and we want them to access the rest of the world. Once we can bring them onto this platform, connect them with the global market, from there they can achieve anything. 

It means you are looking for young people who have skills in IT?

Not just IT. You can teach them other skills. Once you have a platform, one of the things we found out about the young people is that they are multi-talented. A lot of them are carrying phones through which they can make money, and some will do other things. Let’s first of all create the environment that helps their ideas to fertilize.

What cooperation are you getting from policy makers?

That’s where God has blessed us. At the end of the day, I’ve been doing business in Nigeria for 24 years, and during that time I have met a lot of people. Now, if we can be where we are today and we don’t have the ability to influence, to speak, or to help governments make policies, then I think we would have failed a whole generation. So our responsibility is to be a bridge between the government and the young people, and have them talk to each other.

What do they want? 

We understand the language the young people are speaking. They want a platform that allows them to access the rest of the world. We have access to the world and we have access to the government. So we support them.

Do you consider the lack of opportunities for young people by government or the private sector to be the reason why they join terrorist groups such as Boko Haram? 

I think there is a saying that the devil finds work for idle hands. You must keep your young people engaged. If you have a huge population of young people and you do not challenge them, you’re asking for big trouble. So it is imperative that we give them ways to legitimately develop their talents, whether it’s through music, movies, agriculture, IT, whatever it is that they find, give them a way to express it.