Digital Skills and Youth Entrepreneurship: An Overview of Digital Transformation

This article originally appeared on the UN Youth Flash July 2017 issue.


Changing lives through “Digital Skills”

Digital transformation has accelerated profoundly in the last 20 years.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, less than 20 percent of the population have access to century-old electrical grids, yet 70 percent have access to a digital mobile network – technology a quarter as old.  This explosive growth hinges upon today’s near-constant stream of new digital technologies that are enabling individuals to communicate faster, and organizations to run smarter and more efficiently. “Digital skills” are buzz words on everyone’s lips, but what does that mean to youth today, both in terms of opportunities (formal and non-formal) and the impact they can have?

With youth unemployment and working poverty affecting every two out of five young women and men, it is natural to explore how this over-sensationalized “millennial culture” can be leveraged for the long term. It is not so much a case of youth being addicted to technology, but rather youth adapting to and quite successfully driving forward this innovative interconnected world.

“Entrepreneurs not consultants” is a phrase that stuck out in my mind, uttered by Accenture’s leadership on a webcast for the whole firm. It was the moment I realized, that while aggressively seeking the strategic solutions skills set, what I had acquired then was far more valuable, “the art of problem solving”. The premise that, no matter who my client or industry is, or their pain-points and barriers to entry; I was skilled in making, delivering and executing a solution. I was an entrepreneur in industries not yet tested, I explored sustainable consumption, created partnerships to scale youth employment solutions, learnt to speak across the private-public and nonprofit sectors. If a client, partner or leader had a will, I was confident my team and I could figure out the way.

Youth Entrepreneurship and the added Value of Digital skills

I think digital and entrepreneurship skills are what youth should focus on to add value to their ventures, employers and the world around them. Today as a young person, I have developed core skills that allow me to move fluidly between cutting edge innovations like digital analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics, being able to change their purpose from profit-making, to world-changing opportunities through partnering with entities of the United Nations, more specifically exploring ways to use technology to scale their impactand contribute to the greater global call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 In my current role as Strategy Manager at Accenture, I have the pleasure to coach and mentor younger hires at the firm and support them in understanding the link between transferable entrepreneurial skills and the work we do. One brilliant example is breaking down the issue of identity in a world, where migration is one our biggest policy issues. By understanding digital transformation, it helps us to push innovative creations to deliver game changing solutions at organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) where we developed a multi-mode biometric identity system that provides refugees with a personal identity record. We also used some of the digital skills to create cloud data integration and analysis, for greater access to sustainable development data for Project 8.

Adapting to change in today’s marketplace…

Today’s youth not only need skills in hyper-demand areas, we also need an agile, adaptable mindset. The world is changing constantly, and learning how to deal with a changing marketplace by innovating with new technology is a good way to understand how to be an entrepreneur.  Youth will be working in a global startup culture, and gaining early experience in how to adjust, adapt, and “move with the tide” will ensure that they are adequately prepared for the economy of tomorrow. If not for ourselves, then we must adapt for the world, whose challenges are only getting more complex and estranged.  I believe that “young people are not just the future, they will build the path we all walk down”.

Having started off my career in youth activism, sitting on the charity boards of UK Youth, Raleigh International, and as a mentor in Yunus and Youth, I have been championing the need for soft skills gained from non-formal learning for years. I truly believe learning and gaining experience does not need to occur in a class room or technically “on-the-job”.  In my opinion, active listening, being curious and having the confidence to know that you can overcome any barrier to get a result or get close to it, is an invaluable skill in today’s labor markets.

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