Young people must be allowed to help create the world they will have to live in

By Betty Osei Bonsu & Nana Minta Asiedu Ampadu-Minta, Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) | November 10, 2022

Once upon a time, a young climate activist embarked on a mission to found an organization that would help provide solutions to pressing environmental issues through youth empowerment, skills development and public education.

Today, the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) has 35 youth employees, with over 1000 volunteers from across four different countries (Kenya, Mali, Uganda and Ghana). Every day through our work we are proving that young people are capable, can inspire action and provide solutions to help alleviate many of the world’s most pressing crises.

Globally, more than 123 million young people are working, yet living in poverty and around one-fifth (270 million) of young Africans are not in employment, education, or training. These figures demonstrate society’s continued failure to support young people in their development – a situation which we believe can ultimately threaten life and wellbeing of our society.

In recent years, we’ve seen progress in addressing youth unemployment, poverty and hunger. However, the rate of progress is painfully slow, which can be partly attributed to the limited investment in youth empowerment. Empowered youth lead the way, train others, and together influence a sustainable future with effective leaders.

Since 2020, GAYO through its Eco-Club Campus Chapters within universities is engaging the youth on environmental sustainability issues through community action and awareness raising. Its work has so far helped over 1000 young people across Africa.

Image: GAYO

GAYO also works with other organizations to implement Youth Climate Councils (YCC) in countries across the continent. This secretariat body is serving as a platform to act as an institutional mechanism for inclusive youth engagement in climate change policies. Apart from hosting the Local Conference of Youth to collate input from young people, the YCC also oversees capacity building programmes, such as the Road to COP27, that help embed young people into high-level climate policy decision making.

Climate change has increased the uncertainty about our future, as well as within various sectors. In our effort to increase youth participation in climate action, adaptation and mitigation, we partnered with Earthbeat to roll out the Earthbeat Project, a global initiative aimed at engaging young people worldwide to develop their digital and storytelling skills to help keep the conversation focused on the climate and nature emergencies. The project was facilitated by Youth4Planet and was supported by several UN agencies, including the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UNFCCC. Through this project, 100 young people were trained in how to use smartphones to develop videos under various themes that tell stories about the climate and ecological emergencies.

Through the Plastic-free & Zero Waste Campus Campaigns within universities, we have been conducting annual brand audits for the past three years, sponsored by #breakfreefromplastic. This has raised awareness on the importance of reducing  single-use plastics while advocating for alternatives and the need to convert existing waste into useful materials, as outlined in our Zero Waste Strategy.

Image: GAYO

Given the monumental opportunity to pursue a green growth agenda, the overlap between entrepreneurship and sustainability has become a key research area and part of this trend is the emergence of eco-perineurial businesses. GAYO Eco-Club Campus Chapters (GECCC) has embarked on an ecopreneurship project which will give wide scope to youth creativity, skills, and knowledge and offer a positive way to channel their visions in seeking solutions to environmental challenges.

The youth is not demanding change because we want it – we demand change because we need it and we are capable of advancing national, regional and international development agendas. We stand at the precipice of new era, and we are the ones that will live in it. We must be actively involved in shaping our world.

Betty Osei Bonsu is a circular economy enthusiast, author and the co-founder and manager of the Ecoclub movements within Universities. She is from Ghana and is currently pursuing her masters at the United Nations University. She also serves as the Uganda Country Manager for the Green Africa Youth Organization implementing sustainable community projects while enhancing youth climate activism. Betty is the founder and hosts the YouTube show called B. Inspired with Stories from Africa – a storytelling platform focused on community values and environment. Additionally she is part of the C40 Global Youth and Mayors Forum contributing to the Global Green New Deal within Cities.

Nana Minta Asiedu Ampadu-Minta advocates for youth empowerment and capacity building. Nana has over four years’ experience in youth engagement and empowerment. He served as the youth leader for Biological Sciences and Environmental Science Students’ Association in Ghana for three consecutive years where he repositioned student-based associations for climate change actions. He won the Challenge of Climate Change of the United Nations Earthbeat Challenge 2021. He is a Senior Youth Ambassador for the #breakfreefromplastic movement and the Education and Eco-Clubs Coordinator for GAYO where he engages with over 1000 youth in capacity building and development to address environmental issues.