The youth who are creating Niger 2.0
Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge final pitches take place in Niamey, showcasing the innovative determination of five young teams
“And the winners are…” the room holds its breath as the Minister for the Digital Society of Niger pauses for dramatic effect: “GEMS and Jeunes Nigerois!” There are tears in the eyes of the team members as their friends and family cheer them on. The road leading to this moment has not been easy, but the determination and tenacity of the young people once again prove how this truly is Generation Unlimited.
The Gen U Youth Challenge in Niger kicked off in December 2019, under the patronage of M. Ibrahima Guimba Saidou, the Special Advisor to the President of the Republic and the Minister for the National Agency for the Information Society. Over 400 unique teams submitted applications, of which 15 were invited to the bootcamp at the end of January 2020. The five teams that ‘won’ the Bootcamp have worked hard since then on their ideas, using the Human Centered Design approach to dive deep into the problems they identified in their communities and find new and creative ways to solve them. They were accompanied by dedicated coaches.
Then COVID19 hit. Schools were closed, travel became impossible, group gatherings were forbidden. But these teams persisted. They found ways to conduct interviews, keeping their distance by handing out surveys and questionnaires. They linked up with the team in Niamey, the capital, via WhatsApp (extremely prevalent in Niger) for additional support. They developed and tested their prototypes. And prepared for the final pitches, hoping to make it into the global competition.
On the day of the final pitches, there is tension in the air. All around the great hall (enabled for social distancing) there are groups, practicing, practicing, practicing. Coaches stop sessions mid-sentence to offer tips, to remind the teams to smile, and above all, to enjoy themselves. Then the jury enters.
“Génération! Sans limites! Génération! Sans limites !” the back and forth answer and reply gets the energy up in the room. Each team is given five minutes to pitch, then five minutes to answers questions from the jury. And the jury is not being easy on these young innovators!
The ideas include sustainable menstrual hygiene kits (team GEMS – one of the winners), a crowdfunding platform (team Mega), extracurricular activities to support literacy and numeracy (team Jeunes Nigerois – the other winner), a job-orientation platform (team Let’s Progress) and an online learning platform (team Nort-Tech). Their presentations show how far they have come since January: there is confidence, there is humor, there is enthusiasm. “Each child deserves to learn” one of the team Jeunes Nigerois speaks passionately: “in Niger, less than 10% of children finish primary school with basic literacy and numeracy skills. In just 10 days, using our approach, these children who have never been to school learned to count and recognize the alphabet.”
“I am confident that with the skills that you have all acquired during this experience, you will go far,” said Dr Felicite Tchibindat, the UNICEF Representative in Niger. “You are the generation without limits. You have the ideas; don’t hesitate to take the opportunities to realize them. Not every idea will change the world, but if we don’t even try, nothing will ever change. Believe in yourselves.”
We are building a Niger 2.0, and education is the key. Niger is the youngest country in the world; we are therefore also the country with the most potential
Her message was echoed by Minister Guimba, who reiterated his commitment to education and the youth of Niger: “We are building a Niger 2.0., and education is the key. Niger is the youngest country in the world; we are therefore also the country with the most potential.” Niger is one of the front-runner countries for the GIGA initiative, spearheaded by UNICEF and ITU, to connect all schools to the internet. Working with ANSI, 100 villages intelligentes (Smart Villages) will be launched in Niger in the next few years.
The event brought together all that the Youth Challenge encapsulates: the creative enthusiasm of young people, their potential, their energy and their faith in their ability to shape their future and make it better. There were smiles, tears, laughter. For the two teams selected, there is work ahead to convince a global jury that their ideas hold potential. But as Dr Tchibindat reminded them, all present are winners.
When young people are prepared, and empowered, they can use their energy, creativity and talent to turn an uncertain landscape into a world of opportunity – for themselves and us all
UNICEF has been proud to accompany the youth of Niger in this initiative, together with the Scouts of Niger and UNDP. UNICEF is working closely with ANSI to connect schools to electricity and the internet under the GIGA initiative.
Through the Generation Unlimited Trust Fund, UNICEF receives additional funding support from the Dutch Government to help the country bridge the digital divide for adolescents, through the “Connect My School” initiative