William J. Mbangula OSHAKATI The Government is committed to supporting youth empowerment and alleviation of poverty by imparting skills and providing job opportunities and financial support through joint ventures with various stakeholders in the private and public sectors. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, National Service Sport and Culture Dr Peingondjabi Shipoh said this when he addressed a consultative meeting of the stakeholders in the Commonwealth Youths Credit Initiative (CYCI) which celebrated its first anniversary at Ongwediva over the weekend. CYCI, which started its activities in Namibia last year in March, is one of the interventions initiated by the Namibian Government with the overall goal to provide employment to the youth and to alleviate poverty. It is a pilot project that is scheduled to take 18 months, ending next October. “As an initial step, the Commonwealth Secretariat seconded a consultant to undertake a baseline study and design the programme. It targets committed out-of-school youth of between 18 and 35 years and delivers an integrated package of interventions that include training in business management, financial services (credit and an infrastructure for savings) and follow-up training and counselling,” Shipoh noted. The location of the pilot phase only covers the four northern regions of Oshana, Oshikoto, Omusati and Ohangwena where there is a heavy concentration of the population and where grassroots structures dealing with saving and credit schemes are available. It is expected that with the implementation of the main phase, lessons learnt in the pilot phase will be applied in both rural and urban areas nationally. The N$2-million budget of the pilot project is financed by three partners, namely, the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP), the Social Security Commission (SSC) and the Namibian Government. “The Government recognises and appreciates the importance of partnerships with like-minded institutions to address contemporary issues and challenges facing the Namibian society. Unemployment and poverty among the youth is one such twin-challenge facing this country. The Government is committed to maintaining and strengthening the existing partnership and seeking to expand this partnership framework as we move forward to an expanded main phase of the programme,” Shipoh noted in his keynote address. He outlined the challenges facing the Government as it deliberated on the Youth Credit Scheme (YCS) as threefold: – To develop an institutional framework with the vision beyond the pilot phase of the programme; – To identify existing and potential mechanisms that facilitate access to financial services to the poor youth; – To develop a mechanism where the youth play an important role in the design and dissemination of policy, not just as passive beneficiaries. In view of the above needs and challenges identified, the Permanent Secretary pointed out that a number of actors should be involved, namely: – The Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture as the leading government agency responsible for youth affairs. The Ministry will set the policy guidelines for the programme and is also responsible for the promotion of the project through the youths at the regional centres; – The National Youth Council (NYC), a national forum for youth organisations, managed by the youth themselves. As the partner of the Ministry, the NYC participates in the governance of the programme at the national level as well as in its promotion through the network of Youth Forum Coordinators. (YFC); – Savings and Credit Associations (SCAs), which are community banks, that operate under the umbrella of regional farmers’ cooperatives. This is the vehicle used to deliver credit to the youth and provide infrastructure to the youth to make secure savings; – The Rural Institute for Social Empowerment (Rise Namibia), a local NGO with a long association with the model of savings and credit schemes, as the implementing agency of the programme. Since the inception of the programme, the abovementioned arrangements have served the programme well with the implementation of significant activities, which include, amongst many others: – The establishment of a Management Advisory Board (MAB) to oversee operations. This is a body of experts with expertise in the fields of youth, entrepreneurship and finance; – The finalization of agreements and memoranda of understanding with the implementation agency, Rise Namibia; – Sensitisation of grassroots SCAs on CYCI operations. The SCAs participate in the pro-gramme on a voluntary basis. Out of the 63 SCAs that are cur-rently operational in the four regions, 42 have agreed to work within the framework of the CYCI; – Capacity building for SCAs operating under the CYCI. Each SCA that agrees to work with the CYCI undergoes some training on the basic principles of the CYCI; – The development of training and operational materials; and, – Identification of experienced and competent training service providers from a competitive market. One of the CYCI stakeholders, the SSC Branch Manager Kleopas Shatona said the lack of employment opportunities needs to be addressed holistically through proper investments. ” The skilled human resources are the biggest assets of any economy. It is therefore paramount that investment takes place in the creation of jobs and constant upgrading of skills of the people,” he stated. In his view skills liberate the minds of many and foster independency. As a result, Shatona noted, the SSC Development Fund took a strategic decision to grant funding to the CYCI in a manner that is responsive to the poverty challenges of the country, by being proactive. The CYCI was commended by the Governor of Oshana Clemens Kashuupulwa as an initiative aimed at uplifting the living standards of the youth by providing training and financial assistance for the purpose of self-employment. “I would therefore appeal to the business community and financial institutions to emulate the initiatives of CYCI by assisting our youth whenever they approach them for financial or material support, ” said the Governor in his opening remarks. In an interview with New Era, one of the CYCI beneficiaries Daniel Mwaudikange (28), from Okambebe village in the Ohangwena Region, said he borrowed N$700.00 from the credit scheme to start a business of selling basic commodities. He managed to make a profit of N$5 500.00 and he is preparing to go to the next phase of borrowing a higher amount.