Youth potential of the sustainable energy sector in Zimbabwe

We explore the opportunity for youth in Zimbabwe's growing sustainable energy sector

Improving youth employment to start a virtuous cycle in urban development

The energy transition and the growth of the renewable energy sector globally represents a huge potential to create employment and enterprise opportunities for young people. At the same time, the global youth unemployment rate is estimated at 13.1%.

Although this situation can be attributed partly to young people’s limited work experience, external structural barriers are preventing young people from entering the labour market.

We speak to SNV youth expert Cloffas Nyagumbo on opportunities and barriers for young people in the sustainable energy sector in his home country of Zimbabwe, a country with vast and diverse renewable energy potential.

What is the current situation regarding youth employment and entrepreneurship in the sustainable energy sector in Zimbabwe?

Sustainable energy is an emerging sector in Zimbabwe with substantial employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people, women and disadvantaged people. Currently, upcoming Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the sustainable energy space have an increasing need to establish distribution channels and last-mile distributors spanning deep in rural areas.

Why could working in the sustainable energy sector be interesting for young people?

We see young people find the energy sector exciting as it involves working with technology and enabling them to innovate. In addition, when young people have the opportunity to become solar agents and installers of home systems, for example, it is an opportunity for quick cash compared to other long-term enterprises.

What are the barriers to young people getting employment in the sector?

The most significant barrier is the technical skills required to work in this sector. Biogas masons and solar last-mile distributors need the proper training and skillset. We must continue training young people to become qualified installers of sustainable energy systems such as solar home systems—especially those who are disadvantaged and may not have had the opportunity to go to third-level institutions.

The next barrier is access to finance. The need to finance the supply side where we target the companies - the intermediaries- is apparent in Zimbabwe. Suppose solar companies are supported with working capital to build their stocks and linkages with the latest technologies. In that case, this creates greater opportunities to engage youth as employees, last-mile distributors and installers in their supply chain. Yet, there is also a need for end-user finance as ordinary Zimbabweans find the conversion of firewood, fossil fuel, and electricity very steep (requiring high capital outlay. Once innovative and friendly user-friendly end-user financial products are developed and availed to households, the increased demand will open up more employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people and significantly improve their participation in the sector.

Do you have examples of SNV working with young people in the sustainable energy sector in Zimbabwe?

We are implementing a project thanks to support from the Embassy of Sweden in Harare and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). One pathway focuses on urban areas and districts, including Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare (the capital cities in Zimbabwe). Here, we promote energy solutions and build the market through young entrepreneurs. In this urban context, lighting systems are the most popular; next are solar home systems which can be used for entertainment by powering TVs, radios, and mobile phones. Typically, young people are keen to install these extensive, innovative home systems. In addition to solar home systems, consumers in an urban context are interested in innovative smart lighting to improve their existing lighting and bring some efficiency to the systems.

In the rural context, the key issues are clean cooking and lighting; therefore, solar lighting and biogas are very popular. In these areas, mainly women and young girls collect the firewood for cooking on open fires, which can be time-consuming and dangerous. Sustainable energy helps in this respect. Let us remember that 80 per cent of the population in Zimbabwe relies on agriculture for their income. Therefore, the productive use of solar is growing in popularity as farmers and producers move away from diesel and electricity. In a country with so many power cuts, sustainable energy is often seen as more reliable.

What can we do to make energy systems more inclusive of young people?

As mentioned earlier, skills are essential. Under the OYE project, we are helping young people to become solar agents or installers. To acquire the skills they need, we have partnered with knowledge institutes such as the institute of technology to give accreditation through short hands-on training courses. Young people also need industrial training, so we have partnered with private-sector solar companies that can take them on for month-long internships. After that, they receive accreditation as installers. Through this accreditation, young people can find work with solar companies or start-ups as entrepreneurs in their own right.

Another example of an innovative initiative is - We have partnered with two actors, a private company that supplies solar, which needs distributors. Here, young people work as distributors on a commission basis. In addition, we have found that there is a need for end-user financing to increase the uptake of solar technology because it can be costly for end users. Therefore, we are partnering with financial institutions that give out loans at favourable interest rates to households to install solar systems. With this model, it is exciting to see young people receiving commissions from private companies for selling and loaning products to the end user. It is a double-barrelled solution!

Last but not least is the biogas potential. We had a programme that ended in 2015 and trained masons in various provinces. Still, community members and irrigation schemes demand their services seven years later. It shows a real opportunity for youth to find employment as masons in the biogas sector and the sector as a whole!

For more information on our youth, employment and entrepreneurship (YEE) projects, please contact jeanmwenda@snv.org.