Empowering Youth & Women

Supporting youth training and employment and reducing gender inequality to transform Sahel societies.

Africa has the youngest population in the world and the Sahel is one of the continent's most youthful regions.

  • This youthful population constitutes a great wealth because young people are the key actors in the construction of societies and the driving force behind the Sahel’s economic development. However, if the population grows too fast and is too young to work, it can become a barrier to development.

    Achieving demographic transition requires controlling population growth and meeting the needs of young people by providing them with quality education and vocational training, as well as better access to the labour market. A special effort must be made to focus on girls and women: their empowerment can quickly lead to more sustainable fertility rates. Improving reproductive health services and family planning, supporting girls’ schooling and life skills, are essential to empower girls and reduce gender inequalities. Well educated and healthy young people, especially adolescent girls and women, are more able to reach their potential and contribute to improving lives in their Sahel communities.

  • The stories compiled here show the ambition and creativity of young people in the Sahel and depict the enterprising solutions they are finding to respond to people’s needs.

    The few stories compiled here show how young girls, women and men in the Sahel are willing, ambitious, and creative and are proposing entrepreneurial solutions to respond to people’s needs. A community of young entrepreneurs is emerging throughout the Sahel, in both large cities and rural areas. These are young women and men with a fervent desire to change the negative narrative that we hear too often about this region of the world. All they want is to be supported and trusted.

Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD)

by UNFPA, the World Bank, the West African health organization and the African Union

Keeping girls in school and increasing women’s economic opportunities.

  • It is one of the United Nations Population Fund’s flagship programmes in the region. Implemented in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad and recently in Cameroon and Guinea, and in two other Sub-Saharan countries, SWEDD promotes the empowerment of women and adolescent girls and facilitates their access to quality reproductive, maternal and child health services.

    The programme works with women and girls, aged from 10 to 19, using innovative approaches. Safe spaces accommodate vulnerable young adolescent girls who are out of school.

  • Supported by a “mentor”, they learn about human rights, life skills, and sexual and reproductive health. With support for schooling, the programme provides them with assistance in the form of scholarships or school kits. Vocational training including in non-traditional activities, is offered to them. Centres of excellence offering Master’s degrees promote advanced education in the obstetrical sciences (midwifery and nursing). Men are encouraged to become more involved in home life, through clubs for husbands and husbands-to-be.

  • Nouamlein, Mauritania, January 2020 – UNFPA / Ania Gruca
  • Fatimetou Sidy Aly

    16 years old, in Mauritania

    “I’m glad to be in a safe space, I have learned a lot. For example, I know now that anyone can go and has the right to go to the doctor and ask for contraception or injections for treatment. I have also learned that early marriage has a strong impact on the lives of young girls. I believe that girls should not marry before the age of 18. You should not force a girl to marry, if she doesn’t love someone you shouldn’t force her.”

  • Cheik Ould Zein Limam

    General Secretary of Islamic Thought in Mauritania

    “Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and human rights. There are many things that are done in the name of Islam but are against Islam. I am working with my writings and fatwas to end the confusion of customs with misconceptions of Islam in our lives. As religious leaders, we have a duty to our people, our followers, to show them the right conception of Islam because there are many customs, like female genital mutilation (FGM), like slavery that are not good. We believe that Islam is a religion of tolerance. When you see the innocent people who are kidnapped in the name of Islam, it means that Islam itself is kidnapped. Muslims do not understand Islam, so the duty of imams is to show their followers good practices.”

  • Nouakchott, Mauritania, January 2020 – UNFPA / Ania Gruca

Supporting Youth Entrepreneurship in the Sahel


UNDP has developed several multi-country and national programmes to support youth employment in the Sahel and assist them in their entrepreneurial projects.

  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the global development network of the United Nations, has partnered with the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF)) - Africa’s leading philanthropic organisation empowering entrepreneurs - to train, mentor and financially support 100,000 young entrepreneurs in Africa over 10 years. Through the TEF-UNDP partnership, the selected applicants will each receive a maximum of $5,000 non-refundable seed capital, access to mentors, 12-week business training and networking opportunities.

  • Another initiative, Women, Young Entrepreneurship and Citizenship in Burkina Faso (ProFeJec), UNDP has selected 10 incubators to transform the initiatives of 100 Burkinabe young people and women into operational, viable and civic-minded businesses.

  • Bamako, Mali, February 2020 – UNDP / Aurélia Rusek
  • Coumba Diakité

    Founder of “Be Recycle” in Mali

    Based in Bamako, Coumba Diakité transforms used tyres into furniture and decorative objects:
    “Tires are burned in the open air, generating health problems for the population and a negative impact on the environment.”

    The 12-week training in the TEF entrepreneurship program has helped her develop her five-year business plan. Then UNDP Mali also sponsored her trip to the Abuja forum, the African business forum.
    “Participation in the Abuja forum allowed us to exchange ideas with other young entrepreneurs in Africa, to find out how things are done in other countries. Today, Mali is facing an economic, political and security crisis. With the support of the United Nations organizations and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, young people manage to get funding and to be visible both here in Mali and outside.”

    Thanks to the support of UN Women, Coumba was able to participate in the Bamako international fair. Even though her order book is full, she worries about the lack of opportunities for other young people in Mali:
    “You may have ambition and want to move forward but you need adequate support from the state or an organization to have credibility.”

  • Abdoul Razack Belemyingré

    Producer of the first organic strawberry jam in Burkina Faso

    Abdoul could have used his master’s degree in law to become a lawyer or a magistrate, but he preferred to follow his passion and become a young agricultural entrepreneur:
    “I wanted to prove to young Burkinabes that you can work on the land as a profession. That you can produce and be a farmer and still flourish.”

    The young entrepreneur has developed an agroecology centre that houses a production site, an onion preservation store and a training centre where he trains a new generation. With ProFeJec, an incubator is supporting Abdoul for one year to develop Burkina Faso’s first organic jam.
    “Over the past six months, I’ve learned how to look for partnerships, how to find synergies between young entrepreneurs, how to do market research, and how to develop packaging for strawberries.”

    Abdoul’s mother, who has also been trained by ProFeJec, is currently making the jam. But the young man hopes to develop a small production facility and plans to hire three new people. The jam is already proving popular, selling by word of mouth at Ouagadougou’s markets.

  • Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, March 2020 – UNDP / Aurélia Rusek

In Mauritania, young Mauritanians and Malian refugees are trained in construction and public works

by ILO and UNHCR

Strengthening the empowerment of refugees and host population by improving the employability of young people in the construction sector.

  • More than 60,000 Malian refugees, who fled the war in their country in 2012, are living in the Mbera camp in eastern Mauritania, roughly 60 kilometers from the border with Mali. With little or no opportunity for socio-economic integration into the local labour market, they survive mainly on humanitarian aid. To meet their economic needs, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have joined efforts to improve living conditions of refugees and host communities through an ambitious project to promote decent employment and refugee integration in Mauritania.

  • The project specifically aims to provide young refugees in the Mbera camp and youth in the host community with access to certified quality training in several trades linked to building and public works and in sectors that boost local economic development.

    A vocational training centre was built in the Mbera camp, providing a learning framework that will promote the development of new skills, and the qualification and certification of young people. 1,201 young people have already been trained and 211 have found employment in existing or newly-created companies. In the long term, the centre will train more than 6,000 refugees and young members of the host population.

  • Mbera Refugee Camp, Bassikounou, Mauritania, July 2019 – UNHCR / Jerry de Mars
  • Fatimetou

    Malian refugee, trained in construction in Mauritania

    Mother of two girls, Fatimetou, 27, arrived in Mauritania in 2012 after fleeing violence in Mali.
    “I always liked mathematics at school but I couldn’t finish my studies. I’m very happy to participate in this construction trades training program. I am learning new skills, especially measuring distances.”

    Half of the students at the vocational training centre in Mbera camp are women and girls.

“We see Sahel as a land of many opportunities and investing in the youth is a pre-condition to stabilizing the region. The youth should be at the heart of any development agenda. We need to invest in their potential, talent, energy and enthusiasm and create the opportunity for them to fully realize their dreams.”

Ahunna Eziakonwa
Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).