By Mpho Shelile

MASERU – Youth empowerment programs are vital for nurturing the potential of young people and creating a more prosperous, inclusive, and harmonious society. These programs not only benefit the individuals involved but also contribute to the overall well-being and development of communities and nations. Henceforth in order to foster economic growth in Lesotho and reduce unemployment Prime Minister. Hon. Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane launched SEBABATSO, which stands for embracing sustainable development and empowerment of our young innovators and entrepreneurs. SEBABATSO was launched at Manthabiseng Convention Centre on the 25th October.

Prime minister, Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane indicated that their objectives with SEBABATSO is to create a National Platform where the youth get to showcase their businesses and talents annually.  “With my presence and investors, development partners, private sector and all organizations and individuals who would like to be part of this initiative. We will further forge collaborations with potential investors and mentors to ensure our youth enterprises grow beyond boundaries. We will focus on nurturing youth innovators, especially in STEAM, to bring forward solutions for our communities. With support from the UN and its agencies, we will prepare our youth entrepreneurs for investment opportunities”, he said.

He further stated that it was about time they acknowledged the challenges that the youth are faced with, but more importantly, it was about time they commit to a vision of empowerment and growth of the youth. “Unemployment, high crime rates, gender-based violence, and poverty have cast shadows on Basotho people, particularly those in rural areas. A large section of our young population remains unemployed, their energies and aspirations untapped. This is not merely a statistic; it’s a ticking time bomb! It is imperative that we turn this around, the reason we are here today”, said Hon. Matekane.

As emphasized in the Lesotho National Youth Policy, entrepreneurship is the key to unlocking thousands of jobs and drive innovation across sectors. The benefits of entrepreneurship go beyond just providing employment. In societies where hopelessness and idleness prevail, crime often becomes an escape route. By offering the youth an alternative, by showing them that they can be creators of value and agents of positive change, we pull them away from the clutches of criminal activity.

Furthermore he stressed that gender-based violence, a deeply disturbing challenge in our society, is rooted in a complex mix of cultural, economic, and social factors. Empowering our young men and women through entrepreneurship can help break traditional patriarchal chains, allowing women to claim their rightful place as equals. “When our young women are economically empowered, they are less vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

“Our shared dream is a Lesotho where no child goes to bed hungry, where every family has a roof over their head and hope in their hearts. Entrepreneurship can be our answer to poverty. When young entrepreneurs succeed, they uplift entire communities”, adding on that SEBABATSO is not just a government initiative. It’s a national call. A call to mentors, to invest in the youth. A call to innovators, to share and shape. And a call to every young Basotho, to step up and seize this opportunity.”  

Hon. Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane concluded by affirming that the youth of Lesotho are not just the future but they are the present. They have the energy, the ideas, and the passion. “Let’s guide them towards the path of entrepreneurship, not just for their sake, but for the brighter, more prosperous future of Lesotho.  It is our responsibility to foster an environment where our youth can venture into the business world with confidence. Let’s invest in training programs, financial support, and mentorship initiatives. Let’s reform our education system to prioritize skills over rote learning. Let’s make entrepreneurship a national movement, together, let’s make SEBABATSO not just a word, but a legacy. A legacy where every young Mosotho is empowered, every innovation is celebrated, and every dream is realized.”

The UN resident coordinator Mrs. Amanda Khosi Mukwashi stated that it was both an honor and a testament to witness the commitment of the government of Lesotho towards its future – its youth, “At the United Nations, we are champions of the ideals of sustainable development, inclusivity, and empowerment, it therefore brings me immense joy to see those very ideals echoed in the SEBABATSO initiative. The Sustainable Development Goals, which aspire to transform our world for the better by 2030, cannot be achieved unless we focus on the heartbeat of our nation – our young people. They are not just beneficiaries of these goals; they are partners in achieving them.”

She explained that goal eight (8) of the SDGs, emphasizes decent work and economic growth, and it speaks directly to our current challenge. Adding that words without action are hollow, and every day that they delay in implementing measures to tackle unemployment, they drift further away from realizing the SDGs and the brighter future they promise. “SEBABATSO brings with it the urgent need to shift from rhetoric to tangible action, in addressing the pressing challenges of unemployment and ensuring that our youth are at the very heart of our nation’s development – is not just a matter of strategy, but of survival. Honorable Prime Minister, time is of the essence. Every day that a young person remains unemployed or underemployed is a day we lose out on their potential contribution to our collective growth.”

“The narratives we choose, the policies we implement, and the priorities we set today will echo into the decades to come. Empowering our youth through entrepreneurship is not a stranded endeavor, It is a golden thread that weaves through every facet of our economy. When a young person starts a business, it’s not just an avenue for personal income. It is a potential source of employment for others, a contribution to our GDP, and a beacon of hope for others to follow”, adding that every successful young entrepreneur sends out a ripple effect, inspiring others, filling market gaps, and creating value chains that uplifts communities. But all of that cannot be a standalone effort. The magnitude of the challenge demands cohesive, government-led initiatives.

 She said that with the ever-looming threat of climate change, it’s crucial for nations, especially agriculturally-rich countries like Lesotho, to innovate and adapt. “Let us also imagine a Lesotho where every young person is not only employed but also enjoys a high quality of life, Health, mental wellbeing, and community ties are fundamental pillars of a thriving society. Furthermore, as we rally behind our youth, we also need collaborations – between public and private sectors, between local communities and international partners, between the experienced and the emerging. By creating an interconnected ecosystem that supports youth entrepreneurship, we support all facets of our economy and well-being”,  she added that by emphasizing STEAM Lesotho is not only catching up but will be in a better position to lead and contribute uniquely to global innovation. As a landlocked country, access to markers and ensuring Lesotho is competitive on a global stage is key to increasing revenues and building resilience for a sustainable future that is just and green.

She concluded by stating that the UN is committed to supporting Lesotho in this transformative journey. “I would like to thank UNDP, UNICEF, IOM, WFP and UNFPA for contributing to this initiative. We will leverage our global network, resources, and expertise to ensure that SEBABATSO is not just successful but exemplary” Mrs. Amanda conclude; advising all the young people of this country to seize this moment. Dream big, and know that the world is watching and cheering them on.