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In 104 countries around the world, more than 80 percent of the youth population is online, according to ITU’s 2017 Facts and Figures report. In developed countries, 94 percent of young people aged 15-24 use the internet compared with 67 percent in developing counties and only 30 percent in least developed countries. Yet, sub-Saharan Africa remains the fastest growing mobile market.

Youth are at the forefront of internet adoption. The proportion of young people aged 15-24 using the internet (71 percent) is significantly higher than the proportion of the total population using the internet (48 percent). Young people represent almost one-fourth of the total number of individuals using the internet worldwide, according to ITU. In less developed countries, 25 percent of individuals using the internet are aged 15-24, compared with 13 percent in developed countries.

The potential of youth hasn’t gone unnoticed in developing regions such as Africa. Alphabet-owned Google aims to train 10 million people in Africa in online skills over the next five years, Alphabet’s Chief Executive, Larry Page, said in July this year, in an effort to make them more employable. A spokesperson said the company aims to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

Google’s recent pledge is an extension of an initiative launched in April 2016 to train African youths in digital skills. In March the company said it had reached its initial target of training one million young people. At a Google conference in Nigeria’s capital Lagos, Google chief executive, Sundar Pichai said the company “is committing to prepare another 10 million people for jobs of the future in the next five years.”

There were 420 million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2016, equivalent to a penetration rate of 43 percent, according to GSMA Intelligence. The region continues to grow more rapidly than any other, at a compound annual growth rate of 6.1 percent through 2020, which is around 50 percent higher than the global average. As for broadband connections, sub-Saharan Africa will reach half a billion by 2020, more than double the number at the end of 2016, and will account for nearly two thirds of total connections in the region.

The Middle East’s youthful population is also driving internet adoption. GGC countries have some of the world’s highest mobile broadband penetration rates, according to Cisco, with the UAE leading the Middle East and Africa at 89 percent, ranking number 11 globally. A study conducted by researcher Ahmad bin Ali Al Amoudi revealed that 91.4 percent of Saudi Arabia’s youth population browse the internet on their mobile phones.

Emphasizing the importance of youth in the UAE, telecom provider du announced the launch of its Youth Council in August 2017, as part of the International Youth Day Celebration across the country. The Council is specifically created to empower UAE youth and enhance their contribution towards the nation’s development through ICT and the enormous potential the sector holds. It’s a platform that will enable youth to “unlock their career potential”.  

The move is aligned with the vision of the UAE’s leadership to empower and enhance the role of young Emiratis in the overall development process that is taking place across all sectors in the country. du said its Youth Council will provide an environment that listens to ideas and ensures that these ideas are brought to the organization, reinforce the role of youth, and support their engagement within the company.

“The UAE leadership has always looked to galvanize Emirati youth through initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of UAE leaders by encouraging their personal and professional development,” said Osman Sultan, Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du). “At du, we continue to focus on unlocking the potential of our future leaders of tomorrow, and we are looking at new ways to innovate and add value for the next generation of Emirati ICT trailblazers.”

This vision is shared by Smart Dubai, an initiative anchored in the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. Younus Al Nasser, Assistant Director-General of the initiative and CEO of Dubai Data, says young generations “are our key towards unlocking this transformation, by bringing their smart innovations and utilizing their technologies.”

Through the internet, he says, students have so much more resources at their fingertips to contribute to the development of their nation than their predecessors. Al Nasser said: “We are only an enabler, by providing youth with all the tools needed to connect their cities. But they are the ones who need to decide what they want next.”

Mobile a key platform for youth

Mobile is a key platform for youth. Mobile broadband, for instance, is more affordable than fixed-broadband services in most developing countries, according to ITU. However, prices can often get in the way of expansion, since mobile broadband prices represent more than 5 percent gross national income (GNI) per capita in the least developed countries and are therefore unaffordable for the large majority of the population.

Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africa will transition to higher levels of mobile engagement in the coming years, according to GSMA Intelligence, underpinned by growing access to mobile data services and smart devices, and particularly because of its youthful population that almost entirely relies on mobile for digital services.

Consequently, mobile has become the preferred platform for creating, distributing and consuming digital content and services, including those that help address various social challenges in the region.

Opportunities in mobile-based innovation are attracting talent and investment to the technology start-up ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa, GSMA Intelligence says. In fact, some 77 technology start-ups across the region raised just over $366.8 million in funding in 2016, growth of 33 percent compared to the previous year. Mobile operators also play an important role in the movement through collaborative ventures with innovators and tech hubs, providing direct investments.

The region is tempting for technology companies to invest in, with its rapid population growth, and heavy adoption of mobile phones. But countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, which Google plans to target for its mobile developer training, may not offer as much opportunity as the likes of China and India for technology companies.

India has one of the youngest populations in the world, with about 65 percent of its population under the age of 35, according to Union Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports, Shri Vijay Goel, who expects that this demographic dividend will provide a great opportunity for the country to revolutionize itself and achieve its vision of a cleaner and more skilled nation. Goel organized the National Youth Festival in January this year under the theme of ‘Youth for Digital India’.

Mobile technologies and services generated 5.2 percent of Asia Pacific’s GDP in 2016, a contribution that amounted to around $1.3 trillion of economic value, GSMA Intelligence indicates. Mobile operators are working to help students and teachers in Asia to integrate mobile technologies into the classroom, the research says, enhancing access to greater learning opportunities for youth in urban hubs and remote locations.

In Myanmar, for instance, a country where only 54 percent of secondary school children are enrolled at school, a public-private venture dubbed Connect To Learn aims to improve access to the internet, deliver teacher training and enable students to experience a 21st century education. Some 21,000 students are expected to benefit in the first two years of the program, of which more than half are girls.

There is a strong link between gender parity in the enrollment ratio in tertiary education and gender parity in internet use according to ITU. The only region where a higher percentage of women than men are using the internet is America, where countries also score highly on gender parity in tertiary education.

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