Statement by ITC Executive Director at the launching of the Youth Empowerment Project

9 February 2017
ITC News

Minister Dr. Touray,
Minister Gomez
EU Commissioner Neven Mimica,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to express the full support of the International Trade Centre and the entire family of the United Nations to The Gambia in its new beginning. And to do this focusing on the priorities expressed by President Adama Barrow: youth and international engagement.

The peaceful transition opens up an important window of political opportunity: to seize this moment to consolidate democratic institutions and processes, and to pursue economic reforms that increase growth and jobs. But it is also a window of opportunity for the international community, for development partners, and for The Gambia’s neighbours: to support your quest for a brighter future, and to enable Gambians to use regional and international trade and investment to expand economic prospects at home.

The Youth Empowerment Project we are launching today is about doing just this: about making trade work for The Gambia’s young women and men, too many of whom have felt compelled to take the dangerous ‘backway’ in search of a future abroad. I’d like to salute the Trade Minister Dr Touray and Youth Minister Gomez, whose commitment to youth is well known. And to thank Commissioner Mimica, and the peoples of the European Union, for their support to The Gambia at this critical juncture.

Earlier today, Commissioner Mimica and I visited the Gambia Technical Training Institute, where we met with young entrepreneurs. Their energy, ideas, and aspirations are inspiring, but the challenges they face are also very real. We look forward to working with Gambian institutions and the private sector in helping them overcome the constraints keeping them from moving up the value chain and connecting to international markets.

This initiative goes to the heart of ITC’s mission. ITC was created in May 1964 – ten months before The Gambia achieved independence, when our parent organizations, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, recognized that while developing countries stood to gain a lot from participating in global trade, their companies were not operating on a level playing field.

ITC’s mandate, then and now, is to help level this playing field, and to empower companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to get the market intelligence, policy environment, and institutional support they need to connect to international trade and investment. We focus on trade because the global marketplace offers far greater demand than small domestic markets, and because businesses that trade tend to be more productive and to generate higher-quality, better-paying jobs. We focus on SMEs because they employ the vast majority of people. And we focus on marginalized groups in society, such as young men and women, because when they get better livelihood opportunities, the socioeconomic dividends for their families and communities are disproportionately large and inclusive.

The Youth Empowerment Project, financed by the EU and implemented by the ITC will focus on building market oriented skills and fostering value addition in two sectors at the centre of the Gambian economy: agriculture and tourism. It will also work to contribute to economic diversification by encouraging entrepreneurship in ‘new’ sectors, including the creative and digital services industries. Priority sectors in agriculture, manufacturing and services will be identified based on their current export volumes as well as their potential to spur innovation and create employment.

As part of the initiative, ITC and the EU will work with local, national and international partners to implement skills building projects in urban and rural areas across The Gambia. Partners such as trade support institutions, industry associations and entrepreneurship incubators will play a crucial role in achieving the goals. Particularly important will be to strengthen existing technical and vocational skills programmes to better match the need of business and markets.

Starting next week, ITC experts will be working with The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Youth Council and other project stakeholders to lay the groundwork for a consultative process that will identify domestic and international business opportunities, map out youth employability, and identify where the skills gaps lie.

Based on the results of this process, we will work with the education ministry, the Gambia Technical Training Institute and other training providers to strengthen their curricula match the private sector needs.

We will work with business hubs in Banjul area and in the regions to help them improve the support they offer to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. And we will work with the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency to support some of these businesses to connect to regional and international markets.

Now, I’m not here on a holiday, but I did take a look at the Lonely Planet travel guide before my flight. Here’s what it had to say: “The Gambia may be the smallest country on the continent but its captivating array of attractions belie its tiny size. Only 80 kilometres of coastline, but golden beaches, backed by swaying palms and scenic lagoons.” The book talked about the country’s wide diversity of animal and plant species, the attraction of its “sleepy fishing villages” and nature preserves.

This glowing review speaks to the potential not just to generate more job opportunities by moving up into more lucrative niches of the global tourism market, but to expand backward linkages to the rest of the Gambian economy.

Right now, most hotels catering to international tourists import a lot of their food. If local businesses in the horticulture, poultry, and cashew sectors – not to mention those fishing communities the guidebook was so impressed with – can be enabled to meet world-standard market requirements, they would be able to supply to local hotels, and ultimately to export, starting with the ECOWAS region.

ITC has accompanied The Gambia private sector in the past. Between 2012 and 2016, we trained hundreds of Gambian groundnut, cashew and sesame producers in post-harvest practices and health and safety standards in a project financed by the Enhanced Integrated Framework. Today we can build on its success and scale it up.

As I conclude, Madam Minister, please allow me to commend you and your ministry’s efforts to kickstart this Youth Empowerment Project despite being in the thick of a historic political transition.

We at the International Trade Centre are honoured to have been selected to work with you and the EU. We stand ready to help in any way can as The Gambia steps forward towards “progress, peace, and prosperity.”