Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr RetÅ¡elisitsoe Matlanyane, has openly admitted that the government has fallen short in fostering youth participation in business development.
Matlanyane made this admission during a Pre-Budget Consultation meeting held at the Manthabiseng Convention Centre recently.
The meeting, conducted to address the financial challenges faced by the country and the need for strategic long-term investments, highlighted a growing concern regarding youth exclusion in the business sector.
The issue was brought to light by Lesenyeho Nkopane, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Junior Chamber International Lesotho. Nkopane pointed out that young people have been left out of the countryâ€™s business development efforts, urging the government to address this oversight.
Matlanyane, a participant in the meeting, underscored the critical nature of the gap in youth development and stressed the importance of rectifying it.
â€œWe have a huge asset that we overlook and that asset is our youth who are the leaders of tomorrow, which our country has failed for the longest time and it is time for us to look into how we develop that asset,â€ she said.
She also emphasised a shift towards entrepreneurship over traditional employment, noting that a nation with a higher number of entrepreneurs stands to reap substantial benefits.
The minister also acknowledged the hurdles faced by young entrepreneurs in accessing financing from banks due to perceived risks and project feasibility assessments.
She highlighted ongoing initiatives aimed at improving youth access to financing, including the Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion (CAFI) project, backed by the World Bank.
This project involves setting up entrepreneurship hubs for women and youths, with a substantial funding of over US$7 million to provide startup capital to youths with promising business ideas.
In response to concerns about risk assessment and financing, Matlanyane revealed that discussions are ongoing with local banks to find ways to de-risk startups and make them more appealing for investment.
â€œThis approach aims to cultivate a conducive environment for youths to transition from aspiring entrepreneurs to successful business owners,â€ she said.
In his address, Nkopane had drew attention to the consequences of neglecting youth development, highlighting the potential rise in crime activities and health issues.
He emphasised the need for comprehensive education and support for youths in fields like business development, asserting that the nationâ€™s economy is at stake.
Nkopane further stressed that Lesotho must prioritise youth development by harnessing the potential of its young population, advocating for homegrown solutions rather than depending solely on foreign investments.
He also called for the establishment of a Development Bank, financed by the government, to support youth-led business ventures that local banks often deem too risky.
The meeting also touched on the untapped potential of the creative and innovation industry. Nkopane urged for increased support for artists and innovators, stating that their contributions could elevate Lesothoâ€™s international appeal and drive economic growth.