From where we stand – we see youth and post-youth unemployment as a ticking time bomb. Unemployment is attributed to many factors – bad politics and governance, corruption, bad-economics, lack of skills, rigid agrarian economic regimes, etc.
However, this blog looks at unemployment through a different lens – the inability to spot potential economic opportunity; for purposes of this blog we call this challenge opportunity-myopia. Myopia in biological speak is near-sightedness or short-sightedness that causes distant objectives to be blurry while close objects appear normal. The opposite of myopia is hyperopia or long-sightedness.
While listening to Uganda’s radio Simba FM this morning, we learnt interesting statistics on the boda-boda taxi business mostly dominated by the youth in Uganda. We also discovered where the youth get capital to invest in Boda Boda taxis. Those of you that are familiar with East Africa know the boda-boda taxi – originally bicycle, but now: mainly motor-cycle taxi.
Apparently – there are seven million boda-boda taxis in Uganda; 2 million in Kampala alone. We also learnt that boda-boda is acquired through selling off valuable family land or as political gifts. On the same programme, we further discovered that boda-bodas are either impounded by traffic police or stolen and passed on to other would be boda-boda businessmen. Apparently, fed up with being unemployed, a number of Uganda’s university and other college graduates have entered the boda-boda business. If boda-boda operating skills were exportable, it would earn Uganda and its youth millions of dollars. But sadly it’s not.
The university graduate boda-boda service provider – the invisible truth
In Uganda, university and other college graduates continue to displace their less educated peers at the lower end of the services-market continuum. For example, college graduates turned boda-boda taxi operators; cell phone airtime vendors; mobile-money agents, etc are running businesses that don’t require degree or diploma qualifications
And what makes it even more interesting is the fact that these graduates have been applauded for grabbing the bull by its horns – and doing whatever economic activity there is to be done, even if it requires less than 10% of their mental power (read: university degree).
By not shying away from such minuscule jobs, including boda-boda taxi operation, these educated youth are considered unemployment-fighting heroes. And even us at the Effectiveness lab applaud university graduates for having the courage to do any economic activity that puts bread and butter on the table
Yet, a more in-depth look at their courage leads us to some questions and conclusions. Could the better-educated youth consider doing something other than the boda-boda business? What about their imagination/creativity and critical thinking skills? Are they waiting for other people to think for them? Is it not true that a university graduate going into boda-boda business, less some kind of vertical-integration or innovation, is opportunity-myopic? Should such graduates not deploy their mental prowess to dream bigger?
Yes, It’s tempting to blame the graduates; but it’s actually not their fault that they are unable to put on their thinking blinkers.
Dr Tucson on TEDx helps us delve into the underlying cause of Uganda’s graduates ending up on the lower end of the imagination/creativity continuum. It’s to do with a system that does not trigger their imaginative/creative potential
We ask below two fundamental questions:
- What is the source of imagination/creativity?
- Are we born creative or do we learn it from experience?
Below are the findings of a NASA study that tested 1600 kids on their imagination/creativity ability
- At 4 and 5 years of age, 98% of the kids tested fell in the genius category of imagination
- The same kids were tested when they made 10 years (5 years later), and only 30% were still in the genius category of imagination
- The same group of kids was again tested at 15 years (10 years later) and only 12% were still in the genius category of imagination
- And by the time these kids become adults, only 2% will be in the genius category of imagination
You have the answer to the question: what is the underlying cause of the lack of imagination (a fundamental cause of opportunity-myopia)? According to this NASA study, the school system
We hope that you all start to address the underlying cause of opportunity-myopia – and it may be as simple as – teaching kids in a manner that doesn’t rob them of their innate ability to think
It’s not far-fetched to write here that in Uganda, boda-boda graduates are latent Bill-Gates, Mark Zuckerberg’s, etc. – creativity has merely to be triggered.
How do we help our Ugandan graduates that are not employed or at best, Boda-Boda riders to think imaginatively?