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Multinational Companies Tackle Youth Unemployment in West Africa

Some of the world's biggest names in science and technology are backing a program to help combat youth unemployment in West Africa, where young people are four times more likely to become unemployed than adults.

American companies such as Microsoft and Google have joined forces with NGOs and development organizations in a bid to boost employment rates among young people in West Africa.

As part of the Youth Empowerment Program, young people from 12 West African countries are being trained in industries that include technology, engineering and development. The program, partly funded by the United Nations, hopes to help 40,000 people under the age of 24.

Ibrahim Youssry is Microsoft's General Manager for West and Central Africa. He says partnering with development organizations in West Africa is a natural step for Microsoft.

"One of our business objectives is to be active contributors to the development of the community where we are, and one of the key pillars of development is employment," he said.

Youssry says the scheme will allow young people to make a positive impact in their communities and contribute to development.

"We are giving them the opportunity to learn and to have access to and communicate with the entire world, using technology," he said.

The consequences of chronic unemployment in West Africa can be severe. The United Nations says unemployment fuels conflict, crime and dissatisfaction in the region.

In some countries, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, the vast majority of young people are seeking work. The unemployment rate among youth in Liberia is 88 percent. In Senegal, 30 percent of people aged 24 and under are jobless.

Youssry says many young people have a basic education, but have been unable to pursue further opportunities.

"More than one third of the whole budget of Senegal is just on education, so they have a basic education and we are providing to give them more technology training and education that can allow them to have new job opportunities," he said.

Though providing jobs for young people is one of the fastest ways to ensuring lasting stability in the region, many cash-strapped West African companies lack the resources to train or employ young adults.

"What is missing here is means and funding to reduce labor, but they are eager for technology, they are keen for technology because it is the most efficient way to develop these communities and to communicate with others. They cannot do it by traveling, they can do it through the new technology means," Youssry said.

Youssry says he hopes other technology providers will join the program and benefit from the enthusiasm of young people in West Africa.