Governments, community organizations, and public libraries are coming together through the Beyond Access Nigeria project to help excluded populations who are left out of recent economic growth develop 21st century job skills.
In 2014, the BBC noted that the Nigerian economy eclipsed that of South Africa to become the largest in Africa, growing to a size of over USD $500bn — but like many rapidly strengthening economies, this growth has been unequal at best. Unemployment remains high — the youth unemployment rate is 38%, according to World Bank estimates — and many are not able to afford the education that will help them escape the poverty cycle. According to the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research, in 2012, women aged 15-24 accounted for 55% of overall unemployment in that age group.
One of the brighter spots in the Nigerian economy is the ICT sector — which created 12 million jobs in three years, according to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Leveraging this growth, NITDA has implemented a number of policies (including the iDEA Hub and eNigeria) to encourage youth and women to enter the ICT sector. However, in order to find success in these jobs, it is vital that they first develop the 21st century job skills the positions require.
Where Nigeria Is Now
To help meet this skills gap, Nigeria currently has a fairly robust system of public libraries, with 316 across the country. Already, the Universal Service Provision Fund of Nigeria has provided new technology (including computers, servers, and generators) to 74 libraries across the country as part of their Information Resource Centres project. This project is developing public libraries in Nigeria as knowledge centres that promote widespread access to information. These efforts signal a strong start, providing a platform to begin developing 21st century job skills.
Modern Venues for Public Access
Building on Nigeria’s current investments, Beyond Access hosted a vision forum in Abuja last November. Over the course of two days, representatives from public libraries and NGOs partnered together to find ways to develop productive partnerships in 2015, and show the government stakeholders the possibilities for success from these types of collaboration. Highlighting the connection between government, libraries, and NGO priorities, representatives from the government attended and helped to articulate a vision of success in Nigeria.
Participants parted with real plans to collaborate in the near future. During the forum, NGOs worked with their librarian counterparts to develop proposals for that collaboration to submit for consideration. These proposals almost universally centered around building job skills for 21st century employment while targeting specifically youth and women and girls. Moving forward, Beyond Access will identify and support several proposals over the course of 2015.
The Nigerian government has committed substantial resources already to promoting jobs in its ICT sector. In addition to NITDA’s drive to create 460,000 ICT jobs (according to Nigerian paper The Sun), the Universal Service Provision Fund has identified public libraries as critical venues for public access to information as well as public venues for workforce development, as The Nation pointed out. The Beyond Access project will help ensure these goals are met by giving Nigerian — in particular youth and girls — the skills they need to build 21st century job skills.
To help achieve this, Beyond Access will support five NGOs as they partner with public libraries and show that libraries can be critical partners in workforce development. At the same time, Beyond Access and the Librarian’s Registration Council of Nigeria will develop a training center in Abuja so librarians from across the country can develop ICT skills they can then transfer to their libraries and patrons. Through this project, public libraries across Nigeria will be transformed to community ICT hubs, providing the most underserved populations a chance to develop the skills necessary to participate in an expanding, modern economy.