The East African - - FRONT PAGE - Reeta Roy is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Master­card Foun­da­tion. Copy­right: Project Syn­di­cate/how to Do Good (Phi­lan­thropy Age), 2017. www.project-syn­di­cate.org

Ac­cess to fi­nan­cial ser­vices and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion key to cre­at­ing young en­trepreneurs

Afew years ago, dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with young peo­ple from some of Senegal’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties, a cou­ple of so­cial en­trepreneurs told me about projects they were work­ing on to help their peers suc­ceed. One young man said he planned to put more com­put­ers into pri­mary schools; an­other had set up a net­work to con­nect ru­ral job seek­ers in the ur­ban tu­mult of Dakar, Senegal’s cap­i­tal.

Af­ter they fin­ished shar­ing their plans, I con­grat­u­lated them, and said that their par­ents must be very proud. But in­stead of ac­cept­ing the com­pli­ment, they de­murred. “My par­ents are against what I’m do­ing,” they said, al­most in uni­son, be­fore ex­plain­ing that young peo­ple face fam­ily pres­sure to get a govern­ment job or use their English skills to work as a tour guide – not to be­come a risk-tak­ing en­tre­pre­neur.

For am­bi­tious young Africans, there are many ob­sta­cles to suc­cess. The jour­ney to a job – whether for­mal or in­for­mal, en­tre­pre­neur­ial or tra­di­tional – is of­ten a soli­tary one. Many young peo­ple lack ac­cess to skills train­ing or even a favourable so­cial en­vi­ron­ment to try some­thing new. As I was re­minded that day in Senegal, help­ing young peo­ple find gain­ful em­ploy­ment is the most im­por­tant thing that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can do to help Africa de­velop.

Africa is home to the world’s largest pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple. In about 25 years, those young peo­ple will be part of the big­gest work­force in the world, with more than 1.1 bil­lion peo­ple of work­ing age. By some fore­casts, 11 mil­lion peo­ple will en­ter Africa’s labour mar­ket each year for the next decade, most of whom will be first-time job seek­ers.

If African coun­tries boost job growth and equip young peo­ple with em­ploy­able skills, this youth bulge can de­liver rapid, in­clu­sive, and sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth to the con­ti­nent. In turn, mil­lions would have the op­por­tu­nity to lift them­selves out of poverty. But Africa can­not achieve this fu­ture alone. At the Master­card Foun­da­tion, we be­lieve that, if Africa is to reach its po­ten­tial, gaps in two key ar­eas must be closed. The first area is ac­cess to fi­nan­cial prod­ucts and ser­vices. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, some two bil­lion peo­ple around the world cur­rently lack such ac­cess. In sub-sa­ha­ran Africa, just 34 per cent of adults have a bank ac­count, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to put money aside for un­planned events, like a bad har­vest, or to save for school. This must change, with Africans gain­ing not only bet­ter ac­cess to bank­ing sys­tems, but also im­proved fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy. The sec­ond key chal­lenge that must be ad­dressed is ex­clu­sion from sec­ondary and higher ed­u­ca­tion. While progress has been made in some re­gions, only about one-third of Africa’s young peo­ple grad­u­ate from high school. Girls are par­tic­u­larly dis­ad­van­taged; ac­cord­ing to Unesco, in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa, an es­ti­mated nine mil­lion girls un­der the age of 11 have never been to school, com­pared with six mil­lion boys. To ad­dress these is­sues, the Master­card Foun­da­tion has es­tab­lished part­ner­ships with lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions to de­sign ed­u­ca­tion and fi­nan­cial-lit­er­acy pro­grammes aimed at help­ing young peo­ple find and keep jobs. By build­ing a bet­ter-trained work­force, the Foun­da­tion’s pro­grammes are help­ing to em­power the next gen­er­a­tion of Africa’s com­mu­nity mem­bers and lead­ers, so that they can help their fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and coun­tries achieve a brighter and more pros­per­ous fu­ture. Al­ready, a new gen­er­a­tion of ed­u­cated and eth­i­cal en­trepreneurs, like those I met in Senegal, is emerg­ing, demon­strat­ing a pro­found com­mit­ment to build­ing a stronger Africa. For ex­am­ple, when I ask young peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in our Schol­ars Pro­gramme what they plan to do with their new skills, they al­most al­ways re­ply that af­ter get­ting a job, they plan to help some­body else, by re­turn­ing to their sec­ondary schools to serve as men­tors to younger stu­dents. Some of our pro­gramme’s grad­u­ates have even es­tab­lished com­mu­nity projects in their vil­lages to ad­dress HIV/AIDS or to build shel­ters for or­phans and young chil­dren. Ev­ery one of these bright young Africans – ex­am­ples of what the Master­card Foun­da­tion calls “trans­for­ma­tive lead­er­ship” in ac­tion – has the po­ten­tial to drive change in their own coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties. Those of us work­ing in the field of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment can help level the play­ing field even more, by giv­ing young Africans from all back­grounds an op­por­tu­nity to lead in trans­for­ma­tive ways. If we suc­ceed, Africa’s dream­ers of to­day will be the cat­a­lysts of pos­i­tive change to­mor­row.

Al­ready, a new gen­er­a­tion of ed­u­cated and eth­i­cal en­trepreneurs is emerg­ing, demon­strat­ing a pro­found com­mit­ment to build­ing a stronger Africa

Il­lus­tra­tion: John Nyaga

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