Key insights from a JA Africa study which was published in June 2020 show that African youth have a predominantly positive outlook and entrepreneurial disposition despite facing a myriad of challenges in the private sector. According to the survey, eighty-three per cent of youth surveyed expect Africa’s private sector to expand significantly over the next five years.
The positive mindsets of African youth bode well for the entrepreneurial and knowledge economy of the continent.
Africa is the world’s youngest continent, according to the UN’s demographic projections, and its youth population is expected to reach 830 million by 2050. Its current median age is 19.8, and almost 60% of Africans are under the age of 25. The statistics are as startling as the implications. The future of the continent will increasingly be shaped by the cognitive wealth of its rapidly growing youth population.
Enabling prosperity is the intergenerational African pathway to socio-economic transformation. African youth now have a unique opportunity to spur innovation for wealth creation. When the lenses of poverty reduction are removed, dreams become bigger and possibilities limitless. New value chains will evolve. Prosperity will grow. But how do we begin to enable prosperity on the continent?
According to the study, 93% of youth believe they need to update their current education and skills. The study also makes the case for galvanizing entrepreneurial activity in Africa, advocating for a culture and work ethic revamp, and leveraging resources in the private and public sectors and in educational institutions.
The overwhelming evidence points to the fact that young people will be Africa’s most important asset in the looming 4th and 5th industrial eras. The African Union’s (AU) African Youth Charter proclaims that Africa’s youth are its biggest resource. People under the age of 40 will be in the driving seat of the continent’s entrepreneurial and data-driven economies. This will be Africa’s new normal. The old standard of perpetually swinging between fragility and actualizing potential has to be replaced by new levels of prosperity, focus, pride, and fulfillment. Africa’s youth population have been the beneficiaries of this new spirit of prosperity. Their energy, innovation and partnerships will also provide the pathways to Africa’s future. As such, Africa’s youth require foresight and agility to adapt to a thriving continent. While about 16 million young Africans (around 13.4% of the total labor force of 15 – 24-year-olds), are currently facing unemployment, 91% of youth aspire to start a business in their country.
Other highlights of the report are equally telling:
- 50% of African youth believe there is a shortage of job opportunities in the private sector;
- 66% of employed youth find lack of job security as a key deterrent to the private sector;
- Most youth prefer self-employment, multinational companies and public-sector work;
- 93% of youth are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector.
While past generations of Africans have built a strong public sector, it is incumbent on the present business and political leadership to lay the building blocks of the continent’s future economies. They will find willing partners in the youth. Their involvement in the development discourse will inject optimism and transformative innovation and creativity into the nation building process.
Coupling these attributes with cooperation between the public and private partnerships will engender quicker progress. For example, a new partnership between JA Africa and Ecobank Foundation, a subsidiary of Ecobank Group, is seeking to improve the financial and business management skills of youth across the continent. Underpinning this collaboration is the fact that financial inclusion is critical to youth engagement and financial literacy precedes that. Building a generation of entrepreneurial young Africans requires sustained financial inclusion, and a prerequisite to financial inclusion is financial literacy.
The shortage of opportunities for youth in Africa’s private sector, as well as the drive of young people to create employment for themselves and others, is perhaps the most promising pathway to reducing underemployment in Africa and promoting prosperity. That sense of self-reliance, and the wherewithal to pursue it, is the new African dream.