Skilling youth and supporting Africa’s entrepreneurs will foster structural transformation

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from 

It’s an exciting time in Africa. The continent is emerging as an investment opportunity for the private sector. The IT revolution especially in mobile technology has transformed Africa. Internet usage in Africa is growing faster than any other continent in the world. New opportunities are emerging for African entrepreneurs and innovators to create jobs and accelerate economic development across the region.

I am in Morocco this week, where the African Development Bank (AfDB) is hosting its 48th Annual Meeting, on “Africa’s Structural Transformation.” The key to unlocking this transformation is the ability of African countries to capture the demographic dividend. To achieve this, African countries will need to empower youth, develop skills (especially in science and technology), increase competitiveness and spur innovation and entrepreneurship. For that to happen we will need human capital development, a robust private sector and innovative social entrepreneurship models.

To achieve quality and sustainable growth across Africa, the Bank has just approved a new Ten-Year Strategy (2013-2022) which reaffirms our strategic goals around skills and technology, infrastructure, regional integration, private sector development, governance and accountability. The new strategy aims to ensure that the benefits of growth are shared (inclusive growth) and are respectful of the environment (green growth). It also seeks to find innovative ways to leverage its resources to support Africa’s transformation through public-private partnerships, investors and co-financing agreements.

Technology will be a key driver in achieving the goals of this new strategy. The Bank is partnering with various technology companies including Microsoft, on developing the skills and creativity of African youth, building skills in science & technology as well as develop entrepreneurship programs and provide support to start-up companies.

The Bank partnered with Microsoft on its Imagine Cup program, the largest student IT competition of its kind. We encouraged youth from Tunisia, Egypt and Kenya to represent their countries and develop innovative IT applications with a chance of winning both funding and business development support.

The Bank is currently working with Microsoft, USAID, Nokia, the U.S. State Department and InfoDev to encourage and enhance innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa through the LIONS@FRICA Initiative. The program provides African start-ups with capacity building and training in business development, connectivity to global innovation grids, access to capital, and creates opportunities for partnerships.

Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative itself is another compelling example of how private sector companies can originate partnership programs designed to improve the continent’s global competitiveness. By 2016, the 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs.

During the Annual Meetings we will launch Africa in 2050. This online collaborative platform is built on Microsoft Office 365 and will connect Ministers of Science and Technology, Ministers of Education, innovators, researchers, scientists and academia across Africa to promote open communication on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Ministers requested this tool during a meeting hosted by President Kaberuka, Rt. Honorable Gordon Brown on using ICT in Education at the WEF 2012 held in Addis Ababa. This e-dialogue is to provide a comprehensive online tool for policymakers, academicians and the private sector to connect. It is about ensuring that scientific research in all sectors of development informs policy. It is about helping governments move from policy to strategy to programs. It is about making African innovations known. And most importantly it is about preparing the grounds for Africa in 2050.

Through these innovative programs with public and private sector partners, we are able to translate economic growth into economic transformation and make a real impact across Africa. We are optimistic that as the Bank continues to work with private sector companies, we can foster innovative ideas to drive inclusive structural economic transformation and accelerate growth across African countries.