Africa has the youngest population in the world and according to estimates, one in four working–aged people in the world could be African by 2050.
In some African countries, the youth population is staggering. For example, in Niger, where nearly 50% of the population is younger than 15.
Collectively, over 60% of Africans are younger than 25 today. This demographic dynamic brings enormous challenges and opportunities. If well managed, it could bring about an economic miracle in Africa, which will shape the history of the 21st century.
On the other hand, such unprecedented demographic growth does not come without its own particular challenges. The growing number of children and young people must have their educational and health needs met, and enough jobs have to be created for the large cohorts entering the labour market every year.
During her visit to South Africa earlier this year, British Prime Minister, Theresa May, pointed out that Africa would need to create 20 million jobs by 2035, just to keep up with the accelerating population growth. This means about 50 000 new jobs have to be created daily to keep unemployment at the existing level. If it fails, May suggests, the negative economic and environmental effects will reverberate throughout the world.
Women have a role to play
The future of development is however not only rooted in the youth, but also in women, according to the United States African Development Fund. Both must be empowered and data on poverty dynamics in Bangladesh demonstrate that women’s empowerment is a powerful predictor of whether a household escapes poverty and remains out of it, versus remaining in poverty or falling back into it.
Since women play a pivotal role in a family’s resilience and poverty alleviation, they need to have decision-making power. Impactful and transformational development cannot occur if youth and women are not fully integrated and empowered as change agents in the development process.
According to Ann Bernstein of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, market economies have raised millions of people out of poverty over the last three decades. China followed the right recipe by giving companies more freedom and supporting them to grow and make profits. As a consequence, many jobs were created that lifted about 500 million people out of poverty. India is following the same recipe and has achieved substantial results. Companies are the crucial role players in this picture. They can make the profit and pay taxes so that the state can help the poor, develop infrastructure and grow the country.
Working with governments, the private sector can develop long-term plans which include:
- Improving the quality of education and vocational training to equip young people with the skills employers need;
- Providing technology to connect employers and job seekers to facilitate growth; and
- Enabling entrepreneurs and small businesses to expand through access to financial services.
In this way we all learn, share knowledge and find innovative ways to mobilise the vast talent the youth of Africa has to offer.