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Future Forward: Innovations for Youth Employment in Africa
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Why do all of us as social entrepreneurs do this work? Because I believe from the bottom of my heart that poverty is simply unnecessary, and that we could end it in our generation—and that’s what we work towards every single day.

—Taddy Blecher

Why Africa?

Africa is in the midst of a social, political, and economic transformation that has brought economic growth, some newfound political stability, and increased foreign investment. A burgeoning movement of African-led entrepreneurs and institutions is emerging in a diverse array of sectors, including finance, transportation, telecommunications, and agriculture. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report looked at Africa’s economic growth patterns and designated it the second-fastest growing region in the world over the past 12 years. This is all taking place on the world’s demographically youngest continent. Of the one billion people now living in Africa, 600 million are under the age of 25. By 2045, that number will double, representing an enormous demographic group who will be in charge of leading the continent. However, Africa also shoulders the highest burden of poverty, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the poor reside. Moreover, nearly 80 percent of the African population lacks access to formal banking services, and secondary and higher education enrolment are the lowest in the world. These are societal norms that also need to be transformed.

The present level of youth unemployment in Africa is alarming. It has reached crisis levels in certain regions, and African governments have been struggling to develop and adopt timely solutions within the existing system. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship has surfaced as an important force on the continent, and its role in job creation and economic growth is being increasingly acknowledged. In light of this, more young people in Africa than in other regions are choosing entrepreneurship as a profession.

Challenges to entrepreneurship can be particularly strong in Africa, where the norms for young entrepreneurs include having limited access to finance, unreliable electricity and Internet, and a host of bureaucratic obstacles that lay in their paths before starting a business. Other norms, such as high operating costs and a lack of business support services, present additional challenges for young African entrepreneurs.

For all of these reasons, The MasterCard Foundation, which invests in youth learning and microfinance, has made sub-Saharan Africa a strategic geographic focus. It has committed to work with partners who are closely engaged with young people in Africa as they transition to the workforce, either as employees, entrepreneurs, or leaders. Africa is now part of a world that is evolving at an ever more rapid pace. To solve problems quickly and creatively, today’s youth will require a new set of skills. To that end, over the past five years the Foundation has created partnerships with a range of organizations that promote financial inclusion and expand access to quality education for young people. By the end of 2012, the Foundation had committed $830 million to 74 projects that serve close to five million people in 49 countries. By 2020, The MasterCard Foundation will expand its area of activity to impact 20 million people living in poverty.

Making it Happen

At the end of 2011, the Foundation forged a partnership with Ashoka, the world’s largest association of social entrepreneurs. This partnership is part of a larger effort to influence factors that will increase youth employment levels by connecting young people to the education and skills training they need to find jobs, either as employees or entrepreneurs.

Ashoka’s aims are to identify and support entrepreneurs whose ideas have the most potential to have a significant impact in the areas where they work and eventually around the globe. In sub-Saharan Africa, Ashoka has already identified more than three hundred new-generation entrepreneurs whose ideas both promote economic growth and advance society as a whole. These social entrepreneurs, recognized as Ashoka Fellows, were elected because of their strong ethical fiber and their innovative and scalable ideas. Together they have the drive and tenacity to disrupt current beliefs and systems.

Ashoka and its Fellows in Africa are currently reexamining their theory of change around “Youth Years,” the critical ages for human...



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