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07 Oct. 2019 | Comments (0)

The Mastercard Foundation recently announced its Young Africa Works strategy in Ghana, an initiative that aims to enable 30 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030. In late 2017, members of The Conference Board’s Global CSR and Philanthropy Council traveled to Ghana for its annual international meeting and learned about the importance of entrepreneurship to Africa’s future, something that the Mastercard Foundation’s new initiative is fully behind.

In this Q&A, the Mastercard Foundation’s President and CEO Reeta Roy discusses Young Africa Works in more detail.

What does Young Africa Works hope to achieve and what does your strategy entail?

Africa is increasingly becoming the world’s workforce. One hundred million young Africans will join the labor market in the coming years. These young people are intelligent, dynamic, and creative. Their success will be powerful for economic and social progress and will serve as an opportunity for the continent and the world.

That’s why our new strategy, Young Africa Works, has a goal of enabling 30 million young people across Africa, especially young women, to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030. This is an optimistic time for Africa and the Foundation’s work will contribute to national success stories across the continent by building dynamic and thriving economies, where there are clear pathways for young people to find work and success.

In Ghana, Young Africa Works builds on the significant groundwork laid by the government. To create a policy environment that supports investments in infrastructure, sectors of growth, financial services, and the digital economy. We are ensuring that we are aligned with Ghana’s vision for its future by supporting women-led enterprises and linking them to business development services, finance, and markets.

We will also address the skills mismatch and ensure that young people can access quality, relevant education and acquire the skills needed by employers in a changing world of work. Technology will be leveraged in a myriad of ways: to connect employers to job seekers, drive the growth of small businesses, and prepare young people for opportunities for work in the tech sector.

What do you think will be the main challenges facing the foundation in implementing Young Africa Works?

Realizing the opportunity of the youth demographic shift in Africa goes beyond any one organization. The challenge is significant, and we have a relatively short time to achieve momentum at scale. But we believe it can and must be done. It is our vision that Young Africa Works will play a catalytic role to spur opportunities for young people.

Our strategy is about one word—transformation. The transformation of systems, of economies, of opportunity, and how we solve problems. This will be critical to achieve and sustain growth. 

To ensure young people across the continent can find work that is dignified and fulfilling requires a comprehensive approach and effective collaboration across sectors. That’s why we have co-created our strategy with government, private sector, entrepreneurs, educators, and young people. 

We’ve also aligned our strategy with the priorities of the countries we’re working within. In Ghana, for example, promoting entrepreneurship is a national priority. So, our strategy focuses on ensuring access to capital for entrepreneurs to grow their business and create opportunities for work. We will also need to unlock more opportunities through the modernization of growth sectors. Technology will continue to play a central role in increasing access to opportunity as well. We are seeing incredible innovations that can link small businesses to regional and global markets. Small-scale traders in Kumasi, for example, can now sell their shea butter to buyers in Kenya, and even as far as China, using e-commerce. The sellers can get a higher price for their product by selling directly to buyers, and invest that money into growing their business, and hiring others.

Education systems will be the backbone for changes like these. It’s through quality education that young people can build the skills they need to find work. In Ghana, education is already under reform with the implementation of a free senior high school policy, the strengthening of technical and vocational education institutions, ICT programs in schools, and through expansion of educational infrastructure. During our consultations, we also heard that supporting digital skills development and was a high priority.

These changes are occurring across Africa. There is work underway to strengthen governance, transportation, telecommunications, power generation, and prevent conflict. The most recent is, of course, the creation of an African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which will expand markets for young entrepreneurs.

Are you working with partners in Ghana? If so, how were these partnerships formed?

Partnerships are critical to Young Africa Works. No one institution can address the challenge of youth employment alone. Achieving this kind of bold transformation means we must bring together the right leaders and organizations to build on the momentum that has already been achieved in the countries in which we are working.

We are at the early stages of forming these partnerships in Ghana. Young Africa Works was co-created through extensive consultation with government, private sector, and young people and in this process many of our partnerships were sparked.  We have long-standing partnerships that are a result of our work in Ghana over the last decade. The lesson from this experience has been clear—partnerships work. We have learnt that it is essential to partner with youth, government, and the private sector to co-create solutions. We are aligning our work with the priorities already established in the countries in which we work.

We are focusing on existing solutions that demonstrate impact and we’re working with partners to scale and amplify these solutions.

How do you plan to measure the impact of the initiative?

Impact will be measured at multiple levels. At the highest level, our success will be measured by how many young Africans, especially women, have secured dignified and fulfilling work through our work and that of our partners. In addition, we will track key indicators of economic and financial sector growth on a continuing basis, as well as data that allows us to track social progress, the strengthening of training and educational institutions, and how effectively labor markets are linking youth to work.   

Ghana presents a unique opportunity for learning how to support women’s entrepreneurship in informal settings. Areas of research may include understanding the role of incubators in supporting start-up firms and understanding ways to improve teachers’ ability to deliver employment and learning-oriented curricula. Using technology, we will monitor progress and estimate the impact of partnerships that prepare young people for work, and the effectiveness of labor markets in absorbing large numbers of youth. Collectively, these measures will provide a picture of how the Foundation’s work has driven youth employment in Africa.

Ultimately, we are accountable to the youth and the communities in which we work; this is where our responsibility lies. Our strategy requires a collaborative effort to impact policy, scale or replicate proven interventions, and mobilize evidence to influence others.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson

  • About the Author:Reeta Roy

    Reeta Roy

    A thoughtful leader and an advocate for the world’s most vulnerable, Reeta has worked tirelessly to build a foundation that is collaborative and known for its lasting impact. Today, with US $30…

    Full Bio | More from Reeta Roy


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