Fred Swaniker: Lifting Africa by Empowering Its Youth


Finding opportunities for young people is a critical challenge for Africa, where 62 percent of the population—more than 600 million young people—is below the age of 25. With no signs that population growth will slow in the decades to come, it is imperative that Africa leverage the talent and energy of its youth to create dramatically higher levels of prosperity and equality and avoid the latent risks of unemployment and social instability.
Today, Africa finds itself in a precarious position on this most important issue. Youth unemployment is three times the continent’s overall average. The World Bank found that young people under 25 represent three-fifths of sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployed population, and 72 percent of the youth population lives on less than $2 a day. To help their families, 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced to work, which robs them of the educational opportunities that could break their families’ cycles of intergenerational poverty.
So what does the average unemployed youth look like in Africa? She is an 18-year-old girl, living in a rural area, literate but not attending school. Building her skills, reaping her energy, and realizing her aspirations would help every African country improve its living standards and ignite economic growth. Empowering her with opportunities to reach and apply her full potential is both our most important challenge and our most vital opportunity.
I often put myself in the shoes of that 18-year-old girl, full of promise but with few opportunities to apply it. She is part of a generation of young Africans who are the most globally connected people ever to have lived on the continent. Although they can see the social and economic progress occurring elsewhere in the world, she and her fellow young Africans are largely isolated from that progress.
Offering this girl a quality education is critical for her success. However, only two-thirds of youth who start elementary school in Africa graduate, and only one in ten African students continues on to tertiary education. Even when she obtains her university degree, she will most likely have trouble finding a skilled job in Africa—which is why the continent loses an estimated 20,000 skilled workers each year to more developed economies.
Simply put, Africa is sitting on a time bomb unless it creates its own jobs through the ingenuity, ability, and skill of its own people. It is our job as leaders to ensure that the millions of young people who are willing to put in the work to improve their future have every opportunity to experiment, learn, adapt—and eventually succeed. We must use this significant inflection point in the continent’s history to guarantee that the entrepreneurial nimbleness, grit, and vigor of Africa’s youth can be utilized to help lift the economies of Africa.
The way we educate our youth in Africa will make all the difference. Entrepreneurship must be an integral part of every young person’s education. We need to impart not only the technical skills of entrepreneurship, but also the mindset of the entrepreneur, through our formal and informal education systems. To help address this challenge, some colleagues and I founded the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa to educate thousands of job creators and problem solvers for Africa. We accept 100 young leaders a year to participate in the program. They’re chosen from over 3,000 applicants from over 48 countries on the continent.
At the center of our strategy is ALA’s Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and African Studies (LEA) curriculum, which prepares each young leader to creatively confront the continent’s most pressing challenges through interdisciplinary, experiential educational opportunities. In LEA’s series of design challenges, students leverage their ingenuity through team-based exercises to brainstorm, prototype, and test new ideas for addressing tough social problems. Using entrepreneurship case studies, students learn about modern African trailblazers in business, politics, and social affairs, giving them a set of inspirational role models to follow. The young leaders at ALA also have access to capital (in the form of micro venture capital or microfinance) to help them turn their own business concepts into reality. Over the last four years, 45 different ventures have been launched at ALA through this methodology—real, live, small-scale enterprises that will one day form the roots of much larger enterprises that can help create jobs on the continent for our youth.
Behind this is our philosophy that if you give a young person a chance to get his or her hands dirty as an entrepreneur, you will inspire and prepare that person to one day launch entrepreneurial ventures on a much larger scale—ventures that can potentially create thousands of jobs. If you do not believe this, ask Mark Zuckerberg how the small computer project he launched in his dormitory at Harvard influenced what eventually became Facebook. Or ask Michael Dell how the small project he launched in his dormitory to assemble computers at the University of Texas when he was 19 influenced what eventually became Dell Computer.
The 400 young leaders currently in the ALA system (on campus and at colleges around the world) , hailing from 43 African countries, are truly amazing examples of what the continent’s youth can do with the right mindset, experiences, and skills. They represent the extent of what could be achieved if all young Africans were given access to high-quality entrepreneurial education and practical opportunities to apply their ideas, ambitions, and talents to real-world opportunities and challenges.
To create a supply of jobs for Africa’s youth and a wave of empowered young people to fill them, coordinated investments are needed in each part of the educational pipeline, from early childhood through to the entry-level labor market. Indeed, success requires the coalescing of today’s fragmented landscape of youth development programs into a harmonized network of interventions that weave together households, communities, schools, and companies in service of Africa’s youth.
The Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in South Africa is another promising example of how corporations and nonprofits, working together, can provide high-potential young people with the experiences they need to be successful in the marketplace. Harambee works with its South African corporate partners, including Hollard Insurance (one of the largest insurance companies in South Africa), and Nando’s (a large chain of fast-food restaurants), to prepare and place first-time workers in entry-level jobs. Recruited through a text-message-based application system, Harambee participants take part in a three-month bridging program that teaches them functional, technical, and interpersonal skills. Using reality-based simulations, Harambee students learn how to interact in the workplace, manage conflict, and deal with failure—all assets proven to increase the success of new employees. Through its partners, Harambee is filling more than 3,000 jobs across South Africa with its graduates—all young people below the age of 25—validating an exciting new human capital model that has the potential to scale and benefit thousands more youth across Africa.
It is no coincidence that Harambee is the Swahili word for “all together.” To decisively reorient Africa toward increasing success, equity, and stability, we must fully empower the continent’s greatest untapped resource: its youth. Providing access to entrepreneurial opportunities and experiences will ensure that all young people have the opportunity to develop their talent and realize their dreams.
Africa may be known as the continent of gold, oil, manganese, and diamonds, but our true wealth lies in our people, especially our young people. Only by unlocking the potential of this treasure—by giving them a chance to work or to create their own jobs—will we finally achieve the prosperity that our minerals have so far failed to bring to our continent.
Originally published on: McKinsey&Company
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Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship Announces Winners

Winners for the Africa Leadership Network’s Awards for Entrepreneurship announced in Accra, Ghana.

The African Leadership Network, the membership network of new generation leaders in Africa, and Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, on Friday, 12 October 2012, announced Dr. Richard John Pelwana Maponya as the winner of 2012 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr Maponya was honoured at the 2012 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship ceremony, which is part of the African Leadership Network‘s Annual Gathering in Accra, Ghana. The award captured Dr Maponya’s achievements in his seven-decade career in entrepreneurship and consolidates his distinction as an iconic African entrepreneur.
During his acceptance speech, Dr Maponya said:

At the time I started my first business in the 1950s, it was difficult for a young African to dream of political freedom, let alone entrepreneurial success.

The African Economy is Growing
Today, Africa is free and democracy is taking root. The African economy is growing, and presenting opportunities for entrepreneurs that at my time were a pipe dream. I am pleased to accept this award, as it is a reminder of what we can do as individuals and collectively, to create wealth for Africa and a better life for our people.There is nothing to stop Africans from doing what they want to do now.”
Dr Maponya began his entrepreneurial career in his twenties in the 1940s, and over the last seven decades has built a retail empire in South Africa. Among other outstanding achievements, Maponya’s business successes include building the Maponya Mall, one of South Africa’s biggest shopping malls with over 200 shops in Soweto.
Maponya’s career has seamlessly blended entrepreneurship and social involvement, and apart from building a chain of successful businesses, has throughout his career served in key business leadership roles. He is the Founding President of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce in South Africa, is a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children Fund and sits on several other boards.
Dr Maponya is a hugely inspiring businessman who has served as a beacon for different generations of entrepreneurs over the last seven decades,” comments Fred Swaniker, CEO and co-founder of the African Leadership Network.
“We are deeply inspired and humbled by Dr Maponya’s great achievements. The story of his life is a powerful reminder of the fact that for the entrepreneur, there are always opportunities, even when others might only see challenges.
His life is a testimony to the resilience, patience, determination and focus that makes a good entrepreneur. Dr. Maponya is an inspiring role model to many entrepreneurs in Africa, and is a brilliant example of the kind of leaders that will build wealth and prosperity in Africa.”

Outstanding Small and Growing Business Award – La Laiterie du Berger. Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah
la Laiterie du Berger
Other winners included:

  • La Laiterie du Berger won the Outstanding Small and Growing Business Award, a prize of US$50,000, and a commendation from the African Leadership Network. The company is a Senegalese dairy company that sources and processes milk from semi-nomadic Fulani pastoralists living along the Senegal River.
  • Bridge International Academies was the runner-up for the Outstanding Small and Growing Business Award, also a prize of US$50,000, and a commendation from the African Leadership Network. In 2007 the company developed a strategy that would allow it to launch a large-scale network of high-quality, ultra low-cost, for-profit private schools.
  • Secure ID won the Mature Business Award, which also came with a grand prize of US$100,000. SecureID is Nigeria’s foremost Smart Card manufacturing company. It is the leading Europay, MasterCard and Visa – certified card plant in West Africa, one out of only six on the continent and a member of the elite club of only 80 such companies in the world.
  • Quality Chemicals Industries Ltd. (QCIL) won the Transformational Business Award. The prize is bestowed on a notable business leader who has had a major socio-economic impact in Africa by building a business with revenues greater than USD 50 million. QCIL is a leading sciences and distribution company that locally manufactures anti-malarial and anti-retroviral drugs to combat two of Africa’s greatest challenges malaria and HIV/AIDS.

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The MasterCard Foundation Launches $500 Million Scholars Program to Empower Young People to Lead Change Across Africa

An expanding, global network of education institutions and non-profit organizations will serve 15,000 economically disadvantaged young people

The MasterCard Foundation today announced the launch of The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, a  $500 million education initiative that will provide talented yet economically disadvantaged students from developing countries – particularly from Africa – with comprehensive support for secondary and university education.
Over the past decade, Africa has been the second-fastest growing region in the world. Sixty-two percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 25, and millions of them will need to enter the workforce. However, the region still lags the world in secondary and higher education completion rates.  In order to sustain the continent’s rapid growth, it will be essential that its young people have the skills needed to participate in a competitive global economy.
Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, announced the Scholars Program at a United Nations Special Session marking the launch of Education First. This initiative led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown seeks to ensure all children have access to quality, relevant, and inclusive education. The Scholars Program illustrates the values of the Education First initiative and was highlighted as an innovative model for educating young people and encouraging citizenship.
“An education does more than liberate people from poverty, it is the foundation of social and economic progress,” said Reeta Roy. “The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program is a network of extraordinary educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and young people. Together, they will contribute to the emergence of a more equitable, dynamic, and prosperous Africa.”
Special Envoy Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, added, “The MasterCard Foundation’s significant commitment to provide today’s youth with the values, attitudes, and skills to give back and contribute to their societies through education demonstrates the values at the heart of Education First.”
The Scholars Program is designed to enable successful entry into secondary school, as well as transitions from secondary school to university, and, ultimately, into the workforce.  At all points, young people will have access to financial, academic, social, and skills-building supports. The Scholars Program will create a peer network of alumni who share a ‘give-back’ ethos.
“The MasterCard Foundation scholarship is more than just school fees to me; it’s the fuel, it’s inspiration, it’s courage and confidence,” said Joseph Munyambanza, a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who, at the age of 14, set up COBUR WAS, a non-profit organization that provides nursery and primary school for orphans.  Munyambanza, a graduate of African Leadership Academy, added: “I feel that I am in the right hands because I get support and inspiration, and I have confidence that I will achieve my two big dreams for Africa; better health for my people and better education that changes lives.”
The network includes: American University of Beirut – Faculty of Health Sciences, Arizona State University, Ashesi University, Duke University, EARTH University, Michigan State University, Stanford University, University of California – Berkeley, and Wellesley College. The Program also includes a partnership with African Leadership Academy to develop an African-based careers network for the Scholars to access internships and jobs across the continent.
To learn more about the Program, our partners and our Scholars, please visit For more information about the UN’s Education First initiative, visit

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation advances microfinance and youth learning to promote financial inclusion and prosperity. Through collaboration with committed partners in 49 countries, the Foundation is helping people living in poverty to access opportunities to learn and prosper. An independent, private foundation based in Toronto, Canada, it was established through the generosity of MasterCard Worldwide at the time of the company’s initial public offering in 2006. For more information, visit

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Open Innovation Africa Summit 2012 – Nairobi, Kenya

The Open Innovation Africa Summit 2012 will convene regional innovators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to share their knowledge, network, and coordinate on initiatives to deploy information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development in Nairobi, Kenya from May 28-30, 2012.

Open Innovation Africa Summit 2012
Among the speakers are Ghana’s Dr. Patrick Awuah – Founder and President of Ashesi University College) and Fred SwanikerFounder & CEO of African Leadership Academy
OIAS² will have four deep-dive streams, where participants will have an opportunity to learn about the latest ideas and innovations and to contribute to a lively discussion about the future direction.
The agenda will be built around the following four areas of interest (streams):

1. The Mobile Information Society,
2. Technology and Innovation Financing,
3. eTransformation and
4. The Ecosystem for Innovation.

The pace of Africa’s mobile growth and penetration is alarming. While the mobile market penetration in Africa will reach 60% among Africa’s one billion people in 2012, it is already at 100% in some African countries. The Open Innovation Africa Summit will seek to continue stimulating the innovation debate on how to harness, leverage and nurture the great opportunities that lie ahead for Africa.
Follow the OIAS this week via @nokiaeastafrica on Twitter. You can also follow the LIVE discussion via the hash-tag: #OIAS

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