Africa must invest in its youth—Mastercard CEO

Africa is a continent universally known to be rich in natural resources; yet its greatest resource, according to Mastercard Foundation President and CEO Reeta Roy, is not found in the earth or soil but rather in its youth.

“It is the hearts and minds and talents of its young men and women,” Roy said. “They are fundamental to all the pillars of transformation. They will be its drivers and its beneficiaries. Long after this generation is no longer young, they will be leading.”

Finding dignified and productive jobs for 100 young men and women “may be the question of our time,” she said at the 2018 edition of the African Transformation Forum (ATF2018).

The African continent, she argued, has many comparative advantages: the sun, the soil, the minerals in the earth. Yet Africa’s greatest natural resource is none of these. It is the hearts and minds and talents of its young men and women.

“When we study the pillars of economic transformation laid out by ACET, whether it is infrastructure, agriculture or trade,  I see a common thread.

“Who will inhabit these sectors? Who will be at the forefront? It’s young people.  They are fundamental to all the pillars of transformation.

“Unlike the rest of the world, Africa will keep getting younger as the century advances. Seventy percent of the population is under the age of 30. By 2050, 37 African countries will have doubled in population. And, by the end of this century, almost half of the world’s young people will be African. The global workforce will reside here,” she said.

This demographic shift, she noted, presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future.

“It is a moment ripe for transformation if ever there was one.”

“The numbers are changing. But, so is the narrative. Young people, entrepreneurs – through their alchemy of creativity, confidence and sheer force of will – are making remarkable things happen. They are pursuing fresh ideas in business, in community service, in the arts and culture. They are drivers of digital entrepreneurship we see from Accra to Lagos, and from Nairobi and Johannesburg.

“It’s clearer than ever that young people don’t need lectures from us. They would welcome tools. We will need young people’s leadership and ideas to answer a question that keeps parents and presidents awake: how will the 100 million young men and women who will enter the workforce in this next decade find dignified work? This may be the question of our time.”