3 ways Africa can unleash the potential of its women and youth

3 ways Africa can unleash the potential of its women and youth

This article is part of the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017

Everyone deserves a fair chance at life. That’s a fact and a right. However, the reality is it depends on your context.

Across Africa, millions of boys and girls are still out of school, which dramatically reduces their chance at realizing their potential in increasingly urbanizing and formalizing economies. Some of these girls are married off at a young age, and lack access to their legal sexual and reproductive health and rights, resulting in their having more children than they would have wanted and can actually support. Simultaneously, millions of young people come of working age each year, with low prospects of finding employment.

African leaders have recognized the urgency of investing in Africa’s women and youth to ensure they are productive agents of their growing economies, and have articulated the African Union 2017 Roadmap around that theme. But beyond policy, governments will need to work closely with the private sector, multilateral organizations and civil society to scale up the things that work, and make that agenda a reality.

Following that call from the African Union and the United Nation’s Population Fund, a global partnership of stakeholders from the various sectors is being assembled to advise and provide practical solutions women and youth. Here’s what that means:


No country in the world has ever achieved the demographic dividend without making a significant investment in access to family planning. Fertility is higher in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere in the world, and falling very slowly. There, in addition to enforcing laws to prevent child marriage and scaling up cash-transfer programmes for school attendance, governments must leverage partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry as well as logistics experts to bring family planning options to women everywhere, even in the most remote areas. They can ensure private health insurance covers family planning and education, work with media to open conversations about family planning or marriage age, and partner with community-based organizations to engage communities.


Progress has been made in school enrolment in recent decades, but it is way too slow. A radical shift is needed in the way education is financed and how those funds are used. To start, increased financing for education is needed from both international donors and domestic resources. But importantly, any increase in financing needs to be matched by country-level reforms that increase effectiveness and improve accountability around spending. In addition, public-private dialogue is needed to review and adapt curriculum and training to market needs.

New technologies open the door to much progress in both reach and quality of education, and digital literacy is quickly becoming a crucial skill. Vocational training models have proven successful in speeding up school to work transition and must be scaled up, in partnership with business. Finally, by incentivizing private sector investment through a competitive education market, governments can encourage the creation of first class regional educational institutions.


Job creation needs to dramatically accelerate on the continent, to absorb its bulging working-age population. Adequate education and skills training is crucial; it’s also the first step towards integrating into the jobs that already exist. Governments must also gives incentives to youth employment and leverage the multiple existing private-sector-led initiatives to expand internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Beyond these jobs, youth needs easier access to business capital, which can happen through microcredit and SME financing programmes in partnership with the banking sector. Overall, competitiveness must improve for markets to offer opportunities to entrepreneurs, as well as to attract larger investors in sectors with job-multiplier effects, such as manufacturing, agro industries and ICT.

These are some of the topline, priority recommendations . And the good news is that most of these laws and programmes already exist. All they need is to be scaled up.

It will require government coordination across many areas, clear and practical national plans, and optimum engagement of civil society, the private sector and the international community at large, to mobilize adequate capacity and investment.

It will be one of the most powerful investments a nation can make to spur progress for all its citizens.


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