Students from Dakar Boston Globe/Getty Images

The Transformative Power of Africa’s Youth

The magnitude of need in Africa is great, but with a growing population of young, ethical leaders, so is the potential. By improving access to education and financial services, Africa's youngest leaders will be well positioned to help the continent achieve rapid, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth.

TORONTO – A few years ago, during a conversation with young people from some of Senegal’s poorest communities, a pair of social entrepreneurs told me about projects they were working on to help their peers succeed. One young man said he planned to put more computers into primary schools; another had set up a network to connect rural job seekers in the urban tumult of Dakar, Senegal’s capital.

After they finished sharing their plans, I congratulated them, and said that their parents must be very proud. But instead of accepting the compliment, they demurred. “My parents are against what I’m doing,” they said, almost in unison, before explaining that young people face family pressure to get a government job or use their English skills to work as a tour guide – not to become a risk-taking entrepreneur.

For ambitious young Africans, there are many obstacles to success. The journey to a job – whether formal or informal, entrepreneurial or traditional – is often a solitary one. Many young people lack access to skills training or even a favorable social environment to try something new. As I was reminded that day in Senegal, helping young people find gainful employment is the most important thing that the international community can do to help Africa develop.

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