Keep your eyes on the horizon this #AfricaDay

Children play outside the Joy Celebration Center for Nations church in Nairobi, Kenya. (2009)

It’s been more than half a century since that historic moment we mark as Africa Day each year — the founding of the Organization of African Unity (the forerunner to the African Union) on 25 May 1963. It was indeed an extraordinary moment in the history of this continent — the beginning of a pan-African effort to work toward a common destiny.

We can mark Africa Day with concerts and cultural events that celebrate diversity, or we can cast a gaze back to see how far we’ve come. But I think there’s another, arguably more meaningful, way to mark the day: with our eyes fixed firmly forward.

Demographic projections have painted a very bright future for Africa. By 2050, some 40% of the world’s young people will call this continent home. This is being celebrated as Africa’s “demographic dividend”, and its potential for fast-tracking economic growth has been well documented.

Yet a bright future is by no means guaranteed — if this bright future is our intended destination, we need to map out our journey now. And the AU’s ambitious Agenda 2063 is a good starting point, painting a compelling picture of what could be for the continent.

What I find even more compelling are the examples of young people around the continent who are forging ahead with innovative and, at times, life-saving ideas.

Take Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a young Nigerian woman recently celebrated by one of our partners, PATH. Her story is a moving one: after losing a friend to childbirth complications, she created kits that contain sterile supplies to be used to help deliver babies safely when medical facilities are far away.

Adepeju Jaiyeoba holds one of her Mother’s Delivery Kits. Photo: PATH

Another great example is a young man who was recently celebrated as a Next Generation leader by Time magazine. Oscar Ekponimo created an app that allows charities to buy packaged foods at a discounted rate as they near the end of their shelf life, allowing charities to make massive savings in food costs.

Oscar Ekponimo. Photo credit: Ars Electronica via / CC BY-NC-ND

Both these ideas are innovative and resourceful, and perhaps most pertinently, tackle issues that, if dealt with decisively, can make the future that much more secure for the “demographic dividend” generation. And these young innovators are by no means the only ones — there are many more stories of innovators in many countries.

For me, the message is clear: the success of future generations depends on the innovations we make and the decisions we take today. So this #AfricaDay let’s focus on laying the foundations from which more young innovators can emerge.

We’re sharing some of our favorite stories of young people making a difference, using the hashtag #GrowingAfrica. We’d welcome stories of the young innovators who inspire you.

You can share them with me on Twitter: @DrAAjayi